How The El Primero Movement Will Fit Into Zenith's Future, Explains CEO Julien Tornare
History was made in 1969 when Zenith produced and launched the El Primero movement, which represented not just a remarkable feat for the watch manufacture but also its triumph in a race that is legendary in the watchmaking world. The other two parties in this famous competition to launch the world’s first automatic chronograph movement were Seiko and the collective trio formed by Breitling, Heuer and Hamilton‑Buren. And while both went on to unveil their own creations, the glory of being first was solely Zenith’s, which has been known since for this revolutionary achievement.
Today, the El Primero chronograph movement continues to impress watch enthusiasts from every generation with its extreme precision. This year marks the 50th anniversary of its creation, an occasion that the watchmaker celebrated in Singapore with A Star Through Time, an adaptation of its Le Monde Étoilé de Zenith showcase in Le Locle, Switzerland, in 2018. CEO Julien Tornare, who was in Singapore for the celebration in August, shares his thoughts on the El Primero movement, and his future plans for Zenith.
What does the El Primero movement mean to you?
Julien Tornare (JT) When I first joined the company, I was asked whether El Primero is a strength or weakness. It’s definitely a strength because it’s the world’s most famous movement—no other brand is so famous for a movement. Of course, it also makes a fantastic talking point. It’s a great testimony of the capability and innovative mindset of the company. But we need to have iconic watches as well—this is our job and what we are doing now.
Is building on history or innovating for the future more important?
JT We have to do both. El Primero is brilliant, but we cannot leave it sleeping in the past. We need to evolve it through time. Of course, we will guard our long history and remain fully authentic to it. But we need to express it in a contemporary way because we live in the 21st century—that is the main challenge. We want to put both feet boldly in modern times and to communicate it loud and clear.
Innovation is a big part of Zenith’s DNA. What is it to you?
JT It is part of what I call contemporary watchmaking, but it should come through all aspects of the business. I ask all my employees to be innovative, even the accounting department or the receptionist. I want everyone to bring in new ideas because I think it should be a universal spirit. For example, you cannot say that you’re innovative because you’ve made a watch—you have to find new ways to do it.
Where do you want to take Zenith in the future?
JT Zenith should be ahead of the train. We should be the one pulling the industry forward. We want to show that we are a traditional watchmaker that’s continuing to move ahead. We want to make beautiful watches with a modern design that still respects the rules of high watchmaking and yet give Zenith an image of a brand of current times.
(Related: Zenith Beats All Odds With Its Most Revolutionary Watch Yet—The Defy Inventor)