Jean-Claude Biver Becomes Interim CEO Of Zenith Watches As Magada Departs

Jean-Claude Biver Becomes Interim CEO Of Zenith Watches As Magada Departs

Jean-Claude Biver Becomes Interim CEO Of Zenith Watches As Magada Departs Watch Industry News

Apparently, Zenith continues to be one of the most challenging-to-get-right luxury watch brands around. Since the renaissance of the luxury watch industry not too long ago, Zenith has enjoyed great successes and some scary downturns, a hectic period of time in the manufacture's some 152-year history. The latest pivoting point comes as Zenith has today officially announced that Jean-Claude Biver, Head of Watchmaking at LVMH, is taking over the role of CEO of Zenith from Aldo Magada.

Jean-Claude Biver Becomes Interim CEO Of Zenith Watches As Magada Departs Watch Industry News

You could think that this simple "swap" at the helm of Zenith could be summed in one paragraph, but there actually is a whole lot at stake here that we must consider: the fate and foreseeable future of Zenith hangs in the air now, and the most interesting thing is that it could go in a number of ways.

First, a quick look back to understand why that is. Zenith, if you care think about it, appears to be a pretty straightforward brand: for over 50 years, despite all efforts, the manufacture's name has been virtually synonymous with the El Primero, one of the most highly regarded automatic chronograph movements out there. If you look at the ups and downs in Zenith's recent history, you'll find that troubles always started when the brand wanted to step out from that vintage-inspired, classically styled groove and become more modern and, dare we say, hip.

Jean-Claude Biver Becomes Interim CEO Of Zenith Watches As Magada Departs Watch Industry News

The Nataf-era, the first and thus far greatest crisis in the modern history of Zenith, is notorious to this day – just read this "review" of the Defy Xtreme to get a quick idea on why that is. It was a time when Zenith went completely bonkers, leaving pretty much all historical values (apart from whatever they harnessed from the El Primero caliber) far behind. Then, a certain Jean-Frédéric Dufour, enjoying the guidance and help of Biver, took Zenith over and steered it back to where, as it turned out, everyone wanted the brand to be: making beautiful, elegant, classical watches (yes, mostly El Primero chronographs) that, at first, weren't ruinously expensive either. This hot strike had been spiced up by occasional high-complication watches to add that almost obligatory "halo effect."

Jean-Claude Biver Becomes Interim CEO Of Zenith Watches As Magada Departs Watch Industry News

Zenith was solidly back on track when Aldo Magada came onboard to guide the Le Locle-based manufacture in July 2014 after Jean-Frédéric Dufour left the brand with a star to the one with a crown – Rolex (read more about that story here). While Magada hasn't done anything even remotely as bad as what we saw happen during the Nataf-era, Zenith, for the last 2.5 years, hasn't really taken a clear direction either.

Jean-Claude Biver Becomes Interim CEO Of Zenith Watches As Magada Departs Watch Industry News
Zenith CEO Aldo Magada (left) and Land Rover Chief Design Officer Gerry McGovern

If anything, the brand has taken some, ahem, small but unexpected detours, including a not-at-all-Zenith-like collaboration with the Rolling Stones, some ridiculously large Pilot Watches, escorted by a number of forgettable iterations of the El Primero (like this or this, neither of which likely having left a memorable impression on most).

Jean-Claude Biver Becomes Interim CEO Of Zenith Watches As Magada Departs Watch Industry News

To be fair, Zenith's collaboration with Land Rover does have a lot of potential, and Magada also did what many would agree was the right thing when he left some of the great classics in the El Primero line in production, including this eye-wateringly fantastic El Primero Original 1969 that I reviewed and loved to bits.

With Jean-Claude Biver taking over the CEO position at Zenith, the question is how the brand will be positioned: will we see a quick and strong return to the classical Zenith that was so heavily based on the El Primero and Elite collections, or will we continue to see new partnerships, limited editions, and more modern styling from the brand.

Here's what Jean-Claude Biver says on the matter: "I am personally taking over interim management [of Zenith]. I want to be more involved and to create greater synergies between the group’s three brands. I’ll be working with the teams to give this brand the lustre it deserves."

Jean-Claude Biver Becomes Interim CEO Of Zenith Watches As Magada Departs Watch Industry News

While there admittedly are more than three watch brands under the aegis of LVMH, Biver surely is referring to the trifecta of Hublot, TAG Heuer, and Zenith. Greater synergy could mean a lot of things, but we wouldn't be surprised to see heavy reliance on the El Primero, including some new (or resurrected) versions of it featuring new-old complications such as annual calendars, moon phases and, perhaps, even tourbillons.

Jean-Claude Biver Becomes Interim CEO Of Zenith Watches As Magada Departs Watch Industry News

A synergy also means less competition: as soon as Zenith has started producing ceramic-cased, modern-looking watches this last year, it has admittedly stepped on the toes of TAG Heuer (similar price segment and value proposition now met a comparable modern approach to styling and use of materials). Hence, to create a more harmonious environment, it would make sense to see Hublot remain the high-end modern brand, TAG Heuer be the modern, cool, more affordable, and high-tech manufacture, and Zenith take a solid position as a more dressy, elegant, vintage-themed brand.

And if you think Biver can only do loud and 21st century styling and branding, it's best to remember one of his greatest success stories as he took Blancpain and rebuilt it from scratch into a key player in the luxury segment; Zenith, in its own way, could perhaps go down a similar route.

A lot of questions remain to be answered, that much is for certain, but if we are to believe Jean-Claude Biver, we can expect Zenith to finally regain the "lustre it deserves." One thing we can be absolutely sure of is that Biver will not take long to act and to set Zenith's course. zenith-watches.com

  • SuperStrapper

    Prediction: Zenith sees some new success, and people here hate them for it because they weren’t consulted.

    • IanE

      I think we all want Zenith to succeed – but not by a Big Bang!

  • “I’ll be working with the teams to give this brand the lustre it deserves.”

    Can’t wait to see the El Primero 1980’s Subway Graffiti and Quadruple Tourbillion Nickelback Tribute Limited Editions.

  • Beefalope

    Who’s it gonna be this time? Alec Monopoly again? Maybe Lady Gaga? Perhaps the rotting corpse of Elvis?

    The marketing opportunities with Elvis are golden: “The King’s heart was pounding at 36,000 beats an hour right before it exploded. Now your watch can match that. Zenith.”

  • seoulseeker

    Oh no. “Synergy” with TAG and Hublot is absolutely the last thing Zenith needs, Mr. Biver.

    • At the manufacturing component level, it could work and perhaps even help. But in terms of styling, I’m with you – making Zenith watches looks like Hublot pieces (as has been done to a degree with TAG) is a fail to me. Hopefully, Biver will keep the identity of Zenith intact.

  • Maciej Nejmantowicz

    This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. This is the JCB playbook. First make TAG the brand for all newbies, and a smart watch for the melenials, and kill any innovation (CH80, Mikrograf) efforts so as not to complete with Zenith or Hublot, and passify vintage lovers with a Monaco, Monza and soon to be Autavia (CH80 now that the 1887 surplus stock has been depleted and rename to Heuer-03). Oh let’s also release a tourbillion for those who love the styling but can’t afford a Hublot. Next! (Zenith) I think Zenith has an identity problem, and if I had my way I’d go back to their roots and and do what they did with the CP2 release, man I want one. My guess is we’ll see more “joint” efforts with other industries like what they did with Range Rover. (After all TAG has got the monopoly on Brand Ambassadors)

    • Beefalope

      Good post.

      I think there’s definitely room to position Zenith in the Hublot-TAG-Zenith trinity of chronograph specialists, but LVMH has never found the proper place for Zenith. This is disappointing because of those three brands, Zenith is the only one that’s not making crap these days.

      Hublot is perfect for the meatheads and idiots with more money than brains, but they don’t want to spend the money on a Royal Oak Offshore. Sorry to Hublot fans, but this is true.

      TAG is an aspirational watch for those who want a “nice Swiss watch” but don’t want to spring for a Rolex. Yes, 98% of TAG is crap, but the people who don’t know anything about watches but believe “Swiss watches are the best” are TAG’s target audience. Again, sorry, but this is true.

      Zenith should be for people who have at least some basic understanding of watches and are willing to spring for that one really nice Swiss watch. There’s a market out there for this, as Omega has proven. Let’s not forget that, 30 year ago, Omega was on the ropes, too.

      I generally don’t care how most watch brands perform, but I do have a soft spot in my heart for Zenith.

      • Maciej Nejmantowicz

        Well said. But I’m not sure that Zenith has the R&D that TAG had under Babin. TAG used all those efforts to make the now Heuer-03 until JCB killed it because they had too much 1887 stock. As much I’d like to see the El Primero hack and have more power reserve, not sure they can execute. IMHO the Heuer-03, if it lives up to the hype, could be THE chrono movement.

        • Beefalope

          I think that’s true. Zenith mostly sticks to the EP movement and isn’t too inventive, although some of the high-end tourbillon stuff is interesting.

          What’s frustrating about TAG is that they have actually done some R&D, but then nothing gets marketed and then everything just disappears. Plus, the finishing on TAG watches is just very poor. That’s not true of EPs.

          • Maciej Nejmantowicz

            Thank Biver again for killing all the R&D. TAG poured millions into these efforts so as to remain relevant as a true horological company. He saw that it was way above Hublot and killed it. He made TAG the Tissot of Omega.

  • When I attended the New Autavia event (which I reported here https://goo.gl/I43OL6) I asked Mr. Biver how Zenith was doing and he said ” Good! It’s finally on its path!” So I asked him “and which path is that then?” He looked at me, laughed and changed subject.

  • Beefalope

    I think the problem with Zenith primarily comes down to three things:

    1. A complete lack of focus on what makes Zenith reputable in the first place. Zenith is known for one thing and one thing only — the superb El Primero movement. Nobody cares about Zenith tourbillons or dress watches or pilot watches. Some of them are actually quite good, but still nobody cares about them. Zenith needs to stick to making chronographs exclusively, and then perhaps expand into other areas — but only a little bit — when it rights the ship. That’s basically the Breitling model.

    2. Simplify the designs. I’m wearing the Tri-Color 1969 re-issue right now, and it’s a fantastic watch. There are other close derivatives of this design that also are terrific. That’s a strength for Zenith. When it starts to venture into off-the-wall territory — the entire Defy line is crap, for example — or in general gets overly ambitious, Zenith is capable of producing tremendously ugly watches. Have a few simple, iconic designs, and push those. Again, that’s the Breitling model. (I’m not necessarily a Breitling fan, but the marketing model certainly has worked.)

    3. Zenith really needs to push the whole “first automatic chronograph” thing. (Yes, it’s a lie — Seiko was first to market, Heuer was second and Zenith was actually third — but Zenith has been repeating it for almost 50 years now, and to paraphrase the quote from evil men, a lie repeated enough becomes the truth. If that’s what Zenith needs to do to survive, so be it. The entire what industry is built on the grand lie that we need these overpriced wrist machines in the first place.) Look at Omega, which constantly pushes the whole moon thing. Most people who think of Omega think of the Moon Watch first. Zenith needs to push the whole “first automatic chronograph” thing relentlessly. It has to be the first thing that pops into someone’s head when they think about Zenith.

    • IG

      I hate automatics so I hate Zenith for the “first automatic chronograph” thing.

  • TrevorXM

    “…it’s best to remember one of his greatest success stories as he took
    Blancpain and rebuilt it from scratch into a key player in the luxury
    segment…” Good point. Hublot blows — but that has been a real success story as it targeted a much different market. So it’s possible he could pull it off with Zenith.

    They need to develop the El Primero movement so that it works better in contemporary watches. I don’t know if these things are technically possible. However they need to make the movement bigger in dimensions so that the subdials are not so crowded in the middle. Contemporary-sized chronographs require this for design purposes. Also, they need to make the movement hack. Sure, somebody might say it doesn’t matter on a chronograph because the chronograph function “hacks” — but that is an excuse. If I have spent a lot of money on an in-house Swiss watch I really want it to hack so I can set the time exactly every once in a while and not have to settle for as much as 30 seconds off.

    • Maciej Nejmantowicz

      Keep in mind he is the head of LVMH, not just one brand. His goal is to elevate LVMH not any one brand so this will not be easy.

      I agree with Beefalope, focus on what you’re known for El Primero and “first” marketing crap.

    • Beefalope

      The dials on an EP don’t necessarily have to overlap. Zenith has EP models in which the dials don’t overlap. I think this is just a design decision that Zenith has made on some of its watches.

      I know the overlap is something that bothers a lot of people, but it’s never been an issue. I like my EP for many reasons, but a big one is that there is no other watch out there that looks like a Tri-Color 1969. With the dial overlap and the color scheme, there simply is no homage watch out there or anything else like that with similarity to that watch.

  • Raymond Wilkie

    Am getting a feeling of Déjà vu

    • David Williams

      What, all over again?

      • Berndt Norten

        Like a record baby, round round round round

    • The Reclusive Boogur T. Wang

      Hang around long enough and it all comes ’round again.

      • Raymond Wilkie

        A bit like ABTW : ). Don’t tell Ariel i said that.

  • Marius

    I keep reading about how successful Biver is/was. The question is: Who cares?

    Firstly, this is a horology blog, not a finance/economics website. The fact that a brand is successful has little bearing on the quality of its products. For instance, McDonald’s, Burger King and KFC are very prosperous. Does that mean that people who are passionate about cooking admire them? I don’t think so. And, if you want to talk about success, I can guarantee you that brands such as Invicta or Michael Kors are hard to surpass.

    Secondly, I find it extremely ironic that watch bloggers praise Biver for essentially ripping of customers. Excepting Blancpain, where Biver adopted the interesting strategy of offering high quality watches at somewhat acceptable prices, most other brands run by Biver adopted the “A-Sucker-Is-Born-Every-Second” approach. Sure, Hublot was successful, but that’s because uninformed buyers were spending $10,000 for a watch equipped with a stock ETA movement, and with a rather dubious fit & finish.

    In my opinion, the real performers are the CEOs who can keep their brands profitable while creating high quality watches for the discerning enthusiasts. Jerome Lambert would be a fitting example.

    • Maciej Nejmantowicz

      Well said, Biver is not a horologist, he’s a marketer, nothing more to me. He doesn’t care about the art and science of it, like most, unfortunately.

      • The Reclusive Boogur T. Wang

        I agree – to an extent. IMO he has found art within the medium. At the least art that appreciates in value over time.

      • Ariel Adams

        Biver is actually quite a watch lover himself. He is clearly interested in running a successful company, but he is not someone who lacks love for the product. Quite the opposite in fact.

        • Ariel with all due respect, I have seen him show his collection and discuss the pieces that he loves, so yes he does love watches. He has not however, done anything, that I am aware of, to elivate the artscience that is horology. First and foremost he’s a businessmanmarketer, then a watch lover. I am of the opinion, and maybe in the minority, that if you build a great product, it will speak for itself and sell well.

          • Dinkee, H. O.

            Who are you and why are you suddenly on this blog?

            SOMEHOW THE MAN WHO TOOK BLANCPAIN FROM THE GRAVE IN THE DEPTHS OF THE QUARTZ CRISIS AND DID ONLY MECHANICALS AND COMPLETELY REVIVED THE BRAND TO GREATNESS DOESN’T LOVE HOROLOGY???

            Here is the door [] Bye-bye.

          • I just don’t have Biver Fever is all. I’ve seen what he’s done with TAG and it’s not pretty. Not to mention the fact that multiple CEOs have left of their own accord because of his actions. He’s killed TAG innovation in order to not complete with other LVMH brands. Fact. Tie your shoes.

        • Dinkee, H. O.

          WE AGREE ON SOMETHING. 2017 IS STARTING OUT GREAT!

    • Beefalope

      “In my opinion, the real performers are the CEOs who can keep their brands profitable while creating high quality watches for the discerning enthusiasts. Jerome Lambert would be a fitting example.”

      True, and that’s a good example. I very much like what Montblanc is doing these days.

      The best example of this is Seiko, and particularly Grand Seiko.

      So LVMH can sell a bunch of crap and make a ton of money. Good for them and their investors.

      Seiko can sell a bunch of good-to-great watches, Grand Seiko can sell a bunch of magnificent watches, and they can make a ton of money. Good for them — and good for us.

      There’s a world of difference there.

  • Word Merchant

    Finally! Zenith can now ditch the ancient El Primero movement that no-one really likes and replace it with the shiny new Unico that everyone raves about.

    • That cracks me up. But seriously, hacking would be a nice update to the venerable El Primero movement. I’d like to see Zenith show some technical innovation but as evolutionary improvements. And keep the looks that work.

      Being a refined counter point to YouBlow and TAG could still be a good identity/positioning. The 60 mm “pilot” watches were fun but not really the way forward for the brand. Nor were the dictator/murder watches.

      Much as I criticize Biver for some stuff, there is no denying he will make changes and they will no doubt improve the bottom line for Zenith.

      • Bill W

        Yes, fewer dictator/murder watches. Fewer cigar/la revolución watches.

        • Dinkee, H. O.

          “fewer dictator/murder watches.”

          Now hold on. I have no such indication that there will be no more Hodinkee Zenith collaborations.

          • Bill W

            Fewer Hitler, Hirohito, or Hodinkee watches.

  • Marius

    With Biver at its helm, Zenith will sell like gangbusters.

  • Dinkee, H. O.

    “Jean-Claude Biver Becomes Interim CEO Of Zenith”

    INTERIM.
    adjective: interim
    1. in or for the intervening period; provisional or temporary.

    Until the long-term actual CEO takes charge. So all this drivel about what Biver might or might not do is silly. It is the non-interim CEO who is the one who will guide the direction of Zenith.

    And whom might that be? I have suggestion. Who has shown to really understand Zenith and even worked on a co-branded Zenith watch that sold out in seconds??? I’LL GIVE YOU ALL A HINT. HE HAS A BLOG THAT DOMINATES THIS ONE LIKE TRUMP DOMINATED HILLARY CLINTON. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/c94cf7d22f8202079c76eec257e41efde9b84b2b023d968acdfadc053383d69e.jpg

    • Beefalope

      We were all eagerly waiting for an idiotic, irrelevant post. Thanks for delivering.

      • Dinkee, H. O.

        Are you trying to argue that the Hodkinee Zenith is not a masterpiece?

        Are you trying to argue the meaning of the adjective “interim”?

        • Beefalope

          Masterpiece? No, I don’t think it’s a masterpiece.

          It’s a nice watch — with the same exact case as Zenith has been using in its other 38mm watches for years, the same movement that Zenith has been using for years and even a dial design that is borrowed from what Zenith has done before. All of that makes for … a nice watch.

          The Datograph is a masterpiece.

          Let’s not dole out hyperbolic praise on things that don’t deserve it.

          The rest of your post — particularly your injection of politics into a discussion that did not call for it and where it’s entirely incongruous — is a waste of time.

          I believe the other responses have already skillfully addressed the “interim” discussion.

          • Raymond Wilkie

            What he said.

    • SuperStrapper

      You’re conveniently omitting the fact that when Stephane Linder left, Biver became the ‘interim’ CEO of TAG.

    • Maciej Nejmantowicz

      Interm (Biver definition) = Until said person agrees with everything I say and do. How long has he been “Interm” CEO of TAG?

    • Dinkee, H. O.

      https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/3af4e622e230f7ed22a2da44a01f889294132dd817beb25fd1e101368e2bb5eb.jpg

      I just want to assure everyone that though I let myself go over the holidays, I am back on a massive ‘roid and acupuncture program to get back in shape tout suite should Biver choose to do the right thing and put me in charge of Zenith! I will be able to wear my Rolex Daytona Ceramic again any day now!

  • Chaz

    Zublot

    • Beefalope

      ZublAG?

      • Dinkee, H. O.

        Chaz was clever. Your attempt was a fail.

  • Shawn Lavigne

    the one eye symbolism, again. this guy must be an occultist.

  • Bill W

    “Get Alec Monopoly on the phone. I need some new business cards.”

  • Berndt Norten

    Blofeld is forever, is forever….

    • Dinkee, H. O.

      BRILLIANT! Biver should push for the next Bond villain to wear a Zenith!

  • The Reclusive Boogur T. Wang

    A lot of potential in this.

  • BNABOD

    who knows what the cheese man will do. I suspect he is one of those brilliant CEOs that cut staff to the bone then gives general direction and when things turn around folks amaze themselves at his wisdom. not that hard to do and I have seen it in other industries. having financial discipline is key, ensure your various departments are not bloated but the hard part is to keep the staff that knows what they are doing. Stick to El prim maybe actually advertise them and don’t overlap with tag and ublot .

  • This is very good for the brand, this guys a legend and know what he’s doing. I’m just curious as to which football club he’ll sponsor first.

  • Raymond Wilkie

    I even hate the name.

    • Dinkee, H. O.

      You can’t blame the man for his own name. Biver is a fine name. Certainly on par with Wilkie.

  • Word Merchant

    He never managed it with Hublot, he hasn’t yet succeeded in doing so with Tag (and the hope is dwindling), but he might succeed with Zenith in finally making a watch where the literally the entire case, strap and movement is made of Biver cheese. The watch would be self-rinding of course.

    Alex Moronica would be on hand to make sure the mould veins looked suitably ‘street’.

    I would proudly wear a Zenith Jaycee B Cheesemeister Look At The Grin Extreme and the nice thing is that even blind people and mice would finally understand how cool I was.

  • IG

    El Bivero to save the day! Say CHEEZZZ

  • Sheez Gagoo

    Thanks for this article.

  • ??????

    Biver magic: Hublot = TAG Heuer = …Zenith

  • Anna Lam

    (???) Jean-Claude Biver ?? Aldo Magada ?? Zenith ?? CEO
    http://chinese.ablogtowatch.com/jean-claude-biver-interim-ceo-zenith/

  • cg

    Biver seems pretty cut throat… Zenith’s foray into Cuba and the acclaim received by the Communist Central Committee of Cuba is quite an achievement. What’s next under Biver? North Korea? Somalia might be good start with the Land Rover partnership maybe they could do a Rover/Kalashnikov edition after the Che Guevara Political Torture Turbillon sells out. They will get “the lustre” they deserve.

  • Ulysses31

    It’s like a game of musical chairs. I feel a great disturbance in the Force… as if thousands of innocent victims are being crushed under massive wheels of cheese. The Swiss watch industry’s credibility seems to be falling when people like Biver get their grubby mitts on everything. I’m sick of the sight of him and the endless fawning praise the watch press gives him.

  • henry

    Leave it to Biver, again? How many lives does this guy have? I can’t imagine what these brands are going to do when Biver goes away for good.

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