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Zenith 2010 Watches + CEO Jean-Frederic Dufour Interview

Zenith 2010 Watches + CEO Jean-Frederic Dufour Interview ABTW Interviews

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Jean-Frederic Dufour, the CEO of Zenith, on his visit to Los Angeles to present the El Primero Striking Jean-Louis Etienne,” a special edition chronograph honoring the Arctic explorer of its name. The event took place at Westime in Beverly Hills, an influential watch boutique and one of Zenith’s authorized dealers.

A charming man spring-loaded with enthusiasm, Dufour loves to retell the story of the beginnings of Zenith when Georges Favre-Jacot at the age of 22 invented the modern manufacture with all the specialties under one roof. Dufour is proud of the fact that Zenith started as a true manufacture and still is to this day, making all their own parts, including hairsprings, and even residing at the same address since 1865.

Zenith 2010 Watches + CEO Jean-Frederic Dufour Interview ABTW Interviews

Dufour has only been overseeing the company a little over a year and his main objective has been to bring back the true brand identity of Zenith, which he defines as a pioneering spirit. As an outward expression of this pioneering spirit, Zenith makes alliances with those who capture this ethos, men such as Felix Baumgartner, who plans to break the sound barrier with his own body, and Jean-Louis Etienne.

The idea of a modern explorer has morphed since we have exploited the reaches of our planet. In the early 21st century, when the oceans have been plumbed, the poles of the earth reached and the moon traversed by several countries, there are few and far between those who embody the concept in a physical sense.

Zenith 2010 Watches + CEO Jean-Frederic Dufour Interview ABTW Interviews

Dufour acknowledges that it’s difficult to find individuals today who represent a pioneering spirit in the typical way. Now it’s those who are developing the modern world rather than conquering it: scientists, artists, and philanthropists–anyone who exceeds the boundaries to show us a new landscape of perspective. Dufour said his wish list of people who would wear a Zenith include Bono and Steve Jobs. These two men inspire him because they make people dream and as Dufour said, “without dreams you don’t step ahead.”

Dufour brings an arsenal of experience to the table, having studied Economics at university followed by the gamut of positions at several watch brands: marketing at the Swatch Group, product development for Chopard, and sales with Ulysse Nardin. He refers to himself as a conductor in the orchestra of the Zenith watch company.

Zenith 2010 Watches + CEO Jean-Frederic Dufour Interview ABTW Interviews

 

Zenith 2010 Watches + CEO Jean-Frederic Dufour Interview ABTW Interviews

In his short tenure, Dufour has already started to steer the brand back to its core values, which he cites as to take risks and be curious, courageous and creative. He describes the Zenith collection as having two pillars: classic and iconic. Obviously, it’s the chronographs that fall into the iconic category, while the Christophe Colomb, with its fascinating gimbaled tourbillon represents the high horlogerie classic element.

In the development of the chronograph, Zenith has a special place in history. In 1969, they presented the first self-winding chronograph called the El Primero, a high-beat movement oscillating at 5hz (36,000 bph). When asked if Zenith will continue its research into the chronograph to bring us new developments, Dufour said, “Accuracy is our field,” and since it’s believed that the higher the frequency the more precise the movement, Dufour hinted that they are pushing for even higher bph’s.

Zenith 2010 Watches + CEO Jean-Frederic Dufour Interview ABTW Interviews Zenith 2010 Watches + CEO Jean-Frederic Dufour Interview ABTW Interviews Zenith 2010 Watches + CEO Jean-Frederic Dufour Interview ABTW Interviews

In the works is also another iteration of the El Primero. Since it’s been over 40 years since the calibre’s development, Dufour feels it’s high time the movement got a nudge into the 21st century to reflect the larger case sizes in fashion now. Don’t be surprised to see a new construction of the El Primero in future watch designs.

So what makes Dufour so uniquely qualified to take on the challenging job of repositioning Zenith? Jean-Claude Biver, who Dufour not only refers to as a mentor but also a friend, told Dufour at the beginning of his career that he had something different from others, something evident right away. He possessed a sensibility in the true sense of being able to feel the product.

With Dufour at the helm, Zenith seems poised to rise to a second glory and to fulfill Dufour’s wish of making the brand a landmark for chronographs and manufactured watches.

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  • Very nice watches…I’m impressed

  • John

    These are great looking watches. Did Zenith originally make the movements for the Daytona before Rolex took that in house?

  • Hi John,

    Yes, Zenith provided the El Primero for the Daytona up until 2000 when Rolex put in their own movement. Here’s a little trick to tell the difference. In the Daytona with the El Primero movement, the small seconds is at 9 o’clock. In-house movements place the small seconds at 6 o’clock.

  • witch watch

    Zenith movement known as the Cal 4030, model 16523 in Rolex speak. Other notable and noticable differences are: the indices are wider (known as ‘fat hands’), T-Swiss Made-T markings, brushed lugs and engraved bezel.

    I’m in love with the Striking 10th after seeing it in pics from Baselworld this year. I went to see it at the local AD twice in the past few weeks only for them not to have it in as yet, which maybe a good thing as i think i’d be unable to resist taking one home.

  • Witch Watch,
    I agree the Striking 10th is a great looking watch and I believe is an iconic model for them as well. Dufour’s idea to make the El Primero movement’s capabilities of measuring a 1/10th of a second visible on the dial was a stroke of inspiration.

  • Thank god the Thierry Nataf era is over. I take it we’re past the whole “Zero-G Defy Xtreme Conquest El Primero Power Ranger Tourbillon Chronograph Zoom Zoom” krap now?

    • Umm… well. There are vestiges of the Nataf era still there. Give it a few years longer.

    • Pat I.

      Yeah the watch that doubles as a Bat signal. You’d think they would rig one of the 32 tourbillons to mix your daily Slimfast drink.

      I hope they stop making it so the earth can regain it’s spin rotation.

      How many tourbillons did that monstrosity have? After two, doesn’t the government step in and put you down like a rabid wolverine?

      As I said before – the horological equivalent of clown shoes….

  • I absolutely love the Striking 10th, and think it its a fantastic brand archetype. Until I heard that Dufour feels that Steve Jobs was a pioneering spirit, I was really liking this new direction. Not a fan of Jobs, the selfish shark here.

  • Oh, Breitlingsource, don’t let Dufour naming Steve Jobs as an inspiration for the pioneering spirit set you off the Striking 10th. 🙂 Whether or not you like his business practices, I don’t think you can deny he’s a visionary.

    Ariel, I think that in the little over a year that Dufour has been in place he’s done a lot toward bringing the brand back towards its roots, jettisoning the fashion elements, most notably for the X-treme Series, which is gone.

    • Pat I.

      I know a lot of people who bad mouth Steve Jobs….Usually via their I Phones.

      Sorta like rebelling against your parents by getting a body piercing and paying for it their credit card. 😉

  • Christian

    I agree with Dangeruss, the Nataf era was hideous, and most of all, pretentious and uber expensive. The new image is much much better now.

  • witch watch

    I agree with Meehna when she says that Dufour has done a great job at Zenith thus far. Right now we have seen the collection shrink from a quite frankly ridiculous 800 models to around 140, prices on alot of pieces are down to 1995 levels and there will be no more uber sizes cases. Mark my words Zenith are very much on the up and will be spoken of in the same way that Panerai is now.

  • Thanks, witch watch (great name, by the way with Halloween approaching!) .

    I too think Zenith is one to watch and poised for a comeback in the public eye. If you look at comparable brands, they offer really great value and now the styling is starting to really sing.

  • Where is the glamour, where’s the difference……I am not interested in these very boring, cheaper looking watches, lacking specific style or character……..the only good thing about Zentith now is that it is not interesting to copy them anymore in cheap or fake versions!

  • Meehna Goldsmith

    Hi Erwin,

    I take it you were a fan of the X-Treme Defy series. While these watches certainly stood out, they were a polarizing design. Zenith has definitely returned to a more classic look and are mining their archives to get back on track in terms of presentation. I happen to like the more restrained look and think Zenith provides good value for the money for a manufacture movement. Do they need to create an iconic piece to put in their collection for the 21st century? Yes, they do. Let’s see what happens next year. Dufour has only been in there a year and I think you’ve got to give him a chance to assess the culture and company before making any radical moves. By the way, didn’t the Christopher Columbe intrigue you just a bit?

  • I too think Zenith is one to watch and poised for a comeback in the public eye. If you look at comparable brands, they offer really great value and now the styling is starting to really sing.

  • Beats by Dr. Dre,

    I agree with you. A chrono with an El Primero movement for less than 8K (at least last time I checked) is a bargain.

  • mole67

    can someone tell me how to contact Jean-frederic Dufour. on 11-1-11 i purchased a captain chronmster. on 11-27-11 (the3rd. time i wore it the bezel and crystal fell off. damage was done to the hands. i was not engaged in any activity that would cause this. on 11-28-11 i shipped the watch to lvmh in n.j..rec..the next day. when inquire about my timepiece lvmh cutst. service tells me they are waiting on switzerland to decide if they are going to honor the warrenty.i find this hard to believe.. can someone advise me if this is normal treatment from Zenith. I thought this was the top timepiece in the world.