Alfred Lung at aBlogtoWatch visited Havana, Cuba with Zenith for this story.
The annual Baselworld fair in Switzerland is often a mixture of hard work, constant back-to-back meetings, and the excitement of learning about new watches, products, and directions our favorite brands are taking over the next year. After a hard day at this year’s conference, a friend and I lit a cigar and puffed away the stress of the daily grind. Like most who have the social media bug, I posted a picture of me savoring my cigar at the end of the day.
At the beginning of May, I was surprised when my friends at Zenith had recognized my passion for cigars. Zenith informed me that they are producing some co-branded watches with Cohiba cigars and asked if I would be interested in traveling to Cuba to learn more. As a cigar and watch enthusiast, it was impossible for me to turn the offer down, despite 30 hours of flying time to get there from Hong Kong.
I landed in a hot and humid city. Havana’s worn and shabby aesthetics fade behind a vibrancy and untainted soul. The internet is an expensive luxury, so much so that access to social media and apps that we take for granted was almost impossible. But this forces you to focus on the real and the material in front of you. Beautiful old cars and colonial buildings mix with intoxicating Latin music, sumptuous food and a warmth and playful spirit in every Cuban you meet. The country’s spirit simultaneously asks you to enjoy the present and relax to contemplate past success and future glory.
The next morning, I met Mr. Aldo Magada, the dynamic CEO of Zenith watches. Together we travelled to the co-branded watch unveiling at the Habanos factory. The collaboration is to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the legendary cigar brand, Cohiba. Zenith and Cohiba are celebrating the anniversary with three watches, the Christophe Colomb in rose gold, along with an El Primero Chronograph in rose gold and one in steel. What is immediately apparent is that both Zenith and Cohiba’s DNA and brand identities are central to the watch designs.
After the press conference concluded, I had the pleasure of trying the watches on whilst enjoying Cohiba’s cigars. I immediately gravitated to the Christophe Colomb. Like its predecessor, the sapphire crystal ball looks big but never sat uncomfortably on my wrist. What was an immediate pleasure in the new design is the visibility of Cohiba’s DNA and branding. The dial color and texture are instantly recognizable to fans of Cohiba cigars. Eye catching, soulful, and fun, the Christophe Colomb embraces the enjoyment of Cuba and the sophistication of Switzerland. Like the colonial buildings or beautiful 1950s cars that patrol Havana’s streets, this watch will still be in style for many years to come.
A pleasant trip to see the unveiling of the Zenith/Cohiba collaboration ended with lunch alongside Aldo at a beach side club, I had the chance to catch him for an interview.
Alfred Lung: Thank you very much for inviting me to Cuba. This is my first interview with the new CEO of Zenith watches since Mr. Dufour left. First of all, I would like to ask you, what is your definition of haute horology?
Aldo Magada: Well, haute horology for us at Zenith is more, let’s say, a laboratory of research and finding new ways of expressing solutions for problems - like the zero gravity on the Christophe Colomb. So apart from our unique haute horology creations, more important for us is the industrial scale production, the stability it brings, and, I would say, the quality it delivers to the consumer.
As you know, we are a true manufacturer. For me, the manufacturer is not only about having your own calibers, but also to able to equip 100% of production with our own calibers. There are only very few [brands] who are able to do that. Since ETA began to limit supply, many brands started offering their own movements. And they could be great movements, but they only represent 15% - 20% of their production. We are delivering 100% of our products with manufacturer standard, same as Patek, as Rolex, etc. And I think it’s important when you take responsibility for having not only designed the case, but also the engine. Toward the consumers, you have a great responsibility to ensure that the people are happy when they are buying, and happy for the long term. That also means we are totally capable to maintain all the El Primero movements.
You know, El Primero is 47 years old, so you can imagine the number and different kinds of El Primero calibers we have released. So that’s something which is also part of the brand’s responsibility to the consumers, to maintain the product for a long time because it is we alone who must please the consumers when they put the credit card on the counter. We want to make sure that he is happy for the long term.
Alfred: A lot of consumers think a watch is eternal in many ways because it can be restored. So are you saying that you can restore nearly all the watches Zenith has sold?
Aldo Magada: I would say yes. But, there is always a "but." Let’s say, theoretically, yes. Practically, it’s a question of time. Sometimes a customer gives us a watch from the 1970s that you we can easily maintain, no big deal. But if the dial is totally broken, you have to replace it. When we have no more dial of this reference in the inventory (because we do keep a big inventory), we have to redo the dial. If we redo the dial, it’ll probably cost half the price of the watch itself, and that’s something we have to explain to the consumers. So I would say, yes, we could - but not at any price, and not within 10 days. It’s like the vintage car, it’s like the vintage bike. And people normally understand this. After all, it’s a question of, could I afford a new dial for my father’s watch which costs US$5,000? I exaggerate it a little bit.