Mr. Thierry Nataf was appointed Chief Executive Office of ZENITH INTERNATIONAL SA, the luxury Watch Manufacture founded in 1865, based in Switzerland, as of June 11th 2001, and President of ZENITH INTERNATIONAL SA as of January 1st 2002, a company which is part of the Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy (LVMH) Group.
Mr. Nataf graduated from French and American universities as an engineer and holds several degrees in Corporate Management and Business Administration. He has held top international executive positions for North America, Europe and other markets for Consumer Electronic Goods, Luggage, Retail and Luxury Industry. Prior to joining ZENITH INTERNATIONAL SA, he was the international Vice President of the Champagne company VEUVE CLICQUOT PONSARDIN (LVMH Group).
ZENITH, Swiss watchmakers since 1865 has shown its quality and expertise through their mythical movements, one of them being the famous “El Primero” or the “Chronomaster”, models that are among some of the most recognised Automatic Chronograph movements.
(Chronomaster Squelette, a fine Skeleton chronograph done by Schaffo, El Primero Yellow Gold, Skeleton Dial)
TP: Since Zenith is one of the rare manufacturers of an in-house Chronograph movement, I have always considered Zenith as possessing potential. However, other than supplying movements to other manufacturers, the product range of Zenith was generally considered being unexciting in the “Pre-Nataf” days. What went wrong?
Manufacture ZENITH was established in 1865 and lived through more than a
glorious century-long period of impressive success. Then, for a
certain number of years, we devoted our efforts to the service of the most
prestigious watch companies by making mechanical movements for other
brands. Entirely focused on this activity, we tended to forget
TP: Why do you think LVMH bought Zenith? How does Zenith fit into the broader picture, strategically speaking?
TN: LVMH was attracted by this fabulous Manufacture, its know-how, its equipment and its watchmakers. LVMH, being the first luxury group in the world has always been drawn to the unique beauty of luxury goods companies and has developed a talent in revealing and helping the world discover "sleeping beauties”. Several Brands of our group such as Veuve Cliquot are vibrant proof of this capacity. Applying the luxury codes that the group handles so well to the century-old tradition of a Manufacture such as ZENITH was an appealing challenge. Finally, ZENITH, as a brand specializing in mechanical Haute Horlogerie, was a perfect addition to the portfolio of watch brands held by LVMH.
TP: I heard you were born in North Africa? And I have been told that you are Italian, French or Swiss by different people at different times. What is the real story? Can you elaborate on your background and how it has moulded you as a person and a good corporate leader?
TN: The story is a very simple one. I was born in North Africa, and I am coming from a very international family and I have lived and worked in different part of the world. That naturally means I feel like a citizen of the world. Thanks to this international context, I now speak several languages. I soon developed an entrepreneurial spirit running a fashion business and soon after I finished my engineering studies, and armed with a doctorate in marketing and corporate management, I began working for Thomson Multimedia, which had just acquired the TV, video-camera and VCR business of the General Electric group. I worked in this field between the United States, Canada, Italy, UK and France. This activity drew the attention of some people and I found myself vice-president of Delsey, the Luggage Company and then King Fischer, a leading name in the retail trade, entrusted me with its multimedia division. I then took the helm at Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin, number two in the champagne business. And now, ZENITH, the mythical Swiss Watch Manufacture!
(Class Elite Dual Time, Dual Time with Date)
TP: You have acquired vast experience in the luxury industry prior to Zenith, but none dealing in technical watches. Is it a serious handicap for you?
TN: I am
fortunate to have been trained as an engineer, which helps me considerably
in the area of production and the construction of mechanical watch
movements. Above all, on a personal level, I have always been a
devotee of watchmaking and a collector, well before becoming President of
ZENITH. I am therefore well acquainted with this very special world
of mechanical watches. What's more, I have an extremely efficient
team of specialists.
TP: You are the CEO since 11th June 2001 and the President since 2002. How do you think the company has changed since?
TN: My work
consists in restoring ZENITH to the splendour it enjoyed in the early
19th century, the time when it was called "La Grande
TP: How involved are you in the product development process?
am extremely and personally involved in developing new products, at the
head of a small team, called the ZENITH design studio. It is essential for
our Manufacture to research for perfect movements, to create and design
watches that are unique, full of beauty, emotion and that seduce
(Grande Class El Primero, Black Guilloche dial)
TP: I am impressed with the number of new models in such a short time; I believe Zenith designs and quality have improved since you took the helm. However, a technical break-through piece is still lacking. Can we expect more in this aspect?
TN: In 2002,
we launched no less than 14 new models, representing 52 different
references. These new ranges delighted our customers, particularly
the large-size models such as the Chronomaster XT, the Grande Class or the
Grande Port Royal El Primero. The new versions of El Primero with
complications, moon-phases, triple calendar, flyback (El Primero 4001 – El
Primero 4009) or the new double-counter harmony of El Primero 4002, in
tribute to the 1930s, or a new Elite Power Reserve automatic (Elite 685),
have already surprised connoisseurs in terms of the technical feats they
TP: You raised your retail prices sharply this year; why? Do you think Zenith has priced itself out of the market?
TN: When one considers that it takes more than 10 people, almost a year to make an El Primero movement, and that such a product calls for 5,500 successive manual production phases, that each part of the watch, case, dial, hands…are tailored made, one realises that the current price is more than justified. All work deserves its reward. Moreover, the increase in price has been accompanied by considerable improvements to the product. Just one example; our new folding clasps. Previously, a gold buckle weighed 3 grams. Today, our buckles weigh no less than 25 grams of gold... if I am not mistaken. All this means that the repositioning in ZENITH prices corresponds both to market reality and to the real beauty of our watches.
(Grand Port Royal, El Primero)
TP: Your relentless effort has been very visible and you are certainly creative and bold, but has it been financially rewarding? Has it met your expectations?
You know, there is something magical about ZENITH !
(Zenith In-house movements)
TP: How autonomous are Zenith and you? And how involved is LVMH in the running of Zenith?
TN: The brands within the LVMH group enjoy tremendous autonomy, since we are convinced that this is one of the keys to success. Each brand thus has the opportunity to be itself, to develop its own strategies, its product lines and its specific identity. That is perfectly right to me: in the genuine luxury world, clients do not want a standard product, but a watch that has something unique. It is a great chance to belong to LVMH.
TP: Do you think you have met LVMH’s expectations thus far? Is there a lot of undue pressure to meet their financial objectives?
TN: When you have beautiful products, they sell. Customers are happy, and so are we. Since we are meeting our goals despite the international economic climate, there is no cause for concern. The pressure I feel is that which I place on myself, since I always aim higher, larger and towards even greater beauty.
TP: Zenith movements are still in Panerai, LouisVuitton and Tag Heuer watches. Will Zenith continue to be a movement supplier?
TN: Our strategy consists of refocusing on our own brand, and we will gradually cease supplying other brands, based on agreements made with the latter and according to a schedule that has already been negotiated. In exceptional cases, such as the limited series "Tambour" line by Louis Vuitton, we may envisage providing movements. To take this specific example, we were chosen from among other suppliers, not because we are part of the same group, but because a sophisticated comparative study convinced Louis Vuitton that the El Primero movement is quite simply the finest integrated chronograph on the market.
(Chronomaster Baroque Skeleton done by Schaffo)
TP: Your watches could not be sold in the US in the past due to an alleged Trade-mark problem with the Zenith brand. What is the real story? How was it resolved?
TN: This was a problem with respect to the use of the ZENITH trademark, which had been registered in the United States by another company. But the problem has now been completely resolved and we have a ZENITH subsidiary in New York since 2002.
TP: How are Zenith watches doing in US now?
TN: America is America !
From 5th avenue in New York, to Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles, ZENITH is back. The US market is one of the most prestigious markets for mechanical watches, with a strong base of ZENITH fans and supporters.
I do believe that in the years to come, the US market will be one of the most important markets in the world for us.
TP: We heard you will be launching the Chronomaster Perpetual Calendar at Basel 2003; can you confirm this? If so, any details you can share?
TN: You are well informed... We are indeed planning to launch an El Primero
Perpetual Calendar model in 2003.
You will be able to judge for yourself at Basel.
TP: Who do you think is a Zenith owner?
TN: We have various types of customer. The aficionados, whether famous or not, have
always loved the brand. They encourage us and write to tell us of
the pride they feel in returning to the brand of their first watchmaking
love. Our new customers are particularly interested in the new
lines, which offer such a subtle blend of modern styling and traditional
watchmaking know-how. The typical ZENITH customer is indeed
fascinated by the art of horology, but is above all a person of culture
with a love of contemporary art and literature, capable of being stirred
both at the wheel of an Aston Martin or when contemplating a sculpture by
Brancusi. The exceptional appeals to him, not only in the objects he
gives to others, but also for himself: he wants to be different. In
our world based on appearances, he remains deeply attached to things that
are genuine and authentic, while also capable of giving into snobbism when
circumstances require. In a word, he is an aesthete that appreciates
TP: What is your favourite Zenith and non-Zenith watch? Why?
TN: At ZENITH, I love them all. The Chronomaster, for its elegance and the tradition it represents; the Class, for its understated elegance and purity, and the Port Royal for its taut lines and resolutely dynamic look. The other Haute Horlogerie brands each have at least one product that appeals to me, so I do not wish to choose between them...but my heart, beating at 36 000 alternances / hour belong to ZENITH !
(Chronomaster XT, El Primero 43mm Flyback Chrono, Guilloche Silver Dial, Red Gold)
TP: You are a busy man with many things on your hands; how do you cope with stress?
TN: I see time as a friend. For me, time as it passes is my ally, since it builds, enhances and improves both people and things. This idea helps me to stay "zen"; what could be more logical when one is President of ZENITH?
TP: What do you think about ThePuristS.com?
TN: It is an extremely interesting site, which is addressed specifically to the kind of aesthete I have just described.
TP: You just arrived yesterday, and I heard you are leaving for the airport now. Thank you for allocating these precious few hours despite your very tight schedule! On behalf of the Purists and all our readers, I thank you!
TN: Thank you!
Copyright February 2003 - Jaw and ThePuristS.com - all rights reserved
Copyright February 2003 - Jaw and ThePuristS.com - all rights reserved