Haute Time recently had the chance to see Zenith in its finest element. The luxury watchmaker was in Newport, Rhode Island, where it welcomed a small group of journalists for a special trip aboard the Spindrift 2, the world’s largest trimaran.
It was a unique opportunity for Zenith, which is a sponsor of the Spindrift racing team and Official Timekeeper of the Spindrift 2, to showcase its values of authenticity and daring. While we’ll be bringing you exclusive details from our sailing trip in the weeks to come, today we’re bringing you an exclusive interview with Roland Enderli, Brand Director of Zenith North America.
Mr. Enderli, who joined journalists in Newport for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, took some time out from sailing to answer a few questions. Here is our exclusive interview:
Haute Time: What was the impetus behind Zenith’s move to sponsor the Spindrift 2?
Roland Enderli: Daring is one of our key values and we’ve often accompanied great adventurers during their exploits. For example, Roald Amundsen, the Norwegian explorer who was the first person to reach the North and South Pole, or Louis Blériot, the French aviation pioneer who was the first person to cross the English channel by plane in 1909. Both were equipped with Zenith timepieces.
Or more recently Felix Baumgartner, our current brand ambassador, who jumped in 2012 from the stratosphere and travelled 128,000 feet down to earth. He was wearing our El Primero Stratos Flyback, which became the first watch to break the speed of sound in a near space environment.
So in a nutshell, at Zenith we continually push the boundaries and conquer uncharted territories, and these are exactly the ambitions we share with Spindrift racing, so it was a natural partnership.
HT: Are you an avid sailor?
RE: No, I actually had my first sailing experience in March of this year, at the 52 Super Series in Miami [a monohull sailing race which Zenith also sponsors]. I had the pleasure to spend a few hours at sea with some of the world’s best sailors, including Ed Baird and Terry Hutchinson, and I was deeply impressed by this fascinating sport.
HT: How did you get your start in the watch world?
RE: My father used to lead a huge international trading company and they were in charge of the distribution of some prestigious watch brands. Through him, I started to discover the art of fine watchmaking when I was a teenager. Since then, this métier has been my passion, so working in this industry feels like a true calling for me.
HT: You started with Zenith in Switzerland in 2008. How does that market contrast with the North American market?
RE: With a population of around 8 million, Switzerland is a relatively small domestic market in comparison with North America. However, today Switzerland represents the biggest European market for most of the high-end watch brands because so many consumers travel to the country to buy watches. This travel retail business represents at least 2/3 of the total turnover achieved in Switzerland for most of the brands in our segment.
The potential for growth in the domestic market here in North America is significantly bigger. There are substantially more wealthy consumers that haven’t discovered our amazing craftsmanship and that are all potential future customers. There’s still a lot of work to do in terms of education.
At the end of the day, it’s all about emotions in our business. I believe the average consumer in Europe, and Switzerland in particular, can be won over with technical features, extraordinary craftsmanship and the respect of traditional values, whereas in North America consumers react more emotionally, and respond better to an exciting story or a special partnership. So with regard to marketing we have a slightly different approach.
I would also say that the way people do business over here is faster, more dynamic and sometimes less diplomatic – and I mean that in a positive way!
HT: What are the biggest changes you’ve seen within the industry since you’ve been with Zenith?
RE: Well, after a slowdown in 2008 and a drop in 2009, the industry took off again, and China was the major driver for the drastic growth of our industry between 2010 and 2012. It’s not only the domestic Chinese market, but also the increased number of Chinese consumers buying watches all over the world, which led to new record sales. Then, for the last year and a half, the industry experienced a more modest single-digit growth.
There has also been a lot of change in terms of vertical integration in production and distribution. This has been a major topic in the last couple of years and has heavily influenced the landscape in our business. Nowadays, most of the Swiss watch brands produce in-house movements and operate their own flagship stores in metropolises around the world. We even saw some of the first takeovers of retail chains by watch companies.
Communication has evolved a lot. Brands engage more and more directly with consumers, especially through social media platforms. And of course, there have been incredible developments in terms of technology. Our industry manages to surprise consumers every year with new technical innovations that increase the reliability and precision of mechanical timepieces. Just think of our Christophe Colomb watch with its unique gyroscopic system or our new El Primero Lightweight. That’s what makes this industry so special and intriguing! We combine old, traditional craftsmanship with the latest high-tech.
HT: The El Primero 410 was one of the biggest debuts of 2014. What has customer reaction been so far?
RE: Indeed, the new El Primero 410 was a major launch this year. Its design was inspired by the El Primero 410 we originally introduced back in the 70s. It’s just a timeless beauty, actually my favorite timepiece this year. The steel model is already available on the market and sell-thru has been very strong, already exceeding our ambitious objectives. The rose gold version will hit the market in September.
HT: Zenith recently experienced a big shakeup, with the departure of Jean-Frédéric Dufour, who headed to Rolex, and his replacement as CEO by Breitling’s Aldo Magada. What will this mean for the future of the company?
RE: Mr. Magada brings with him 30 years of experience in the world of watchmaking, and he has worked for several renowned brands. So I’m positive that he is the right guy to continue the amazing work that was done by Mr. Dufour over the last five years, not least because Mr. Magada was appointed by and will be coached by Jean-Claude Biver, the Head of the Watches Division of the LVMH Group, who is one of the most ingenious leaders our industry has ever seen.
HT: What is your everyday watch?
RE: It depends on the outfit and on the occasion. I prefer elegant, classic timepieces from our Captain collection for a business day, whereas on the weekend I like to wear a Chronomaster Open, a Pilot Type 20 or a sporty model from our Stratos collection, like the Stratos tribute to Felix Baumgartner, the first watch to break the speed of sound.
Photos courtesy Zenith.