Marking The Hours With Benoit de Clerck, CEO of ZENITH On Revivals, India & More

THM Desk
3 May 2024 |
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Steeped in over 160 years of watchmaking tradition, Zenith is renowned for its pursuit of chronometric perfection and timeless luxury. As one of the most authentic voices in the industry, Zenith has masterfully balanced heritage and innovation throughout its long history.

We caught up with Benoit de Clerck, CEO of Zenith Watches on the Indian diaspora, brand growth and more!

THM: You've come a long way from TAG Heuer to Richemont Group and now as the CEO of Zenith. Talk us through this journey ? 

Benoit: I started at TAG Heuer in 1998 or 1999 when it was still an independent company owned by Mr. Auger, who was of Swiss-Syrian origin. He had hired McKinsey consultants and one other person to run the company, and I joined around that time.

In 1999 or 1998, LVMH purchased the TAG Heuer brand. That's how I became part of the LVMH group, which had also acquired brands like Chaumet and others simultaneously. I started LVMH's operations in Dubai. After that, I moved to Richemont for 23 years, holding managerial positions in Switzerland, Latin America, and Dubai. I was the one who established Richemont's presence in Dubai from the ground up.

Then I transitioned to America for IWC and Roger Dubuis. From there, I relocated to Hong Kong to oversee all of Asia for IWC, Roger Dubuis, and Baume & Mercier. I was the only manager handling all three brands together in both America and Asia. Subsequently, the group's CEO requested that I join Panerai as the number two in command, a position I held for seven years. After that stint, I decided to join Emirates as the CEO of Zenith.

THM: You are known to be one who enjoys challenges. What has been your biggest challenge at Zenith so far? 

Benoit: Today, Zenith is doing very well, that's number one. Number two, Julian did a fantastic job, an exceptionally good job. The way I see it, Julien has awakened the sleeping beauty. That's step one, which I think will take a couple of years, preferably three but I need to be patient for up to five years. Then the second step for the brand is to make that beauty walk, and eventually run. That's how I envision Zenith's path forward. One of the core pillars propping up this beauty has always been the El Primero - the rich history, legacy, and all the revivals centered around that iconic movement. The El Primero is a key part of Zenith's revitalization story.

Zenith DEFY Extreme Caliber
El Primero

THM: What do you see as the other pillars of the brand? 

Benoit: The El Primero is definitely the backbone of what Zenith is all about, but not only that. The backbone also includes the brand's history, authenticity, savoir-faire, and craftsmanship. The El Primero has continually evolved since 1969, allowing us to do what we do today. Otherwise, we could never execute at this level. The evolution extends to design as well - Zenith is much more modern and sexy now, attracting a younger generation which is crucial for a CEO. Selling to the youth means longevity for years and years to come.

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We have a very strong collector base too, which is a powerful asset beyond just the El Primero. Collectors are vital because we maintain close communication with them, especially the core ones. We frequently discuss with collectors to ensure we preserve the energy and spirit of the brand. Their input helps guide us while honoring Zenith's heritage and evolution. 

THM: Zenith has done a lot of revivals. Do you see it as a challenge pitching it to the newer generation? 

Benoit: The beauty is that what we produce feels natural and authentic to the brand. The young generation today is demanding - they want fantastic watches that offer great value. Zenith definitely provides a very good deal - we offer great movements, designs, sizes, quality yet at an affordable price. We could easily double our prices, but our objective is to bring a new generation on board.

Zenith Defy Revival Shadow

When I started at Zenith, I was surprised to find our customers skewing much younger. This is a strong pillar because we give them a lot of watch for their money. The other pillar is the collectors who get excited by our revivals and technical pieces like the Defy Zero G tourbillon.

We're striking a balance between innovation that looks ahead while respecting and reviving the past glories that built our credibility. Why create something totally new when you can dust off the gems from your own archives? This authenticity sells. Zenith is known as one of the most authentic brands with unparalleled archives and records. Next year we celebrate 160 years - not many can match that longevity. Remarkably, it's 160 years in the same Manufacture withstanding wars, disasters and storms. This steadfast presence is proof of Zenith's unwavering authenticity.

THM: Will we see Zenith go a completely new way in some of the references in the future? 

Benoit: There's not a lot of difference in our approach. I'm already working on plans for next year when we celebrate our 160th anniversary. But I'm also looking ahead 3, 4, 5, 6 years into the future. I will be a bit more daring because I like it. I think it's fun to be a little different than others. However, the DNA will remain - I won't destroy what has already been achieved. Why would I? What Julien has done has made the brand strong and performing well today. But because we are doing well and growing, I can afford to take a risky, edgier approach while still respecting the core identity. 

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THM: Your message to the Indian watch collectors community...

Benoit: First of all, thank you. Secondly, we love you, the collectors, because you are so important, especially for a brand like Zenith with 160 years of history. For 160 years, we have had a devoted base of hardcore collectors. The beauty of Indian collectors is that you are very vocal in sharing your opinions, which is excellent. We respect that a great deal. We want and value that open dialogue, as it is something Zenith highly respects. 

We are seeing a growing number of collectors in India, not just from Dubai but from all over the Gulf region and within India itself. We know we sell to collectors all over the world, so this is very good news. It encapsulates what collectorship of Zenith is all about - a passionate global community deeply engaged with our heritage and modern expressions. Your knowledgeable enthusiasm fuels us forward.