Zenith is one of the haute-horologerie brands which is pushing the most towards innovation and Perpetual Passion had the opportunity to have an exclusive interview with Romain Marietta, head of Product for Zenith since 2011. Romain joined Zenith in 2006 and he’s working continuously inside the company for 14 year, covering different roles with increasing responsibilities. He is directly in contact with the CEO of the brand and he manages the development of all the new watches which Zenith will present and produce, all the special editions and all the current collections. Moreover, he is a true watch passionate, someone who truly inspire you while talking!
Romain, tell us something about your role. Does it include also to take decisions on R&D projects?
Yes of course! Every 2 or 3 weeks I have meetings with the product committee where we validate the decisions about the new developments. In Zenith to develop a new watch and think about the future, we have two chances: starting from an existing movement or from a completely white sheet.
During Dubai Watch Week 2020 Zenith presented a lot of novelties and now its offer has become wide and very complete. Which is the novelty you are proud of the most?
Answering this question is like telling you if I prefer my daughter or mi wife! We have the chance as a manufacture to produce our own calibres and to start from these while developing new collections. When I joined the company there were more lines (about 12) and we worked a lot to simplify and reduce our offer. Now we have just 4 collections: the Chronomaster, the Pilot, the Elite and the Defy. I’m proud of each new model because it is targeted for different customers, each line has its own audience.
Chronomaster is dedicated for mastering chronography, Pilot is a brand inside the brand because it is a modern watch but with a vintage taste that is always trendy, Defy is our playground where we play with innovations and Elite is the timeless collection which is very elegant and it has small complications.
I see many innovations in Defy collection (double tourbillon, 1/100 of a second chronograph, Zero G escapement, …), have we already seen the limit of this collection or we’ll be surprised again in future?
There is no limit on Defy collection! Its claim is to push the boundaries of the innovations and it is targeted for young generations like me and you. In our offer a sporty chronograph was missing and the idea of the ex-CEO Jean Claude Biver was to propose a watch able to demonstrate that Zenith is an innovative brand which pushes the things forward. Zenith is the master in high frequency movements for 50 years now, so the next logical step was to improve from 1/10 of a second chronographs to 1/100 of a second ones. Therefore, the inspiration was very clear and we did it. The possibilities of this collection are endless and the idea is to bring always something new which is not available on the market.
I am really impressed from Defy Zero G model; can you please confirm that it works better than a tourbillon?
Yes, it basically goes beyond the idea of a tourbillon. While the tourbillon compensates the effect of gravity on the heartbeat of a watch, the Zero G controls the gravity since the escapement remains always horizontal, whichever is the arrangement of the watch, in the best position to work. This complication was invented in 2007 and it is the miniaturization of a marine chronometer. It masters the gravity and it beats at high frequency.
Which will be the new high-tech materials in Defy collections?
As our competitors, we want to bring new materials in watchmaking industry. For Defy collection we started with titanium, then we introduced ceramics, forged carbon and finally we used Aeronith for Defy Inventor. Aeronith is the lightest aluminium alloy on the market and it is made by an aluminium foam which is fulfilled with a polymer able to be light but also very rigid. We are still seeking and researching for new technologies and materials, some of them are already developed.
How do you test new materials, especially composites, in order to be sure that they can withstand their application and degradation in time?
First of all, we ensure that our suppliers test them and that their quality is able to fulfil our standards. Then we do a lot of tests, especially with the support of LVMH institute trying to simulate different conditions like heat, humidity, seaworthy environments and their behaviour of the wrist. We have a big quality team which ensures that our products can really withstand the time on the wrist but it’s not easy to anticipate what a customer will do with his watch. Moreover, we constantly search for improvements able to increase the properties of our alloys and composites or new materials able to overtake the old ones.
Are there some innovations or developments that you have decided not to install on Zenith watches since historically they belong to other brands? I mean, Omega is famous for co-axial escapement so you a similar device will not be developed by others, for instance.
In watchmaking industry there are many brands with its own DNA able to distinguish them from others. Zenith is famous for high-frequency and mastery in chronometrie, going outside our DNA means to lose your link with collectors and customers. We would love to develop all the new materials, all the new solutions that are coming inside watchmaking industry and we hardly fight in order to do it. Thanks to our 4 different lines we have discussed before, we have the possibility to research in different fields but must keep our identity. If we start to keep characteristics from different brands we will not be Zenith anymore, we need to keep our DNA.
Regarding high frequency, Zenith has developed the 18Hz movement with the Defy Inventor which is even higher with respect to the Defy Lab 15 Hz one. Can you please tell us something about it and the technology behind Defy Inventor?
Defy inventor is an uncommon watch since it is not working like common one. Since 1675 every watch has been created with an escapement and a balance spring (thanks to the invention of Christiaan Huygens), we tried to do the same in our own way. The idea was to work with the escapement and the heartbeat of the watch by replacing with a single component the common 30-more components classic oscillating organ.
By using new technologies on silicon oscillators, we succeeded in doing it and it is incredible. We started to develop the future of watchmaking, something never seen before. We do not know if our way is the right one but at least this is one direction. Moreover, this road is perfectly in line with out DNA since it is a high frequency movement and very precise about chronometrie. Through the skeletonized dial you can see the silicon escapement beating, you can enjoy it or you can be annoyed, it’s up to you, but this is something very different and it works!
Defy Lab was presented in September 2017, but now we have fully industrialised the production process and we can put on the market the final product, the Defy Inventor. We are still learning on it, we are still following the learning curve and working on how to further improve some aspects especially with the support of LVMH institute. This is something absolutely unique in terms of calibre and adopted material (aeronith).
Which is your opinion about the relationship between tradition and innovation in a watch?
Watchmaking industry and business hasn’t been invented by our generation and we must pay a tribute to all people that invented complications or new solutions for this world during the last 4 centuries. Now, we want push the boundaries and try to think in a different way using a different approach. Let’s think about many independent brands; they display time in uncommon ways and they use innovative shapes for the cases, but they are still perfectly in line with watchmaking essence which is based on passion, mechanics and gear trains. Zenith’s approach shown with Defy Inventor is coherent with watchmaking DNA but it is just mixed with technologies coming from different industries, which is good for this world.
“We’re just thinking outside of the box in order to be more accurate and reliable, but we are respectful to the past. In order to be coherent with our patrimony, we have to think what our forefathers would have invented with the technology available today and how they could have imagined the future, this is interesting!”
Which is the role of Zenith within LVMH environment?
We have the chance within LVMH watch division to be quite independent even if each brand has its role to play. Zenith is the manufacture which produces its own movements since the beginning and for the entire of its collections, this is our role. Zenith legitimates the entire LVMH watch division as a real key player in the watchmaking business. Even if Zenith is the classic manufacture, we can think differently and make the future happening. We have the chance to have 4 lines targeted to 4 different type of customers, it’s like having 4 brands inside the brand with the possibility to innovate in different scenarios.
How do you succeed in balancing choices based on business and passion point of view during your everyday work?
It would be great to launch only the product that you love or you want to wear. But this is only the ideal world and it brings you to wrong business decisions. When you are the designer of a watch you need to think to the position of the client and what he would like to have on his wrist. We have a committee with the CEO (Julien Tornare), the designers and the commercial director where we constantly discuss about which watches we want to develop, without forgetting about the feedback of the market (clients, journalists, brand managers, …), and with the idea is to satisfy everybody.
With the 4 lines that we have in our offer, we can make it. Zenith is not a mono-product brand and we need to thank Jean Claud Biver if we have managed to think differently and try to take advantage of different market sectors.
Finally, to conclude our interview, tell us which is your favourite brand and which watch are you wearing today?
My favourite brand is De Bethune; this watch maker is a true genius and the design is amazing. The watch that I am wearing today is the revival of the El Primero A386, the father of the Chronomaster 38 mm without integrated bracelet. It’s the essence of Chronomaster.
I’d like to deeply thank Zenith and Romain Marietta for the great opportunity they give us to have this interview and to share it with all our followers and readers.