IN THE NORMALLY staid world of watchmaking, Zenith president Thierry Nataf stands out as one of the industry's most charismatic figures. A flamboyant character with a penchant for theatrics, Mr Nataf's penchant for watches is undeniable - he loves them so much he always wears two, one on each wrist. In media interviews he revels in the opportunity to present the design philosophy of the brand, which he has been running for the LVMH Group since 2001. 'This company was created in 1865. It's almost a mythical thing,' Mr Nataf said, sitting in a room deep within Zenith's luxurious booth at BaselWorld 2005. 'When I took the Zenith presidency I realised it had great potential.' To realise that potential, Mr Nataf embarked on what he calls a 'refoundation' of the company, which has successfully transformed its image in the marketplace and established the brand with a strong reputation in a short time. An engineer by training, Mr Nataf has a love for all things mechanical and the pursuit of technical excellence is one of the defining themes evident in Zenith watches. 'I believe in mechanical watches. At Zenith, there are no quartz movements. There may be one year, but I don't think so.' This year's collection, for example, boasts the 'fastest tourbillon in the world', the El Primero Tourbillon. 'When a watch goes very fast, it is never late. It is very expensive, of course, but there are people who like that.' However, he said that there was more to creating a great watch than simply making it tick right. 'If I am Aston Martin, of course the engine is important,' Mr Nataf said. 'But you still have to drive it. You have to combine many different things.' What really made a good watch was the look and the feel of what surrounded its ticking mechanism, he said, and that was all about design. Mr Nataf said Zenith's aesthetics were dictated by a simple motto: Le beau est la splendour de la vrai - Beauty is the splendour of truth. The straight lines of the Grande Port-Royal Open, for example, were inspired by New York architecture, a city for which Mr Nataf said he felt a great affinity. The combination of brushed and non-brushed finishes on the metal of the rectangular case on a large men's watch gave the design a certain power, Mr Nataf said. But it is with this year's ladies' collection that Zenith's designs really come into a class of their own. Mr Nataf said the concept behind the ladies' watches was what he saw as the duality of female nature. 'In all women there is innocence, but in all women there is also rebellion,' he said. As a result, the ladies' watches are a blend of both masculine and feminine design themes. With mechanical automatic movements, most of the watches are relatively large and designed with 'strong women' in mind. But the feminine side comes in with playful touches, such as the Star Open's heart-shaped window that lets the movement be seen through the dial. This 'watch with a heart' has become a best-selling item, something Mr Nataf said was a complete surprise. 'When I wanted to make this watch, everyone told me I was mad,' he said. The crowning glory of this year's collection is undoubtedly the Star Tourbillon. A diamond-encrusted high jewellery creation, this boasts what Mr Nataf claimed was the first haute couture tourbillon. He said the inspiration for the watch was the allure of celebrity. 'In all women, there is the dream to be a princess, to be a star. I imagined a woman at the mirror, preparing herself for the evening, making herself beautiful. I fell in love with that one,' he said. Despite being a haute couture watch, the Star Tourbillon retains the playful feel of Zenith's other ladies' models, with large, rounded numerals of various sizes on the dial. But with 112 diamonds - a total of nine carats - the effect is dazzling. Mr Nataf said that was the essence of Zenith: an enduring vision of glamour. 'Luxury is quality - it has to last. What is there that lasts all of your life? A car? Love? Maybe if you are lucky. A Zenith watch? I'm sure of it.'