ZURICH — Rolex has tapped Zenith honcho Jean-Frédéric Dufour as its new chief executive officer.

This story first appeared in the April 16, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Dufour, 45, is to take over from Gian Riccardo Marini. His start date has not been set.

At the management helm of Zenith, the most thoroughbred of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton’s stable of watch brands, since 2009, Dufour has also worked at Chopard, Swatch Group’s Blancpain subsidiary and independent firm Ulysse Nardin.

Dufour is Rolex’s third ceo since 2008 — an extraordinary turnover for a company that has only had six bosses in its 109-year history.

Marini, already in his 60s, was enlisted as a “safe pair of hands” after the surprise departure in 2011 of Bruno Meier, the group’s former chief financial officer, previously a top executive at Deutsche Bank’s Geneva-based private banking operation.

Meier’s was a shock appointment, promoted to the ceo slot after the sudden departure in 2008 of Patrick Heiniger, son of a legendary former Rolex boss and who was in the top job for 16 years. Heiniger died last year.

“I think there is a conflict within the organization between the modernizers, who want to see faster development and more innovation, and more traditionalists, who want to see a more steady-as-she-goes approach and blame overexposure to greater China for current woes,” said Jon Cox, head of Swiss equities at broker Kepler Cheuvreux in Zurich.

Geneva-based Rolex, controlled by a foundation created by its founding family, boasts annual revenues estimated at $5 billion.

Rolex watchers, sometimes compared with Kremlinologists in their meticulous analysis of every rare snippet of news, interpreted the upheaval as dissatisfaction with Rolex’s performance at a time of growing competition — notably from Swatch Group’s resurgent Omega brand and Compagnie Financière Richemont’s IWC.

Dufour’s successor at Zenith has yet to be named.

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