Exactly twenty years ago, Chopard threw open the doors of its manufacturing facility in Fleurier (Neuchâtel), a “start-up” employing just a handful of staff. The brand was already three years into the development of its first in-house movement, which was finally revealed to the public in 1997 as Calibre L.U.C 96.01-L, with two barrels delivering a 65-hour power reserve and automatic winding by a 22k gold micro-rotor to preserve the slim, 3.30-mm height. This new movement, hallmarked with the Poinçon de Genève, was quick to distinguish itself inside the L.U.C 1860, voted Watch of the Year. Chopard Manufacture has been busy ever since: in the two decades since these auspicious beginnings, it has designed and developed 11 movement families which have in turn produced an impressive 87 variations. A twelfth is in the pipeline and should be revealed this year, once the excitement of Baselworld has calmed down. It will add the one complication still missing from the Manufacture’s repertoire: the minute repeater.
This milestone is, needless to say, also that of Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, the man who engineered this remarkable ascent. Speaking at Baselworld, he recalls those early days: “When I embarked on this adventure, I felt I was very much on my own, with no-one to support or even understand me. Why start a Manufacture from scratch when you can buy in quality movements at competitive prices? At that time, the question of independent movement supply was far from anyone’s mind. For me, however, it was about the credibility and integrity of the product. A Haute Horlogerie watch must be fitted with its own movement. And because I felt so passionately about this, and because I was sufficiently persuasive, the project was launched. Yes, it did take much longer than I’d anticipated, particularly as we had to rethink our plans based on the number of movements we intended to produce; yes, I had to rein in my enthusiasm and listen to the movement developers who refused to present a product that wasn’t totally reliable; yes, I had to deal with criticism from those who thought this was a pointless, even pretentious, enterprise. But at the end of the day, I don’t have a single regret. Thanks to the Manufacture, we’ve won respect and acknowledgement, and while this didn’t come straight away it does represent genuine added value for Chopard.”
After Chopard Manufacture, Fleurier Ebauches
What price this recognition? “Financially, this is a profitable operation but over the long term. As a family business that doesn’t have to constantly justify itself to shareholders, we were able to envisage a development such as this, knowing there could be no short-term return on investment. If we were starting out on the same road today, it would be considerably more complicated and we would be under far greater pressure to speed things up. In this respect, we were fortunate to set the ball rolling when we did, when we had time to do things properly and well.” As if this weren’t enough, Karl-Friedrich went a step further with the launch of Fleurier Ebauches, which produces movements on a more industrial scale. The project, which again took several years to bring to fruition, continues to grow with a steady increase in production. “We currently produce in the region of 4,500 L.U.C movements a year and around 12,000 calibres at Fleurier Ebauches,” says Karl-Friedrich Scheufele. “We’ve introduced our first in-house chronograph with the XL Race Edition, part of the Mille Miglia range. This means as much to me as our very first L.U.C movement. It’s something I’ve had my heart set on for a long time.”
No fewer than four watches are making their debut in this jubilee year for Chopard Manufacture: the L.U.C XPS 1860 ultra-thin, driven by the first of Chopard’s in-house movements; the L.U.C Perpetual Twin with two series – mounted barrels, a nod to the original model, powering a perpetual calendar; and the L.U.C Perpetual Chrono which offers the unusual pairing of a chronograph with a perpetual calendar inside a gold case with Fairmined certification, the spearhead of Chopard’s sustainable development practices. The magnificently decorated L.U.C XP 35 mm Esprit de Fleurier Peony completes the picture. This is also the year of the Happy Diamonds, something of a symbol of Chopard. Two new versions reprise the original cushion shape of the very first Happy Diamonds from 1976. Bringing this anniversary to a close, the brand has already announced the arrival of an L.U.C watch for travellers: all will be revealed in the second half of the year. Karl-Friedrich Scheufele’s evident delight when showing “his” movements to visitors at Baselworld leaves no doubt that from small beginnings, great things have grown.