When in 1963 Karl Scheufele took over the company which Louis-Ulysse Chopard had established in Sonvillier in 1860, moving to Geneva in 1937, it employed just five staff. Now in its 150th year, this family firm – the watch branch is run by Karl Scheufele’s son Karl-Friedrich while daughter Caroline is at the head of jewellery – employs 1,750 people in Geneva and at its 13 subsidiaries worldwide.
At Chopard, 45 professions come together under one roof to create timepieces (60% of sales) and jewellery (40%) that are distributed through 1,600 points of sale, including 123 Chopard boutiques and counting. Indeed, three new Chopard stores have opened since January and a further six are scheduled during the course of the year, including in Shanghai, Bahrain, Seoul, Hong Kong and Singapore.
The first "all-terrain" movement
Though more recent, Chopard’s achievements in time measurement are no less proof of Karl-Friedrich Scheufele’s unfailing determination to hoist the brand to a rank that reflects its origins, and step firmly into the elite circle of Fine Watchmakers. A development that sister Caroline was quick to praise at Baselworld where the brand presented its new models. These leave us in no doubt as to Chopard’s fabulous progress and the remarkable longevity of a firm that has never ceased its activity. As the company’s co-president points out, “When Chopard Manufacture was founded in Fleurier in 1996, this marked a return to the origins of the firm and its ancestral expertise. This first strategic decision was followed, in 2008, by the arrival of Fleurier Ebauches, which manufactures base calibres. This marks another important step for Chopard as it will enable us to gradually increase the proportion of in-house movements in our mechanical watches through a process of industrial integration.”
First off the mark is the L.U.C 1937, equipped with the L.U.C 1.010 calibre which has 207 components. “This is Chopard’s first “all-terrain” movement and a red-letter one as it represents industrial autonomy,” Karl-Friedrich Scheufele observes. “It also offers a new entry-level model in the L.U.C collections. There will be 1,937 of this watch in honour of the year Chopard came to Geneva.” The 1937 model is just one element of the celebrations Chopard is planning for its 150th year. Joining it is the L.U.C Engine One Tourbillon (Calibre L.U.C 1 TRM) with titanium case, and which makes no secret of its automotive inspiration. This model, described as “Chopard’s vision of the future,” will be proposed as a limited edition of 150.
Spotlight on training and complications
Equally exceptional, the L.U.C Louis Ulysse – The Tribute is a commemorative pocket watch that can be adapted for the wrist, thanks to a patented system invented by Karl-Friedrich Scheufele’s grandfather and which Chopard has pulled out of its archives for the occasion. The calibre for this timepiece is the result of a joint development between Chopard and the Ecole d’Horlogerie de Genève, and the need expressed by the school for movements its students could use as the basis for their study pieces. When news of an imminent shortage reached Chopard, the firm lost no time in responding. Six years later, Chopard unveils The Tribute and the Ecole d’Horlogerie de Genève has been supplied with sufficient kits to keep its students occupied… for the next twenty years.
Not that Chopard could content itself with “simple” movements. Enter the L.U.C 150 All in One. A limited edition of 15, this timepiece is driven by the Calibre L.U.C 4TQE, a compendium of virtually every known complication: tourbillon, perpetual calendar, eight-day power reserve, large moonphases and equation of time. “A consolidation of all our expertise,” comments Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, with understatement. “These four models have been the focus of our attention for this anniversary year, and no small challenge in terms of deadlines. Ultimately though, I think challenges are something we at Chopard enjoy.”
Caroline Scheufele-Gruosi would be first to agree. The Animal World collection she has imagined for this jubilee year is another dazzling feat. Each of the 150 models in this impressive menagerie is a one-off creation. Jewellery works of art, some 250,000 precious stones were brought to life in 16,000 hours of work. A sum of efforts as befits Chopard’s 150 years of history and expertise.
Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, Co-President of Chopard: It’s important to remember that all businesses, whatever they might be, start out in the same way, with a founder, an enterprising individual who gives the initial impetus. It’s then a question of consistency within the different family constellations. Certain factors will, of course, have a decisive influence. First and foremost we must spark interest among the young generations by gradually inviting them to play a part in the company and, even more importantly, by giving them our trust. Often this is far from being the case, as many parents are loathe to give up an iota of their power. Which pushes them away. As the fourth generation of our family firm, I can safely claim to have certain elements in hand to ensure I am followed by the fifth generation, as I very much hope. However, we cannot disregard questions of affinity.
It was the right decision, and certainly one which shouldn’t have been made later. As we celebrate our 150th anniversary this year, we are coming full-circle. Our models are the fruit of 15 years of hard work and respect for one of our fundamental values, independence, shaped by the demands of credibility, authenticity and visibility. Little by little, we have integrated the different professions involved in producing the external parts and movement. My father began this process. His advice to us has always been, “if you want to do something new, do it yourselves.”
Fleurier Ebauches takes a very different approach to Chopard Manufacture, which concentrates on hand-crafting small series without being too concerned by timescales. We expect our new production centre to be highly competitive without sacrificing quality. It has to stand comparison to Chopard’s other suppliers. Setting up the industrial structure for the three base calibres we intend developing is no simple matter, I have to say. The self-winding movement is now ready, to be followed by a chronograph version then one or two variations of each. In this context, our main objective is efficiency.
There are certain calibres which we haven’t yet made and which must join Chopard’s collections. Generally speaking though, I would say that with 150 years of history, it falls to us to prove we will be equally as good in the future. In such a fast-changing world, we also have a duty to show that, alongside passing fads, there are fundamental values, a love of beautiful things, milestones in time. This is how we can pass on the love of watchmaking to future generations.