The passage of time

24 Nov 2007 by Mark Caswell

The concept that watches are jewellery is probably something women are more comfortable with than men. Chopard is a jeweller, no doubt about that, but its watches range from durable sporting numbers such as the Mille Miglia, through to simple elegant pieces such as the LUC Extra Plate (pictured) and, most famously, the “Happy Diamonds” collection of watches, which have loose diamonds moving freely on the dial between two transparent sapphire crystals. The company has also just celebrated the tenth anniversary of it making its own movements for the top of the range LUC collection, so a visit to its Geneva factory was in order.

Chopard was founded in 1860 as  “LU Chopard” in Sonvilier, in the Swiss Jura region, by Louis-Ulysse Chopard. It remained in the family for three generations before being bought by jeweller Karl-Friedrich Scheufele in 1963, where it remains today; privately owned and run, with production sites in Geneva and Fleurier in Switzerland, and Pforzheim in Germany.

Chopard’s production splits equally between around 75,000 watches and 75,000 pieces of jewellery, although it also produces ties, leather goods, pens and silverware. Co-president Scheufele clearly had more than a passing interest in timepieces, however, building up a collection of mechanical watches to form the basis of the Chopard museum at the company’s factory in Fleurier.

When the company was bought in 1963, it no longer made its own movements, but Scheufele was determined to change this, and in 1996 he finally achieved his aim with the “Calibre LUC 1.96” powering the LUC 1860 watch. Since then a number of different movements have been made, and the LUC collection has grown along with the company’s expertise, helped by a CHF30 million investment and the training of apprentice watchmakers and polymechanics. The vertical integration of the firm with design, research and development, even includes the preparation of raw materials including a gold melt, as well as the production of watchcases and bracelets.

So much for the history. Today in watchmaking, the company is probably best known for its sponsorship of the Mille Miglia race, originally an open-road endurance contest which took place in Italy from 1929-57 and was resumed in 1977 as a classic car rally for pre-1957 cars. (It is also, as Business Traveller readers may well be aware, the name of Alitalia’s frequent flyer programme.) The company makes watches for the drivers of each year’s race, and issues both LUC watches in limited editions such as the Monaco Grand Prix Historique collection and a series of chronographs in a limited edition of 250 pieces each year.

The Mille Miglia 2006 is water-resistant to 100 metres, has a red minute-track and arrow-tipped seconds, with a magnified date window integrated into the glare-proof sapphire crystal. It is also available in a limited edition of 250 in rose gold. The watch comes with either a black rubber strap with tyre-tread motif or leather strap, both equipped with a folding clasp, and is limited to 2006 pieces.

What’s impressive about the range is that, since not every traveller wants such a sporty piece on their wrist, more elegant watches are available, and whereas the limited edition Mille Miglia pieces fit in a wealth of complications such as the tourbillon or split-second chronograph, for these it is beautiful slimness and elegance where the money has been spent.

Take the LUC “Extra Plate” for example: a slim watch, with flat bezel, slender case, finely traced Roman numerals, broad diameter (39.55mm) and Dauphine style hands matching the yellow or white gold of the case. It has a self-winding movement equipped with two barrels and an almost 70-hour power reserve within an ultra-thin case (6.8mm), which is achieved by using an off-centred rotor (the LUC 96HM movement).

Hiding this kind of technology behind such a face is the mark of a fine watch brand, which is what Chopard, for all its expertise with jewellery, has now become.

For more details, visit chopard.com.

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