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Chopard - How Chopard built itself a manufacture from scratch

Chopard How Chopard built itself a manufacture from scratch

In 2021, the manufacturing unit of Chopard will be celebrating the 25th anniversary of its founding act. Let's retrace the steps of this manufacture, built from the ground up from a demanding and ambitious vision

In 25 years, Chopard grew from being an early sprout of the watchmaking rebirth to a full-grown generalist with every single complication in its catalog. It's been a long winding road. In 1992, watchmaking hasn't yet become a buoyant industry, and mechanical timepieces are still in limbo. A few brands keep grand complicaitons alive, one small batch at a time, and a handful of talented watchmakers, whose names will go on to be famous, are barely beginning. And yet, in this far from auspicious background, Chopard is considering becoming its own movement manufacturer.

How Chopard built itself a manufacture from scratch

Karl-Friedrich Scheufele inside Chopard's Fleurier manufacture © David Chokron/WorldTempus

Or more accurately, Karl-Friedrich Scheufele is considering such a bold move, convinced that self-sufficiency in that domain is going to prove decisive. His family have been owners of Chopard since 1963 and he succeeds in convincing them.

The project takes full shape in 1996 with a single movement, aptly named 1.96. And it is like nothing else out there at the time. First off, it's an in-house development. The original plans provided by talented watchmaker Michel Parmigiani have been abandonned halfway through the process. Chopard have had to assemble a team of developpers from scratch.

How Chopard built itself a manufacture from scratch

A sketch laying out some design cues of the L.U.C collection © Chopard

Secondly, it's an autmatic movement, but with a twist : it has a micro-rotor. This concept gained traction in the 1960. The idea is to build a smaller rotor and set it within the height of the movement instead of topping it, allowing for a slimmer product whil retaining the benefits of automatic winding. In return, it is much harder to finalize. But the result is slim by design, and the 1.96 has since remained at its original height of 3.3 mm. As a result, the first watch to use it, Chopard's L.U.C 1860, was only 8.5 mm thick. All the while freeing the view on the movement's back through a transparent sapphire glass. 

Lastly, this calibre has a date display and offers a 65-hour power reserve thanks to its two barrels, a system Chopard has named Twin. Back then, there was barely a movement in sight that allowed more than 45 hours of autonomy. Some went as far as 8 days, though, but they were all hand-wound, thicker and much more complex. Oh, and the 1.96 was chronometer-certified. All of L.U.C's calibers have been since, except the few who don't have a seconds hand, which is compulsory for the certification process.

How Chopard built itself a manufacture from scratch

Chopard L.U.C Perpetual Chrono © David Chokron/WorldTempus

Yet Chopard goes another extra mile and quickly becomes a major user of the Geneva Hallmark. The components are machined in Fleurier, then finished and assembled at Chopard's headquarters just outside Geneva. The brand goes on to become that largest and most diverse user of official certifications as it is a founding member of the  Fondation Qualité Fleurier. This independant, demanding body of certification has a wide spectrum but has been underused for several years.

From the beginning, the approach, its complexity, its refinement and its attachment to the fundamentals of watchmaking such as chronometry have made Chopard a manufacture apart, which it still is. One after another, it has mastered all the complications and functions : 8-day movements, tourbillon and later flying tourbilllon, integrated automatic chronograph, perpetual calendar, high frequency silicon escapement, along with several combinations of the above. Step by step, Chopard's experience has been growing, to the benefit of L.U.C, Chopard's high-end, horological range. It's initials are those of Louis-Ulysse Chopard, the brand's founder. In truth, their paths have been one and the same for several years. It's hard to imagine the minute repeater caliber with solid sapphire chimes of the Fullstrike in any other  watch than an L.U.C.

How Chopard built itself a manufacture from scratch

Chopard L.U.C Fullstrike © David Chokron/WorldTempus

L.U.C's classic with a twist design language powered through the 00's, playing on a sense of both symmetry and asymmetry, wide and baroque fonts, off-centered dials and crowns and sophisticated play on colours. Then, somewhere around 2014-15, their style settled down for a cleaner, more classical one. This is both the original nature of Chopard, back in the 1860s, and Karl-Friedrich Scheufele's personnal favourite. For he has been profoundly involved in the development of the collection all along. He made it his baby, and the pole-bearer of Chopard's watchmaking.

In the meantime, L.U.C calibers have gone on to become the high end of Chopard Manufacture's finishing skills, while they gradually took their place in less traditional collections such as Mille Miglia, Imperiale or Happy Sport. The reason is that in 2009, Chopard created a new branch of Chopard Manufacture. Named Fleurier Ebauches, it's tasked with manufacturing movements with more industrial methods and a larger output.

How Chopard built itself a manufacture from scratch

The Chronomètre Ferdinand Berthoud FB1.1 © David Chokron/WorldTempus

The mounting set of skills on the one hand, and the unrelenting horological ambition impulsed by Karl-Friedrich Scheufele on the other, have given birth to an other extension of Chopard Manufacture. It's not labeled that way, but the Ferdinaind Berthoud brand inherited a lot from them. The Chronomètre CFB 1.1 and calibre FB-T.FC are absolutely unique, exclusive to the brand and altogether different from what Chopard does. This is also true of its finishings, which are elevated to an even higher degree. But Chronométrie Ferdinand Berthoud wouldn't have been possible without the manufacturing units, development teams and culture of excellence of Chopard Manufacture. 

It would be unwise to interpret this anniversary as complacency. Chopard is not the kind of company to pat itself on the back anyway. Their celabrating the launch of their original calibre is really an occasion to remember that they started caring about autonomous manufacturing and the come-back of high-end watchmaking before almost everyone else. And that, however much it's still considered a jewelry brand, Chopard is definitely a legit, proper and capable watchmaking thing. 

 

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Maison Chopard epitomises the alliance between watchmaking and jewellery. It has always known how to meet the expectations of its day, relying on four essential values: expertise, tradition, innovation and commitment to philanthropy, whilst working hard to pass on knowhow and skills to future generations.

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