A fair proportion of the value of a mechanical watch is what is inside the case. Today, a ‘manufacture movement’ is an important factor for those brands that make their own calibres. This is something that has changed considerably over the last half century. Most watch brands purchased movements from specialist suppliers, and many still operate this way. But some have made the huge effort of designing and making their movements in-house. One example is Chopard, who opened their own calibre-manufacturing unit in Fleurier in 1996, just over 20 years ago. We spoke to Chopard co-president Karl-Friedrich Scheufele about the challenge and value of in-house movements.
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“I thought that we would create additional value for our men’s watches if we had in-house movements. In addition, I myself was enthusiastic about making a movement, purely for my own passion for watchmaking. Later I realized that in this way we became more and more independent, because we didn’t have to rely on outside suppliers who don’t always make their latest movements available to third-party clients. In addition, if you make your own movements, you also have far better control of after-sales service necessities.”
A good example of the commitment required for making a watch with an in-house movement is the Chopard L.U.C Full Strike minute repeater, an extraordinary piece of engineering in which the beautiful sound quality is due in part to the way in which the gongs are machined from the same block of sapphire crystal used for the watch glass, which thus becomes the ‘loudspeaker.’ Karl-Friedrich Scheufele described the challenge that this movement represented.
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“When I started to define the role we wanted to play in the watchmaking world, I insisted that our movements should always include something innovative, such as the sapphire gongs in the L.U.C Full Strike. The problem is the time that it takes. Developing the Full Strike movement took about four years, and it’s difficult to foresee what people will be looking for in four or five years time. We didn’t have a minute repeater in our portfolio, and I was convinced that the idea would be very appealing. How do we select which ideas to develop? At the end of the day, the decision is very much based on a feeling, with no scientific or empirical proof behind it.”
One of the trends that Karl-Friedrich Scheufele succeeded in guessing was a move back to moderate case sizes, after a race towards very large-size watches. Another is the tendency for men’s and women’s styles to meet and merge in so-called sports watches that combine a high water resistance with an all-round, everyday-wear appeal. Happy Ocean is a lovely watch in which, in the jewellery version, the classic diving-watch rotating bezel is reinterpreted in sapphires and rubies, and mobile diamonds are free to bring the watch glass to life. As carefree as it is happy, with 100 metres water resistance and a Chopard movement, it will appeal to all sorts of customers. “Today it’s not so much about men’s or women’s, but rather the size, small, medium or large. Whoever wants to wear it can wear it, gentleman or lady.”
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One of Chopard’s best-loved collections comprises the watches expressing the brand’s sponsorship of the classic motor-car race, the Mille Miglia, in which even though the cars are veteran, the public that they attract is definitely transversal. “Of course, the younger generation cannot afford to buy such cars today, because their price has risen tremendously. But young people are interested in classic cars, just like I was when I was young. I could only afford them a bit later on.”
Chopard’s relationship with the Mille Miglia began in 1988, due above all to Scheufele’s passion for racing cars and his intuition that they could strike chords in the public at large. Today, the Mille Miglia range of watches is one of the brand’s pilasters – like the Happy Sport range for women. At Chopard it’s definitely a case of happy intuition.
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