Karl-Friedrich Scheufele at the wheel

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Chopard’s co-president talks about the maison’s revolutionary minute repeater watches, his passion for vintage cars, and why the weather is always on his mind

Chopard’s co-president talks about the maison’s revolutionary minute repeater watches, his passion for vintage cars, and why the weather is always on his mind

Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, who is in his 60s, reminds me of Richard Burton. Polite, impeccably attired, and passionate about all things classic. His vision of creating movements gave birth to the Chopard Manufacture at Fleurier in 1996, and the first proprietary calibre 1.96 came the very next year.

After more than 10 calibres and countless variations, and the hallowed L.U.C movements (named after the founder, Louis-Ulysse Chopard), the  maison, under Scheufele, has gone from strength to strength in the last 25 years and is today counted among the inner circle of fine watchmaking. At the recently-concluded Watches and Wonders Geneva, they raised the bar yet again with ‘The Sound of Eternity’, a trilogy of creations — L.U.C Full Strike Sapphire, Strike One and Full Strike Tourbillon — that are a testament to their unequalled expertise in chiming watches. In an interview with the  Financial Times, Scheufele shared that the inspiration came after he attended a performance by violinist Renaud Capuçon in 2018. As he listened to Debussy’s Violin Sonata in G Minor, he realised “that a minute repeater watch should be designed as a musical instrument as much as a timepiece and that it should deliver more than just an audible indication of the time of day. It should deliver emotion”.

Excerpts from an interview with the co-president of Chopard, who designed his first watch at the age of 22 (the  maison’s first steel sports watch, the St Moritz), and takes time off to go black truffle hunting in Périgord.

The journey of Chopard’s trilogy of chiming watches.

It started in 2006, with the launch of Strike One, which would just strike every hour. This became the stepping stone for 2016’s Full Strike. It took more than 17,000 hours of research and development, and a very innovative system that we discovered for the minute repeater [sound amplification through the combination of a sapphire crystal gong and case]. You could hear it across the room when it is relatively quiet. The collaboration with the Capucon Brothers, violinist Renaud and cellist Gautier, [for the latest iteration, the L.U.C Full Strike Sapphire] helped us fine-tune the acoustics.

The L.U.C Full Strike Sapphire

How did you get that quality of acoustics?

We realised that whether we used white or rose gold, platinum or steel, we would create the same intriguing sound. So, we thought why don’t we try to make all-sapphire pieces [including the crown, lugs, and the case]. It was a huge endeavour because we didn’t realise how complicated the case would be to be make.

Are you happy with the evolution of the Alpine Eagle?

The Alpine Eagle [the watch Scheufele wears regularly] has been flying high since we launched it in 2019; the demand exceeds supply. It’s a very complicated watch to produce — with a lot of detailed finishing that takes hours. The collection now has a chronograph, and we are especially proud of the Alpine Eagle Flying Tourbillon with its extremely thin case [just 8mm]. It’s a new interpretation that is elegant and yet sporty, featuring our house calibre L.U.C 96.24-L.

The Alpine Eagle

The Alpine Eagle

You are among the last few independents in this corporatised luxury business.

We are about the long term. We pay a lot of attention to craftsmanship, it’s one of our key values. And while we respect tradition, we are always innovative and creative. If you look at our high jewellery, we are always creative and yet we produce pieces [be it a watch or a jewellery piece] that last in time. The family is very much involved in the productive element. We have the luxury to work closely with the product and that is another advantage.

Your journey towards ethical business.

Sustainability is another long-term project. It is a journey that we embarked upon at a time when most companies did not really consider it a necessity. We introduced the Fairmined gold project in 2018 and it goes all the way, to every one of our subsidiaries and production companies. We try to keep our projects, whether small or big, contribute to either a better environment or more respect of social responsibilities.

Scheufele in the paddock the day before the Mille Miglia race

Scheufele in the paddock the day before the Mille Miglia race

Let’s talk about Chopard’s association with Mille Miglia and your passion for classic cars.

The involvement with Mille Miglia [an open-road endurance race] started a long time ago, in 1988. It leads back to my passion for cars, which started with a collection of toy cars and then became a collection of real cars in the relatively early days of my life. I developed a passion for classic cars; my first was a Porsche Speedster that dates back to 1954. It’s also the first car I totally restored.

What are your favourites?

I like pre-war cars from the 1930s. They give you the real driving experience. My oldest car is a Bentley from 1929. In seven years, it will be 100 years old, and it is still running!

Scheufele at Mille Miglia

Scheufele at Mille Miglia

When did you last drive at Mille Miglia?

I drove last year with my friend Jacky Ickx, who is a Chopard ambassador. And I will be driving the Galvin Mercedes this year, probably with my daughter.

You are also a wine entrepreneur now. [He enjoys the wines from Château Haut-Brion in Bordeaux.]

It’s been 10 years since we took over Château Monestier La Tour in the Périgord region in France, and a lot has happened since then. We moved to organic growth, even biodynamic growth, and got certified in 2017. But growing wine is unpredictable and very different from making watches. Here you are dependent on the weather, and have to adapt your strategy if not every day, then every week. We’ve had relatively good harvests these last three years and made some good wine, but it is complicated to navigate the unpredictable and extreme weather. Look at today, it is snowing in Geneva when our big concern was that we had relatively warm weather. I hope we don’t get any frost! It is exciting, though, you are always on your feet.

Château Monestier La Tour

Château Monestier La Tour

Let’s talk about a project close to your heart, Ferdinand Berthoud. [Scheufele bought the name in 2006 and announced it is 2015. The haute horology chronométrie takes inspiration from the 18th-century scientist and watchmaker.]

I think this year, we will be looking at 40 to 45 pieces. If you are working at this level of finish, quality and complication, it is very difficult to look at a larger scale. Everything we recently introduced is already reserved or sold out. It is a bit frustrating for some of our clients, but it is also proof that we are doing things right. It is a big responsibility to walk in the footsteps of Ferdinand Berthoud, our mentor and guide.

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