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In Conversation: Karl-Friedrich Scheufele Part 1 of 3: The beginnings of the L.U.C Manufacture

Co-President Chopard and President Chronométrie Ferdinand Berthoud.
by Peter Chong on December 21, 2016
In conversation with Karl-Friedrich Scheufele

We caught up for tea with the extraordinary Karl-Friedrich Scheufele when he was in town for the official launch of the Chopard L.U.C Full Strike Minute Repeater and the F. Berthoud FB-1 watches recently. We chatted about divers issues and interesting things, and bring you this In-conversation series. Eavesdrop on our conversation. This is a 3 part series, as we discover what drives him (or what he drives), and his myriad passions. 

 

Karl-Friedrich Scheufele was in a good mood that day. Not that he is usually in a foul mood to warrant this mention, but he was particularly relaxed and comfortable. Jovial even. We have just had a media lunch to launch the F. Berthoud FB-1 at the two Michelin starred restaurant Les Amis. And had proceeded back to his suite at the Four Seasons Hotel. The suite was magnificently decorated and furnished as is typical of the Four Seasons. And we proceeded for some tea while we chatted.

 

Karl-Friedrich Scheufele sporting the F.Berthoud FB-1 while having tea with us. Photographed November 2016, Singapore.

Karl-Friedrich Scheufele sporting the F.Berthoud FB-1 while having tea with us. Photographed November 2016, Singapore.

 

The LUC Manufacture

We began our chat with the L.U.C manufacture. One which started 20 years ago in the town of Fleurier. The author was one of the early visitors to the LUC manufacture in 1998 (2 years after it was established) and was very impressed with the way that Karl-Friedrich had gone about in its set-up.

 

Val-de-Travers, Winter 2013. This is the scenery around the town of Fleurier where the Chopard Manufacture is located. Deep in the Swiss Jura mountains.

 

We asked KFS, as he is affectionately known in the industry, what was the rationale behind setting up of the L.U.C Manufacture. Remember the idea began probably in the early 1990s, way before the clamp down on the supply of ebauches. Third party movements were the order of the day, and was not difficult to obtain, nor was it expensive.

At that time, Chopard, like other watchmaking maisons have been using third party movements in their watches, and have been very successful, especially in the field of ladies watches. But KFS was passionate about his own manufacture. He had a great desire for Chopard to gain full legitimacy in the field of Haute Horlogerie. He wanted to provide clients with watches which are rich in content, and build timepieces in a dedicated and technically well equipped facility, and remain a fully integrated, independent manufacture.

He was clear of the added value that that brought about –

 

It is about credibility, authenticity and of course independence.

Karl-Friedrich Scheufele

The initial expense was not considerable, as KFS recalls. It was spread over a period of some 10 years. Although we note that Chopard was already a very successful maison by then, and could muster considerable resources.

Driven by this passion, KFS drew up the initial ideas, and set about to convince his family that it was a venture worth his salt. His father, Karl Scheufele was still President of Chopard then, and the family discussed the idea to great depths, and approved it.

With the agreement, KFS began work in 1993. He already had an idea of how the first movement was to be like and he commissioned Michel Parmigiani to begin the technical work. At that time Michel was a watchmaker who was working mainly on restoration works of pieces within the collection of the Sandoz Foundation. Parmigiani was not a brand then. The brand which Michel was to found only came into being in May 1996.

 

An early example of the first series of the Chopard L.U.C 1860 featuring the 1.96 movement. The watch was presented in Baselworld 1997 Photo by SteveG.

 

This also explains why the L.U.C 1.96 movement shares several design cues and similarities with the Parmigiani Tonda 1950 introduced in 2011.

As we understood it, the movement created by Michel was very artisanal, and KFS was not satisfied that it could be made into the targetted series production of 500-1000 pieces. The partnership was terminated. And under the leadership of KFS, Chopard  reworked some of the parts and completed the design of the L.U.C 1.96, and produced it in-house. The L.U.C 1.96 carries the Poinçon de Genève as well  as COSC certification, and was launched in the Chopard LUC 1860 in Baselworld 1997.

KFS let us in on a little hidden agenda he had when he convinced the family to embark on the project to start a manufacture. He did not want to expose the company to the full extent of his dreams, and also to take things one step at a time. But when the project began, he already had the plans for the next 20 years outlined. In his mind. The 10th Anniversary was to be landmarked by a brand new column wheel chronograph (achieved in 2006 with the L.U.C Chronograph). And also a minute repeater for the 20th Anniversary (unlocked this year with the L.U.C Full Strike). He kept these plans to himself, and quietly achieved them one step at a time. Quite a nice record of success.

And a great success it has been. The L.U.C Manufacture has made no less than eleven watch movement families encompassing over 70 variations have been developed since 1996. These movements have won numerous awards and some have been certified by COSC, Fleurier Quality Foundation certifications and the Poinçon de Genève.

KFS revealed that the L.U.C watches represent some 10% of revenues with approximately 4,500 pieces produced a year. This is out of a total of about 70,000 watches made under the Chopard brand name of which 35% are men’s watches. He remarked that though Chopard watches are still more popular with the ladies, the proportion of men’s watches are growing rapidly.

KFS  also told Deployant that that though 2016 has been a tough year, the jewellery side did quite well, improving their year to year sales. Key business areas are China, Japan and the Middle East where Chopard is seeing growths in the business. He continue to maintain his key focus on a well balanced distribution. The conservative nature of the Chopard business means that they continue to make the best products they can, and allow the market to determine success.

The outlook for Chopard in 2017 is probably the levelling out of the business decline which began a few years ago. KFS is optimistic that there might even be a small increase  in business. With the new opportunities in the recovering market.

 

Hindsight is 20/20

 

The conversation went on to what KFS would have done differently now, with 20/20 hindsight. He was candid, and without the slightest hesitation, he outlined two things:

  1. would have taken more time to personally explain what they were doing rather than being very busy just doing it
  2. expand the manufacture

The setting up of the LUC manufacture paved the way for total independence. Chopard had always made the cases for every watch produced. They are one of the few watchmaking maisons who have their own gold foundry in Geneva. As jewellers, Chopard had already been producing all the bracelets, chains and jewellery. Even the dials are made in-house.

While Chopard still uses third party ebauches for their movements for some of their entry level watches, KFS and the team have made good progress on another project for in-house manufacture of movements in an industrial scale. The experience and lessons learnt with the LUC Manufacture has made the journey smoother.

 

Part of the industrialised facility to manufacture movements in the Chopard Manufacture.

 

We visited this facility in 2014. The facility is part of the Chopard Manufacture, and while not strictly part of the L.U.C Manufacture which is more specialised in haute horlogerie movements, and is more focused on an industrialised approach. It would provide Chopard the engine to power forward with the numbers of movements needed.

 

End of Part 1. In Part 2…

We talked about the Qualitie Fleurier Foundation, the support for Fairmined Gold, and Chronométrie Ferdinand Berthoud. Join us then for as we cover these topics. And in Part 3, we reveal a little bit more about KFS. The man, his passions and what drives him.

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