It has been a while since we last added to our Vertical Collection series. Here is our fourth in the series – from another of our favourite watchmakers – Chopard.
The concept of Vertical and Horizontal Collection are used in Wine as a tasting methodology. In the former, same type of wines of different vintages from the same vineyard are tasted. In the latter, wines of the same vintage, but from different vineyards are tasted.
The Vertical Collection: Three essential watches from Chopard
This is our fourth in the series where we apply the concept of the former – three essential watches from one maison. In the first of the series, we explored the vertical collection with A. Lange & Söhne. We next examined the offerings from Patek Philippe. And for our third, we covered Vacheron Constantin. And for this article, we focus on Chopard.
Chopard was founded in Sonvilier, Switzerland by Louis-Ulysse Chopard in 1860, then only aged 24. In 1937 the maison, by that time headed up by Louis-Ulysse’s son Paul-Louis, moved the business from the Swiss Jura to Geneva. In 1963, the maison was sold to Karl Scheufele III. Karl III came from a family of jewellers based in Pforzheim, Germany.
“When I visited the workshops in Geneva and saw the venerable Mr. Chopard at his workbench, I immediately saw that our companies would be a good fit. We talked for half an hour and then I knew that this was the right choice.“Karl Schuefele III
The Scheufele family rapidly developed Chopard as a brand name, and today, Chopard remains a magnificent, family owned manufacture. Here are the three watches which are representative of the history, diversity, savoir faire of iconic of the maison.
Chopard Alpine Eagle
It is interesting that the last watch we have chosen was actually the first. The Alpine Eagle story began in 1980, when the then 22 year old Karl-Friedrich, the son of Karl III, designed a stainless steel watch called the St. Moritz. An elegant, luxury sports watch in steel. It was then a calculated risk. And with hindsight, a well spotted one! At that time the Swiss industry was just about to pull itself out of the doldrums of the quartz crisis, and the majors like Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe was beginning to see success with their luxury sports steel watches – the now iconic Royal Oak and the Nautilus, both designed by the erstwhile Gerald Genta. The St. Moritz too followed in the path and was one of Chopard’s best sellers for the next decade.
In 2019, Chopard released a new version following this tradition. They call the new collection, the Alpine Eagle. Karl-Friedrich tells the story that with Alpine Eagle, it seems like history is repeating itself. His son Karl-Fritz, secretly supported by his grandfather Karl III, insisted that he update the St. Moritz design. He was at first reluctant, but was soon won over by his son’s strength of conviction, just as he himself had been able to win his father’s support 40 years ago.
The Alpine Eagle collection has been very successful. And we loved it right from the start. And there was no lack of options, even from the get go at the launch date, it was issued with ten references in steel, gold, bi-material or diamond-set gold, and available in unisex models in two different 41 mm and 36 mm diameters. We love the textured dial, the beautifully integrated bracelet with three links. As well as the finishing on the case and bracelet. The movement is no slouch either. While not the top notch from the ateliers of Chopard, we would reserve that for the L.U.C series and the Ferdinand Berthoud calibers, the Alpine Eagle uses in-house designed and manufactured calibers.
Editor’s Choice: Our pick from the Alpine Eagle collection for our first essential Chopard is the Cadence in Titanium. Our pick is for the model released in 2023, which is basically an update to the 2021 Cadence 8HF release, a watch bearing the same name, but in a different aesthetics.
Another daring-do by Karl-Friedrich. In 1996, he decided to return Chopard to its watchmaking roots with the Chopard Manufacture in Fleurier, Val-de-Travers. He began to work with Michel Parmigiani in 1993 to develop the first L.U.C high precision movements named after the founder Louis-Ulysse Chopard. The brief was for a high end watch with micro-rotor featuring traditional haute horlogerie finishing. Somewhere along the way, Karl-Friedrich and Michel did not see eye to eye on some of the development and they part ways. Quite amicably. For more on this story, see our In Conversation: Karl-Friedrich Schuefele Part 1/3.
Karl-Friedrich went on with Chopard’s own resources to develop the L.U.C 1-96 movement, a movement which is celebrated and very highly regarded. And Michel went on with the support of the Sandoz Foundation to found Parmigiani Fleurier, who later developed on the work Michel has done on the movement into the PF701 and released it as the Tonda 1950 in 2011. If we examine both movements, the L.U.C 1-96 and the PF701, we see more similarities than differences. We did a discussion and comparison between the two, albeit later iterations of both. See our comprehensive 1-on-1 exploration here.
The L.U.C collection is now ripe with a fully mature lineup. From basic hand wound and automatic 2 or 3 hand watches to chronographs, striking watches and tourbillons. The collection even comprise of models with jumping hour and with a combination of complications. The collection basically comprise of round cases with the case middle being sloped and curved into the lugs, but also includes a classic tonneau shaped case under the Grand Cru classification. The métiers d’arts are also well represented by many models with delicate art incorporated. As well as chronometer and high horology achievements like COSC, Poinçon de Genève and Qualitié Fleurier.
Editor’s Choice: While we absolutely love the Full Strike, it is the base L.U.C which steals our hearts. Our pick is the latest L.U.C 1860 in Lucent Steel featuring the latest iteration of the L.U.C 1-96 in the form of the COSC certified L.U.C 96.40-L.
Chopard Happy Sport
Our third pick for the essential Chopard is a bonus for the ladies.
The idea began in 1976 with a sketch of a clown with a tummy full of diamonds and coloured stones by Caroline Schuefele, Karl-Friedrich’s sister and co-President. The Happy Clown has become the Maison’s mascot and marks the first jewellery collection at Chopard.
but it was only in 1993, that Caroline used this in a wrist watch, and dubbed Happy Sport. Based on the ideas first explored in the Happy Clown, this seminal design of the use of loose diamonds between two sheets of sapphire glass was put on a sporty wrist watch. It was a runaway success.
An entire collection sprouted from this design idea, and the Happy Sport continued to this day a best seller. The watches are available in multiple case materials, many movement options from quartz to mechanical and in different case shapes. But always with the loose gold framed diamonds moving freely within two panes of sapphire glass. A variant called the Happy Diamonds are also available where the diamonds circulate around the case in a compartment of their own, rather than right above the dial.
Editor’s choice: our pick from the rather large collection is the Happy Sport Oval with the full diamond bezel and in rose gold. The watch is equipped with a mechanical movement was entirely developed and crafted in-house specifically for small watches. The same movement is used in the Alpine Eagle 36mm. It is a time-only movement, with a 42-hr power reserve and Chronometer-certified by the COSC. The finish on the movement is also uncompromised with decorated surfaces and polished chamfers.
So here are our picks. We have always been HUGE fans of Chopard, and garner tremendous respect for the integrity, the seriousness and work ethic of the family as exemplified by our interactions mainly with Karl-Friedrich and his wife Christine. Here is an earlier article professing our love for the brand.
We also continued our admiration of Karl-Friedrich and the Schuefele family for their conviction in sustainability. The Alpine Eagle was first to use Lucent A228 Steel in the collection, which contains a high amount of recycled materials. The collection, as well as all Chopard’s products also use Fairmined gold exclusively. We made an article on how the gold is smelt in their own foundry in Geneva.
We would also have loved to include the Mille Miglia series, a collection which sprung from Karl-Friedrich’s other love for racing vintage motor cars. And of course every single watch from the entire brand of Ferdinand Berthoud, also the brainchild and passion of Karl-Friedrich. But are satisfied with list of three essential Chopard watches. What would be your picks?