When, in 1860, the young Louis-Ulysse Chopard first established his watchmaking business in the small Swiss town of Sonvilier, it was always going to be different to the many similar-sized watchmakers then active in the Jura region. For Chopard had his eyes quite firmly fixed on a sector which could be permeated only with a combined focus on the quality of the finished product, and accessing the desired marketplace.
Chopard was able to raise his brand to a level above many of his current contemporaries by creating his own exclusive high-precision movements, many of which were manufactured to the demanding Chronometre standard, a rarified sector indeed. Encased in finely-finished pocketwatches, the Chopard manufacture was building its reputation based on innovation and quality.
Once the quality of the product had been established, Chopards’ next coup de grace was to venture further outside the normal catchment area of his time, and by doing so was able to break into the lucrative and enthusiastic new markets which largely consisted of the noble classes in Russia and the Scandinavian countries. By the turn of the century, the Chopard name was familiar to the society circles across wider Europe.
The dark years of war had their inevitable effect on non-essential industry and largely watchmaking naturally fell into irrelevance to the greater population. By the time peace would return to central Europe, the Chopard company would have a new figurehead in the person of Paul-André Chopard, grandson of the founder and who importantly shared his grandfathers vision for the business as well as the energy of youth.
As the Chopard name had by now become recognised as one of the more exclusive Swiss watchmakers, the new Patron made the decision at the end of the hostilities of the Great War to relocate the manufacture and comptoir de vente to Geneve, and in 1920 the new facility opened for business.
Under the banner “Agence de la Fabrique de Montres L.U.C” the Chopard name was one which the well-heeled loved to show off. As the manufacture moved with the times and continued to produce fine wrist and pocketwatches it had become a darling of the fashionista set.
The continuity of the Chopard family involvement however came to an end in 1963 when Paul-André, having been at the helm for over forty years, found that his natural successors – his sons – did not have the dedication nor the desire required to navigate the brand into a new generational era.
Discretely Chopard sought a suitable successor and was delighted to find interest from a kindred spirit who had similarly been immersed in the watchmaking tradition since his early days. Karl Scheufele, a third generation watchmaker and jeweller from the German town of Pforzheim. It is recorded that following a brief meeting, the two men agreed the terms which would quickly see the famous manufacture under new ownership.
Aware of the heritage associated with the name he had acquired, Scheufele was to have a profound impact on Chopard. He saw the potential to incorporate the fine jewellery with which he had a vast experience into the Chopard portfolio, a concept which would work in two ways. Now as well as the manufacture of prestigious timepieces, Chopard began producing a range of distinctive and high quality jewellery which was almost instantly popular with the existing Chopard clientele as well as reaching out to a new market.
Karl Scheufele had successfully raised the profile of the Chopard brand and simultaneously added a lucrative new product line to the business.
Following the successful restructuring of the brand, Scheufele and his family steered Chopard through new territory. Recognising and capitalizing on its’ prominence, new Chopard boutiques were opened in Europe and the Far East, underlining the fact that it had moved on from being a respected but low-profile manufacturer of fine watches and jewellery to becoming, by the late 1980s, an internationally recognised luxury brand too.
A significant ‘miglio-stone’ in 1988 too, when Chopard became a title sponsor to the rebirth of the Mille Miglia, the legendary ‘1000-mile’ open road Italian motor race. A succession of highly popular Mille Miglia motorsport-themed watches have been produced on a yearly basis since this affiliation began which have become one of the cornerstones of Chopards’ watch business.
The Scheufele family continued to consolidate the position of the Chopard brand by returning to the original values of the founder. In 1996 a brand new in-house movement (the first such in many years) was unveiled following three years development in the brand new Fleurier manufacture, back in the Swiss watchmaking heartland of the Val de Travers.
Named in honour of the founder, these new L.U.C movements would go on to win multiple prestigious industry awards, as well as once again bringing the Chopard name back into the exclusive ‘manufacture de haute horologie’ elite.
The Chopard brand now boasts more than 100 boutiques worldwide. Still very much a family business, with Karl Scheufele and his wife Karin having ushered in the second generation of the family to oversee the multinational operations of this prestigious manufacture.
Had he been around, Louis-Ulysse Chopard may have been saddened by the ending of the family involvement in 1964, but he would most likely be proud that, some 150 years after he first created his first works, the family name was in safe hands and still adorned watches of the highest quality and innovation, and were renowned the world over.
That seems to be what he had set out to achieve….