Robb Interview: Karl-Freidrich Scheufele, Chopard CEO
The Chopard CEO talks size, small runs and the power of familial messaging.
Robb Report: If we can jump in by first dissecting the recent Watches & Wonders—how was the fair for you?
Karl-Friedrich Scheufele: I thought it did a very good job of uniting the industry—it was a show of strength. The pandemic has showed us the possibilities and opportunities of digital communication, a lot of which I think will stay. But the pandemic has also shown us the limits of such communication and I think to have a physical fair once a year to celebrate the art of watchmaking in Geneva, as we had planned this year, is still a very good idea—it’s an indispensable part of the watch world and I think we can’t really do without it.
RR: Last year, a number of major brands, Chopard among them, announced they were exiting Baselworld in order to exhibit at Watches & Wonders, casting doubt over the future of the watch industry’s oldest trade show. Baselworld had been going for more than 100 years—do you feel sympathy for the show’s organisers?
KFS: Totally. I was on the Baselworld committee for more than 20 years. We raised our hands many times and said you guys have to change a number of things. We need to get the costs down. I mean, everything was said many times, yet still I have some kind of nostalgia for Baselworld and when the time of year comes around [late March/ early April], I always think of how Baselworld used to be. Unfortunately, we had to turn the page and look towards to new horizons.
RR: Onto some specific pieces — the new L.U.C. Quattro Spirit 25 is a stunning effort, though at 40mm is fairly modest by modern standards. Why the ‘smaller’ case size here?
KFS: I think there’s a trend for smaller-sized watches, back to a more elegant and refined type of watch, that’s my take. And it’s a trend I welcome because I think at one point there was a complete exaggeration—you couldn’t make a watch big enough. Okay, it makes sense if you have multiple complications, which you have to house somewhere. The Quattro is a sleek, intricate, elegant watch. It has four barrels, an 80-hour power reserve and our first in-house enamel dial.
RR: Can you run us through why the Chopard L.U.C QF Jubilee is the perfect piece to celebrate this year’s 25th anniversary of the manufacture?
KFS: First of all, it features the very first movement we released in the manufacture 25 years ago. Secondly, the movement comes in a case that is reminiscent of early L.U.Cs, which were made in the 1950s. It’s the first example in stainless steel—not surprisingly, it has already sold out.
RR: How has Chopard been affected by the coronavirus pandemic in terms of production and sales?
KFS: We never really had to stop production completely, except for maybe three of four weeks last year. The pandemic meant that we were able to work with more time at our disposal on certain innovations and products that will be coming out in the next few years. We introduced a lot of digital communication within our company and with our subsidiaries, which we haven’t been able to visit for a long time, and we learned how to communicate with our customers in a totally different way. We managed to keep sales at a reasonable level, presenting watches without touch and feel, which is extremely complicated but we managed to find ways.
RR: Which do you think is the single most important watch in the Chopard collection?
KFS: It’s now the Alpine Eagle—it proved to be the right move and the right combination between sporty and elegant. Plus, it has a very interesting movement. We aren’t going to give too much away, but we’re working on some very interesting additions, including on the chronograph side but also concerning a larger size. There are a lot of possibilities, this watch is very versatile and a very promising collection.
RR: Has the success of the Alpine Eagle eclipsed expectations?
KFS: Yes, all things considered—markets being closed, shops being closed, I don’t have to paint you the picture. But it did exceed our expectations. We never really had the chance to launch it in China … nevertheless, it did very well.
RR: Chopard’s 2021 novelties are limited-run, high-value watches. Why the focus on the “haughtier” side of haute horology?
KFS: We consider these watches to be collectors’ pieces destined for this side of the market. In terms of the jumping hours, for example, we wouldn’t be able to make many more in a given year anywhere. Plus, today you have a tendency for clients wanting really exclusive pieces or even bespoke pieces, and this type of small series is the answer to what these clients are looking for. It’s always interesting to have something that your neighbour doesn’t, or which they just cannot buy anymore.
RR: Do you have any plans to enter the pre-owned watch market?
KFS: We’re very carefully observing the trend and, in principle, we’re very positive towards this development. The better the pre-owned watch market is organised and traded, the more the watches are certified, the more professional the environment is, the better it is for everyone. We can compare the industry to pre-owned cars. Where would I prefer to buy a pre-owned car? From the company who made the car with a guarantee that the engine has been looked at and so on, or from a website with no guarantee and it ends up breaking down a couple of months later?
RR: Chopard is one of the world’s last remaining, family-owned luxury watchmakers. Why is that so important?
KFS: It means that we have the possibility to make long-term plans. If you look at the manufacture experience of the past 25 years, we managed to invest without having to explain to investors why we are doing this or that. To have a family standing behind a brand, being visible, and really being involved, is an added value for someone who is considering buying an expensive watch—you want to know the people behind the company.
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