Classic-car lover, contemporary art collector, wine aficionado… the character traits are perfectly in order, but Karl-Friedrich Scheufele is not quite the old-fashioned watch-brand boss he seems. Co-president of the Chopard Group and creator, 20 years ago, of its haute horlogerie strand L.U.C, it was not the success of his family business that afforded him the idea of creating a high-watchmaking business, but the mournful echoes of failure, albeit not his own.
In the early 1990s, the traditional Swiss watch industry was still clawing its way back from the quartz watch crisis of the 1970s and 1980s. The Swatch Group had started the revival with high-volume, low-price exports and savvy marketing strategies for its luxury brands. Yet generations of skilled watchmakers remained unemployed, leaving parts of the Swiss Jura resembling ghost towns. At the time, Chopard’s core quartz watch business – which, like most Swiss brands of the time, relied on specialist contractors to produce and assemble its watches – was on the up. But Scheufele could see an emerging trend – the new connoisseur consumer movement; the start of the luxury goods industry as we know it. Scheufele, whose mantra is ‘quality craftsmanship, quality communication, quality time and quality of life’, saw a place for a unique Chopard offering within it.
After a tip-off from his co-president sister, he ventured to Fleurier in the Neuchâtel region, where, in 1860, Louis-Ulysse Chopard (hence the L.U.C name) had started the business. He found a concentrated skill-base ripe for revival, and the notion of an in-house production facility was seeded.
‘We knew that starting almost from scratch was a huge task,’ says Scheufele. ‘But watchmaking at this level demands a long-term view and we were, after all, well placed to underline our legitimacy in haute horology.’ By 2009, Scheufele had also established Chopard’s Fleurier Ebauches manufacture, now producing Chopard mainline brands, such as the Mille Miglia, on a more high-volume scale. Today it makes up to 20,000 movements a year.
L.U.C, meanwhile, boasts 11 base movements and 87 variations and creates around 5,000 timepieces a year. Informed by Scheufele’s inherently classic design sensibilities and eye for technical excellence, they remain the alternative choice for aficionados reflecting the suave qualities of the man who has shaped them. And, despite the current downturn in fine watch sales, partly due to turbulent economies, Scheufele’s quiet nerve and steely vision have proved a winning combination.
As originally featured in the October 2016 issue of Wallpaper* (W*211)