Chopard's family affair
It must be reassuring growing up to know that one day there is a job waiting for you, and you will be the next in line to inherit the family business. On the other hand, if it is a company that has lasted over 150 years, there must be immense pressure – you don’t want to be the one who finally messes it all up. Perhaps this is why Karl-Friedrich Scheufele has taken to running Chopard with his younger sister, Caroline, to share some of the responsibility.
There is 155 years of history riding on everything they do. Founded in 1860 by Louis-Ulysse Chopard, the Swiss watchmaking company was then passed on to each generation of his family. But in 1963, his grandson, Paul-André Chopard, found that his own children favoured a different path, and instead sold the business to Karl Scheufele III, a young goldsmith and watchmaker. So Chopard now belongs to a different family, with Karl-Friedrich and his sister at the helm since 1985.
Clearly it is in good hands, as realising the importance of the brand’s mechanical heritage, one of Karl-Friedrich’s strategies was to found the Chopard Manufacture in Fleurier, Switzerland, where it could once again concentrate on in-house complications. “The fact that all of our watches are made in-house, from design to production, and with us still being an independent family firm, I think that’s how we are different to a lot of our competitors,” he explains.
Not all watch brands get to diversify as much as Chopard either, and over the years the brand has started to make jewellery and accessories. Watches still play an important role, however, just as they did back in 1860, with its sporty Mille Miglia collection, named after the Italian road race that it has been timekeeper for since 1988, one of its most popular – important to Karl-Friedrich, as being a classic car enthusiast it is an event he likes to participate in.
He laughs when he recalls how the partnership between Chopard and the rally first came about. “The Mille Miglia was always a passion of mine, and then it evolved into a marketing tool,” he says. “But I remember when I first suggested it, my family were saying to me, ‘What is this Mille Miglia? Why are we getting involved in this crazy race?’ I had a hard time convincing them.”
It is perhaps an example of where Karl-Friedrich evolved the company, linking it to a hobby or pastime, rather than let it be weighed down by its heritage. “No matter how old your company is, the important thing is to retain the tradition, but also try to be contemporary,” he says. “You want to honour the past, but still be attractive to the customers of today.”
So does that mean Chopard needs to consider a smartwatch? “Lots of people ask us this, but it is a different price segment, and the product is just not the same,” says Karl-Friedrich. “I think the customer sees it differently too – you can’t treasure or collect a smartwatch. Plus the lifespan is very short. Not just the batteries, but updated versions come out quickly too.”
After 155 years, Chopard understands the products that are right for its future, and in the Scheufele family has the means to take it there. Always full of stories, Karl-Friedrich reveals this was nearly not the case. “In 1963, my father came to Switzerland from Germany to expand our family business, and one of the companies he was interested in was Chopard,” he says. “But Mr Chopard never answered the phone. On the day he and my grandfather were about to leave, they thought maybe just give him one more chance, and he picked up. It’s funny how things turn out.”
It’s also a blessing the way history unfolded in this case.
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