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Dazzling designs

Goola Warden
Goola Warden • 10 min read
Dazzling designs
Caroline Scheufele, co-president of Swiss watch and jewellery brand Chopard, has many reasons to celebrate with the launch of this year’s Red Carpet Collection and the anniversary of the Happy Diamonds collection.
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Caroline Scheufele, co-president of Swiss watch and jewellery brand Chopard, has many reasons to celebrate with the launch of this year’s Red Carpet Collection and the anniversary of the Happy Diamonds collection.

The strikingly attractive Caroline Scheufele looked trim and refreshed when Options caught up with her ahead of the Formula 1 weekend in Singapore. The co-president of Swiss watch and jewellery brand Chopard was wearing her Happy Hearts collection necklaces and bangles. Happy Hearts, which Scheufele refers to as boutique jewellery, is an offshoot of Happy Diamonds which Chopard is famous for.

“This is from our Happy Hearts collection, which we launched last year,” Scheufele says, pointing to her necklaces and bangles. “We added some colours to it for the younger generation.” Chopard also has a Happy Sport Collection, which is targeted at younger men. On her index finger is a large heart-shaped diamond ring. “It’s 17 carats and a lot of top diamonds today come from Botswana such as this particular one. I found the diamond, then I set it. That’s the way it works,” Scheufele says. She finds the stones first, and then designs around them.

When not travelling the globe to visit her numerous boutiques, Scheufele is busy with designing the Red Carpet Collection for next year’s Cannes Film Festival. The next two years are special for Cannes and Chopard. In 2017, Cannes will be celebrating its 70th year. In 2018, Chopard will celebrate its 20th anniversary as the official partner of the film festival. This year, the Cannes Film Festival took place from May 11-22. Next year, it will run from May 17-28.

Every year, the Red Carpet Collection comprises the number of high jewellery pieces that commensurates with Cannes’ age. This year, Chopard presented 69 pieces for the Red Carpet Collection. Next year, it will be 70 pieces.

How does Scheufele go about designing 70 high jewellery pieces? “I sketch a lot and we have meetings whenever I’m in Geneva,” she says. “My first move is to go to the design department which is very close to the office, and I would give new inputs and new ideas.”

One of the most spectacular pieces for this year’s collection is an emerald necklace where the centrepiece is a 95-carat heart-shaped emerald. “I got the stone first. This is from Colombia. I design a lot around hearts,” Scheufele says. “The necklace started with the centrepiece, which is the beautiful heart-shaped emerald, and because it is heart-shaped, we put more hearts around,” she describes. “I’m in constant search for exceptional gemstones from all over the world. I came across this one and couldn’t say no.”

When not in her Geneva office, Scheufele is scouting the world for gemstones such as the 95-carat emerald. “We work with different partners and got this straight from the mine. We cut out all the intermediaries,” she says. The cost savings are passed on to Chopard’s customers. “The better you manage to buy the gems, the better it is for the clients.” The emerald necklace, which is designed with 61 carats of diamonds, costs $2.86 million.

Most of the 69 Red Carpet items were sold to clients during the Cannes Film Festival. “They have found their homes. We invite a lot of our VIP clients during the 12 days of Cannes. They obviously enjoy going on the red carpet and choosing a piece from the red carpet book,” Scheufele says.

The inspiration for the designs comes from actresses from all over the world. Just like the actresses, each piece is different. “There are very different pieces — some more flamboyant, some classical because obviously the actresses have different backgrounds; they come from different cultures, [have different] skin tones, hair shades. You go across from India to Germany, so it’s not easy [to design],” Scheufele says.

Scheufele is keeping details of next year’s Red Carpet Collection close to her chest. Although the team at Chopard has started designing for the festival next year, it will not know which movies will be selected. “The selection is pretty late, usually in April. For the ambassadresses who come every year, we specifically design something special,” Scheufele says.

Green carpet
For the 66th Cannes Film Festival held in 2013, Chopard initiated a Green Carpet High Jewellery Collection called The Journey to Sustainable Luxury. In 2014, the coveted Palme D’Or, the highest honour at the Cannes Film Festival, was made with Fairmined-certified gold. This year, about half the 69 pieces in the Red Carpet Collection are from the Green Carpet Collection, which is made with Fairmined-certified gold.

This label guarantees that the gold has been mined and processed in compliance with environmental and ethical standards. The diamonds are sourced from the IGC Group, which is certified by the RJC Code of Practices. “A lot of little boxes have to be ticked off in the green area like security, clean mining, not spoiling the planet, no kids working, transparent trading, and miners getting their fixed salary,” Scheufele recounts. “A lot of due diligence has to be achieved before they can have the stamp of Fairmined.” For the 2016 collection, everything that is white, such as diamonds and white gold, are Fairmined, she adds.

This year, Chopard was able to introduce coloured gemstones into its Green Carpet Collection. It recently signed a partnership with Gemfields, a global leader in the mining of coloured stones. “We work together with Gemfields for the coloured stones, including mines that produce rubies and amethysts,” Scheufele confirms.

In an industry first, emeralds from Zambia will be fully validated by Eco-Age through its Green Carpet Challenge “Principles of Sustainable Excellence”. These gems will be mined according to international best practice in coloured gemstone mining.

“The ultimate luxury is in knowing how the product that you buy has been produced. It has added value,” Scheufele says. Fairmined gold, which comes from Colombia and Bolivia, costs about 10% more. “[The mining process] is more tedious, but we absorb the additional cost at Chopard so a normal ring would have the same price,” she adds. “We are stepping up on trying to do all of the high-end collection with Fairmined gold and gems.”

Chopard is moving towards getting as much of the Red Carpet Collection made with Fairmined gold and gemstones as possible. “We started with the gold, then we added the diamonds, opals and then the emeralds and now we’re working on three to four projects. If you always set yourself a new goal, then eventually you can make it,” Scheufele says. “The challenges are to get more mines certified for the raw materials we use, whether they’re coloured stones or semi-precious stones. We are now looking into more stones with other colours. Hopefully, by next year, for Baselworld 2017, we can produce something more interesting.”

Happy 40th anniversary
Chopard is perhaps best known for its Happy Diamonds collection. What is perhaps less known is that the original designer of Happy Diamonds was one of the company’s decorators. “He loved to go to the mountains for a walk, and he was watching a waterfall and he had the idea that when water moves and the sun shines into it, it sparkles more,” Scheufele recalls.

In the same way, when diamonds are able to move, they sparkle more. “He [the decorator] participated in a design competition. But then he had to make the piece which was a challenge. We had to find out at that time how diamonds could move within two crystals without scratching them,” Scheufele says. Eventually, Chopard worked out how to contain the diamonds so they did not scratch the crystals — by encasing them in a tube. “The gold [tube] is a tiny bit higher than the diamond so only the gold touches the sapphire crystal, not the diamond, so it doesn’t scratch. If the diamond touched the sapphire crystal, it will scratch so it was a technical challenge,” she says.

“I was still in school then. My first design inspired by the Happy Diamonds was the Happy Diamonds clown, when I was 16. That was the beginning of all my jewellery designs at Chopard,” Scheufele recalls.

The first Happy Diamonds watch was designed for men. Today, the Happy Diamonds watch collection is mainly for ladies.

Chopard’s atelier for the high jewellery collection is in Geneva while a sister company in Germany with 300 staff make the boutique jewellery and the smaller Happy Diamonds collection. In addition to Happy Hearts, Scheufele has also started the Happy Dreams, Happy Curves, Chopardissimo and La Strada collections for the boutique.

Staying independent
Scheufele’s parents, Karl and Karin Scheufele, acquired Chopard in 1963 from Paul André Chopard, the grandson of Louis-Ulysse Chopard. (The brand’s coveted L.U.C movement takes its initials from the founder.) Their two children, Scheufele and her brother Karl-Friedrich, are co-presidents currently. Karl-Friedrich manages and designs the watches, while Scheufele takes care of the jewellery.

Chopard is one of the few independent watch and jewellery companies left in Switzerland. Will it stay independent? “Yes! Yes! Yes!” is Scheufele’s emphatic reply. Of course, there are pros and cons. “When things become tougher, we are more flexible and we react quicker to certain situations. The cons are maybe when the big groups go into shopping centres, they take five to six shops for the different brands so we may have to fight for location,” she adds. “Being a family-owned company has enabled us to undertake a sustainability programme. In the bigger groups, they have endless discussions and then they hardly get started.”

The brand has been able to weather the slowdown in the luxe market emanating from China because its jewellery sales are geographically well spread. The Middle East, Europe and China each contributes 20% to sales, with the rest from the US. “China is still one of the biggest global markets. The positive side with Chopard is we also have the jewellery, and jewellery sales have been picking up a lot although watch sales fell. We try to keep the eggs in different baskets,” Scheufele says. Singa pore was one of Chopard’s first markets in Asia, together with Hong Kong. “The brand is pretty well known here, and also loved,” she points out.

Scheufele and Karl-Friedrich visit Singapore regularly. “Sometimes, we come together. I will come twice in a row, then my brother will also come. It depends on what we are presenting. If it’s a mechanical watch launch, it’s more my brother’s field. Nevertheless, I love the men’s watches so I am pretty much familiar with everything,” she explains. “It doesn’t mean he wouldn’t sell a Happy Diamonds watch or even that emerald,” she says, referring to the 95-carat emerald from the Red Carpet Collection.

As for succession planning, it is a bit early. Karl-Friedrich has two girls and a boy. They have just finished school and are going to university. “We’ll have to see if they are interested in the field. My father, at the time when we both started, didn’t push us to go and join the family business. You have to love what you do,” Scheufele says.

This article appeared in the Options of Issue 751 (Oct 24) of The Edge Singapore.

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