Chopard co-president Karl-Friedrich Scheufele tells of its interesting and complex journey in using 100% ethical gold in the production of all its jewellery and watches
SINGAPORE (Mar 18): The notion of sustainable luxury may be an oxymoron, but for Chopard, it’s a journey that began more than 30 years ago.
Three decades earlier, the family-run business owned by the Scheufeles set in motion the vision of one day having every Chopard creation made of 100% ethical gold. So began the bold and ambitious plan of vertically integrating Chopard’s production in-house, in order to attain full control of the entire manufacturing processes — including the sourcing and supply of gold used in all its products.
That day came last July, when the Swiss jeweller-watchmaker announced that it would only use 100% ethical gold in the production of all its jewellery and watches henceforth.
It was the culmination of an “interesting and complex journey”, says Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, as Options sits down to chat with the co-president of Chopard inside the brand’s Marina Bay Sands boutique.
“We believe we are doing the right thing, and the time is also right to do it as awareness is increasing,” he says, highlighting the global shift towards sustainability and more conscious consumerism in recent years.
True luxury, they say, comes from knowing the footprint of the supply chain. And the breadth and depth of Chopard’s ethical gold-sourcing programme is something the family business is particularly proud of.
“As a company that is active in the luxury markets, we feel that in order for both the manufacturer and the customer to attain 100% enjoyment in the offering or purchase of a Chopard product, it’s important to make sure that everyone involved in the production chain is treated fairly,” says Scheufele.
On the road to vertical integration, the forward-thinking luxury leader began mastering all the crafts of the high-jewellery artisans and expert watchmakers internally so as to lay the foundation for all production processes to be done in-house. It had also created a gold foundry within the company in 1978, a rarity in the industry.
In 2013, the company made another strategic move: to directly invest in artisanal gold and bring more of it to the market — thus helping forgotten communities living on the margins of society in remote locales make a legitimate and dignified living.
The company partnered with the Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM) to provide financial and technical resources to a number of small-scale mines in Latin America to enable these mines to achieve Fairmined certification. The certification allows the small-scale mining communities to sell their gold at a premium price while ensuring mining is undertaken in line with strict environmental and social conditions.
Chopard also helped establish new trade routes from the mines it sources from in South America, bringing traceable products into Europe and providing further financial income to local communities.
Today, the company claims to be the world’s largest buyer of Fairmined gold, with its supply of gold procured only from sources that have been verified as having met international best practice environmental and social standards.
Chopard’s supply of artisanal gold is from two traceable routes: small-scale mines participating in the Swiss Better Gold Association (SBGA), Fairmined and Fairtrade schemes; and the RJC Chain of Custody gold, through the manufacturer’s partnership with RJC-certified refineries.
“It’s a bold commitment, but one we must pursue if we are to make a difference to the lives of the people who make our business possible,” says Scheufele. And there is still much more to be done, he believes.
The company’s ongoing efforts include aligning with UN Global Goals on a 17-point plan laying out social and natural capital goals that include contributing to decent work, reduced inequality and responsible resource consumption.
It has also joined forces with ARM to provide training, social welfare and environmental support to enable a new artisanal mine in Peru to achieve Fairmined certification.
“We are doing as much as we can to contribute to a better world. It’s as simple — and as complicated — as that,” Scheufele says with a smile.
True luxury, some may also say, comes from having the capacity to bring into existence things that challenge the status quo.
The L.U.C. Full Strike — the first minute repeater wristwatch in the history of Chopard’s own manufacture — is one such stroke of genius. And one that is well worth the wait.
“We introduced a revolutionary sound system to a minute repeater that is quite amazing,” says Scheufele, who heads the development of Chopard’s L.U.C. collection of mechanically complex men’s timepieces, while sister Caroline oversees the jewellery and ladies’ watches as co-president.
This is the first time that sapphire has been used as an acoustic generator and amplifier in watchmaking, and the sapphire gongs — tuned to the C and F key — produce a unique sound that is beautifully resonant and crystal clear.
“They really carry the sound outside of the watch case; it’s the only watch where you can actually hear the striking across the room even when people are having conversations. It’s quite unique,” Scheufele points out, rather modestly.
The most striking feature of the limited-edition timepiece, crafted from Fairmined gold, is the transparent sapphire crystal gongs used in place of the usual steel or gold gongs to strike the hours, quarters and minutes
Sapphire crystal is commonly used to encase a timepiece, as it is an extremely scratch-resistant material. But it is also for this reason that sapphire is rarely used for the purpose Chopard has so dexterously deployed in the Full Strike.
Working with the tough material came with a set of challenges that added an exceptional level of complexity to the entire process. But Scheufele did not back down from the challenges.
The gongs and watch glass are machined together from a single sapphire block forming a single welding-, glue- and screw-free unit — a completely new construction that has never been done in watchmaking history. This perfect physical integrity between the gongs and the watch glass is what enables the sound to be transmitted clearly.
Then, there is the re-engineering of the typical activating mechanism of a minute repeater. Instead of a sliding lever on the case side, the Full Strike integrates the mechanism into its crown.
“We didn’t want to have a lever on the side, as I consider it old-fashioned and also impractical,” explains Scheufele. “We wanted everything to be integrated into the crown, so the crown actually allows you to wind the watch one way and wind the minute repeater the other way. This is easy to say, but very difficult to do. So, the biggest challenge was taking the idea and making it a reality,” he says.
Seventeen thousand man-hours of development, three patents and six years later, the Full Strike has turned out to be “an incredible success”, says Scheufele. It wowed the judges at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève 2017 and won the Aiguille d’Or prize — the watch industry’s equivalent of the Oscars.
Wine and watchmaking
Soft-spoken yet self-possessed, German-born Scheufele is elegance personified and the embodiment of the Chopard client and brand. On his wrist sits a classic tonneau-shaped timepiece — the L.U.C. Heritage Grand Cru, “the only tonneau-shaped watch with a tonneau-shaped movement”, he says.
“It’s one of my favourites because it’s a beautiful shape; it’s in the shape of a barrel and I’m into winemaking, so it’s a meaningful shape for me,” says Scheufele. He went into the wine business in the 1990s with the acquisition of a wine retail business, followed by a wine estate in France.
There is a certain timelessness in watchmaking and winemaking that Scheufele can identify with. It is the pursuit of perfection of a craft: one of the viticultural variety and the other, of the mechanical kind. And passion drives both.
“I’m a passionate wine producer on the side, but if I wasn’t doing what I’m doing now, I would be producing wine as my main occupation,” says Scheufele.
Jamie Nonis is a business and lifestyle journalist with an appreciation for all things beautiful
This article appeared in Issue 873 (Mar 18) of The Edge Singapore.