Back in town for the launch of L.U.C Time Traveller One — Singapore Edition, Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, co-president of Chopard, talks about Singapore’s leading position in influencing watch trends, the maturing of the Chopar Manufacture and why he is optimistic about 2018.

SINGAPORE (Feb 12): Singapore loves limited editions. Just ask any of the many luxury watch manufacturers that have rolled out special Singapore editions of their signature or bestselling models over the years.

The latest darling to fuel this fine appreciation for special edition watches is the L.U.C Time Traveller One — Singapore Edition.

“Singapore being a very mature watch market, we thought that it deserves a special edition,” says Karl--Friedrich Scheufele, co-president of Chopard, who was in town for the launch last November.

Indeed, Singapore has long been a key market for Swiss watch manufacturers, with its ever-expanding circle of highly knowledgeable connoisseurs and collectors who can well afford these mechanical marvels.

Singapore represents about 5% of Chopard’s global business. “But what is significant is the vision you can extract from the Singapore market in terms of novelties and how novelties are perceived — and also the lead position Singapore takes when it comes to trends,” observes Scheufele.

The L.U.C Time Traveller One — Singapore Edition features an elegant blue dial, a first on Chopard’s worldtime watch

Highlighting Singapore
The Singapore Edition novelty in question is a worldtime watch, a limited edition permutation of the first worldtime watch in the L.U.C collection, where the “Singapore” city name is highlighted boldly in red on the outer edge of the concentric dial. Two versions are available: 15 pieces in stainless steel and eight in 18K rose gold; Scheufele discloses there are already a few ready buyers.

According to Scheufele, this is the only Time Traveller One model to ever be presented with a blue dial, and he considers the stainless-steel-and-blue combo a “tempting” proposition. Why blue for Singapore?

“Blue, in general, has seen a strong comeback in watch dials and it’s wonderful. It’s one of my favourite colours and shades because it is a very elegant and not-so-strong blue. So, it’s a bit of a personal choice,” explains Scheufele, who is known industry-wide for his finely tuned collector’s instinct.

Scheufele is an exceptionally hands-on boss. “Every watch that is here on the table,” he says, gesturing to the handsome selection before us, “I have personally participated in their details, be it the size of the crown, colour of the dial, shape of the hands, you name it. Not one of these watches has left the design studio without me signing off on it.”

We are sitting in Scheufele’s suite at The Fullerton Bay Hotel, following an exquisite private lunch with fellow lifestyle journalists at Monti restaurant along the Marina Bay waterfront, framed by a fabulous view of the Singapore skyline. The menu was paired with exclusive wines from Scheufele’s own wine estate that the ardent wine connoisseur personally brought with him to Singapore for our tasting pleasure — a fine detail that might have easily gone unnoticed, but such is his dedication to excellence and commitment to crafting the consummate experience for his guests.

Prior to this, my most recent encounter with Scheufele was at the end of 2016, when he was in town to introduce to the Singapore market Chronométrie Ferdinand Berthoud, a new “young-old” brand he created in homage to the eponymous 18th century master clockmaker. Berthoud was conferred the title of Watchmaker and Mechanic to the King and Navy of France for his exceptionally precise marine chronometers.

Scheufele holds a dual role as president of Chronométrie Ferdinand Berthoud, which is part of the Chopard group, while helming Chopard as co-president together with his younger sister Caroline.

Originally from Pforzheim, Germany, the Scheufele family has earned a place in modern horological folklore as owners of Chopard since 1963. The brand remains one of the last family-run watchmaking and jewellery companies, with the two siblings as custodians of Chopard’s legacy since the 1980s.

Caroline is responsible for the jewellery and ladies watch collections while Scheufele helms the Chopard Manufacture in Fleurier, which he founded in 1996 to produce the brand’s proprietary L.U.C movements.

“We complement each other in a very wonderful way,” notes the older brother. “Caroline is more outgoing and she loves all the events we do in Cannes, which is not necessarily my preferred playground.”

Chopard has long been associated with the glitz and glamour of the Cannes Film Festival as its official partner and designer of the Palme d’Or trophy, and Caroline is a fixture at the festival’s red carpet events. From this playground of the rich and famous, many of Chopard’s celebrity collaborations and ambassadorships have emerged, such as the Rihanna Loves Chopard capsule collection.

For Scheufele, the Chopard Manufacture is literally his playground. “I’m more analytical and rational, but I still like to be creative in a different way,” he discerns. “I always like to work on new developments and ideas. If I had to choose just one area of activity, that’s what I would choose. And obviously, cars,” he says with a smile.

The gentlemen’s arena of luxury big boys’ toys, where the worlds of watches and motor sport converge, is quite naturally the area in which Scheufele flourishes.

That’s the wonderful thing about a family business; its leaders get to chase their passions in the name of commerce. Chopard’s classic racing collection, comprising the Mille Miglia, Grand Prix de Monaco Historique and Superfast lines, is the by-product of Scheufele’s fervour, with the brand as Official Timekeeper of the two namesake races in Italy and Monaco, respectively.

Chopard’s classic racing collection, comprising the Mille Miglia, Grand Prix de Monaco Historique and Superfast lines, is the by-product of Scheufele’s passion for classic automobiles

It is such a unique pairing of interests that works so brilliantly for Chopard, that it simply could not have been orchestrated. “If somebody had asked my parents, ‘how did you plan this?’ they would not have been able to say, ‘our daughter should be doing the jewellery and our son, the watches,” Scheufele muses.

Movements, manufacture and medals
Named after founder Louis-Ulysse Chopard, L.U.C watches have garnered some of the most prestigious accolades in Swiss watchmaking in the two decades since the manufacture was established.

Just two weeks prior to Scheufele’s Singapore tour, Chopard’s first minute repeater, L.U.C Full Strike, was awarded the coveted Aiguille d’Or at the 2017 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG), touted as the Oscars of Swiss watchmaking, amid stiff competition from the likes of complication kings Vacheron Constantin and A. Lange & Söhne.

“When we set out to develop this watch five years ago, we followed the same philosophy we apply to all L.U.C watches: be innovative and creative while staying true to tradition,” shares Scheufele. “And when we presented the watch, I realised that we kind of surpassed our goal. We were hoping to win a prize for an L.U.C watch and it did take us a number of years actually. So, I can’t tell you how pleased I was when I was called to the stage.”

Scheufele is right. Even up close in person, I cannot quite tell how pleased he is. The 60-year-old has a kind yet serious demeanour, speaking very carefully in soft, measured tones. He does not give away much emotion, with the lack of repartee that often characterises similar interviews I have conducted with his industry counterparts reflective of his self-professed analytical nature, I gather.

When we met a year ago, Scheufele was fresh from clinching the same top prize at the GPHG — for the FB 1 by Chronométrie Ferdinand Berthoud. He is clearly on a roll with two major wins in a row.

“It’s a great recognition, but we did work very hard for 20 years to build this reputation for L.U.C,” he asserts. Still, this is extraordinary given the youth of the manufacture in the grand history of Swiss watchmaking.

Scheufele adds: “We have reached a kind of maturity now in every respect. We have a great choice of movements we can build upon, and we still have complications we haven’t uncovered yet. So, there are different roads we can and will take for the next 20 years.”

What can we then expect from the manufacture in the next two decades?

“I won’t betray secrets when I say that the minute repeater subject can be carried forward to new boundaries. The chronograph subject can also be carried forward [while the] high frequency subject can still be carried forward. So, that means we have a lot to do,” Scheufele says with a laugh.

The annual production of L.U.C watches hovers around 3,500 to 4,000 and the goal is to raise this to 5,000 to 6,000. “We actually want to restrain ourselves to this maximum number. The idea is not to expand in quantity but to further gain in quality,” he says.

L.U.C watches are at the “top of the pyramid” of all Chopard watches, and Scheufele says this is precisely what he wishes to emphasise via a different distribution strategy in which not every Chopard point of sale will carry L.U.C watches.

Additionally, the brand is trimming its distribution channels worldwide, with a view to closing about 200 points of sale this year to focus only on those with the right quality of environment and service standards.

Scheufele is optimistic about 2018, in light of the pick-up in Swiss watch exports recorded last November following a period of prolonged sluggishness — exports were 6.8% higher compared with the previous year, according to figures released by the Federation of Swiss Watch Industry.

In terms of geographical segmentation, he says Europe has “caught up” and he has earmarked the US as having “the most potential”. Asia is clearly performing well for Chopard and so is the Middle East, and the brand has been continuously increasing its presence in India.

A new Chopard boutique opened in Elements shopping mall in Hong Kong just last December and Scheufele reveals that the brand is looking at “more opportunities in mainland China”.

“The luxury market globally is still in growth mode, less pronounced growth but still growing. You could say that it has become more discerning and more refined; it’s not so much about mass-produced luxury, but more niche products linked to craftsmanship, and Chopard can benefit from this. I think we have a very good card to play,” he concludes.

Jamie Nonis is a lifestyle journalist with an appreciation for all things beautiful