Why is the Alpine Eagle not an L.U.C watch? We ask Chopard president Karl-Friedrich Scheufele all the tough questionsAndrew McUtchen
There are few experiences more unedifying for a journalist than a good conversation, gone unrecorded. This happened the last time I spent a lazy mid-morning with the single driving force behind both Chopard and L.U.C, Mr Karl-Friedrich Scheufele. We were sat back in comfortable chairs at a country club on the outskirts of Geneva. Before us was a lush garden. Peak Swiss summer, and a verdant visage I’ve seldom seen – as someone who, for over a decade in has trooped in with all the watch journalists in January and March for the hitherto major watch fairs. When it’s cold. Snowing. Barren.
On this day, in this setting, Mr Scheufele answered questions that have been brewing for me over many years. About the quiet rise and rise of L.U.C. About the fact that I believe it should be broken away from Chopard and given space to be considered an unattached indie. About the return of the St Moritz as the Alpine Eagle, and how it perhaps could have been L.U.C too, given it uses an L.U.C movement. Risky stuff to be honest. He answered them so eloquently and honestly, that I took today’s opportunity – at the Four Seasons in Dubai – to ask them all again. A Groundhog Day of the most enjoyable kind. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I did, all over again.
AM: Now look, sir, I very much enjoyed our conversation last time, but I wasn’t actually recording. We had a couple of hours together, I think it was like a little bit of a lunch as well, It was probably about a year ago. And I’d like to recap some of that conversation because it’s really stayed with me. Firstly, I would like you to explain to me again the absolute essential criteria for any L.U.C watch, because I loved that answer last time I asked you.
KFS: The criteria was set in 1993 when we started to work on the first L.U.C. movement. And the criteria was simple, yet complicated, because we said all movements should be innovative and should be incorporating combinations of elements which have not been done so far, yet stay true to traditional craftsmanship, and traditional materials. And every L.U.C. movement should be chronometer certifiable or chronometer-certified unless the movement does not have a second hand. Because you cannot certify a movement doesn’t have a small seconds or centre seconds hand. And all movements should be finished in the best possible manner. Alternatively some would be Geneva Seal. And all these ideas have not changed since.
AM: And there were two other things, if I recall? The power reserve, and the return of the micro-rotor?
KFS: Yes. Well, the movements should have the highest possible power reserve because the idea was that if you take off your watch over the weekend, it should run Monday morning. In terms of the micro-rotor, in the first movement we wanted to reintroduce it because nobody had done a new movement with the micro rotor for over 20 years! But we wanted to combine it with the large power reserve of almost 72 hours. And yeah, all this turned out to be very complicated.
AM: I’m going to hit you with a difficult question, as I did last time. Why don’t you make L.U.C. separate to Chopard? Why is this not its own brand, more able to fight the big independent heavy hitters on its own feet, with clear separation from Chopard?
KFS: This question comes up on a regular basis and we have decided on a regular basis that L.U.C. stays within the Chopard family. This being said, I think more than ever today L.U.C is recognised as an independent player in the horological field. And I think, looking at where we stand today compared to 10 years ago, that the recognition has far exceeded what we have known then. So we are doing it the hard way, I would say.
AM: If I can be critical, I think the challenge you face is that you, the name itself, L.U. Chopard and then Chopard, is still creating a little bit of brand confusion outside of watch enthusiast circles. How do you see this challenge? Do you feel that you’ve overcome it?
KFS: I don’t want to pretend that we’ve overcome it, but I can say that we have made a very big progress, and it has become more of a singular positioning within the Chopard family. And I think the increased differentiation is also due to the fact that we have a team within a company that is responsible for the promotion and communication of L.U.C. This team has a mission to make sure L.U.C is in the right neighbourhood of its peers. So it is still work in progress, but I think it’s always work in progress.
AM: I look at the watch on your wrist, the Alpine Eagle Cadence 8HF, which is my favourite Alpine Eagle and I believe – along with the L.U.C versions – that’s the highest frequency watch on the market right now. As we move Chopard watchmaking closer to L.U.C in high performance models like this, was there a little bit of a fight in your mind about who would claim this collection, given that the Alpine Eagle potentially could have been an L.U.C platform in the current scheme of things.
KFS: When we decided to relaunch the St. Moritz model, which was essentially an integrated-bracelet sports watch made of stainless steel, we had in mind to integrate the relatively vast choice of movements that we have today, which we didn’t have when St. Moritz was launched in 1980. Back then, it was a quartz watch first, and then at the end of the cycle of St. Moritz, we introduced also mechanical versions, but they were not in-house movements.
And now we have the incredible, I would say, luxury even, to have a choice of movements and we can animate the Alpine Eagle with our own calibres. The introduction of very, very typical L.U.C movements, which is the 196 obviously, and this one, the eight Hertz, all the chronograph, elevated Alpine Eagle to a very … I think it gave Alpine Eagle a very elevated platform to play.
And interestingly, an Alpine Eagle client today is very easily attracted to L.U.C. We have multiple examples of clients who discovered the Alpine Eagle first and then the L.U.C.
AM: Was this always the plan, that the Alpine Eagle would be a feeder program for the future L.U.C buyers cohort?
KFS: This was not a plan per se. It was not even something that we anticipated, but it’s a fact today. So I say one kind of helped the other or is helping the other and compliments the other. It’s very interesting. And now we have within Alpine Eagle we have a more sporty range of pieces, which this one is part of them, but also more elegant XPS, and this watch is totally sold out. We are unable to deliver enough pieces.
But I absolutely have no problem with the integration of the L.U.C movement in the Alpine Eagle because the way the Alpine Eagle is produced and finished, it really pays justice to the movement.
I think there’s no other watch in the Chopard collection where we pay this amount of attention to the finish and where the finish is very complicated because of all the angles. And so I think it’s a perfect combination in a way.
AM: So there was never a world where the Alpine Eagle was an L.U.C watch?
KFS: In the very beginning, I was contemplating to have a sporty L.U.C watch, but then it just felt more natural to connect with the past and revive the St. Moritz. And it became a three generation project, which was, and still is a wonderful experience.
AM: The storytelling around the launch of the Alpine Eagle with the multi-generational family touch was absolutely beautiful. It was one of the best campaigns I think I can remember. But at the recording of About Effing Time last night, Adrian said he was blown away by the experience of touching it and he felt this intense desire.
But he said that for him, the desire doesn’t last when it comes to L.U.C, the product is always mind-blowing, and in that moment he’s ready and ready to move over, but he feels that the desirability is not sustained.
So for you, as someone who is a master of building desire for so many show models, what do you think is the key to building brand desirability for LUC? Because on so many levels it’s a 10, it’s unimpeachable, it’s an award-winning collection. It has, as you say, when you break it down, everything makes sense. How do you build desire for someone like Adrian who in the hands cannot find fault and will buy that watch?
KFS: I think it’s just a matter of continuing the communication even more than before and being kind of preaching the religion of L.U.C. But we have been doing so, I think in the last two or three years – there were some pieces that were immediately sold out and are still sought after. And this is, it’s very encouraging for us.
AM: And I’ve spoken to you now twice, but there’s a real light in your eyes and it seems to me like you are at some sort of peak of passion, yet again. What would you say to people who are reading this story and want to know the secret to sustaining this level of care and passion?
KFS: Well, I think there’s no secret, but I think it’s a state of mind. If you’re really passionate about something then it’s not something that just wears off. And then if you have regularly some, I think, some moments of recognition or encouragement, then you keep on going. And certainly this is not L.U.C, but the other adventure, which is Ferdinand Berthoud, also contributed a lot. It’s contributed to even further elevate L.U.C because it forced us to be even more careful about quality and taking the finish to another level. And I just like, I am never really totally content and happy with the presence, and I like to keep on elevating things.
AM: We’ve just launched a watch, and I understand better than ever how long the brand lead times are for new product launches – there are things that you’re probably itching to tell me that are going to come out later, but you can’t right now?
KFS: Well, I’ve learned over the years that you should only talk about things when they’re really ready, and not live too much in anticipation, because watchmaking is a surprise altogether.
When you think you are ready with a new watch or you almost certainly find out that you will encounter a problem, maybe where you didn’t even expect it. Reason why you will not be able to deliver your watch on time. And so I’ve become more careful.
AM: Last question, so with the Alpine Eagle, are we looking here at the single biggest breakthrough for your watch brand?
KFS: I think it can be considered as the biggest breakthrough, because it’s a combination we have mastered of so many things today that we didn’t before, and we also reached a level of where the communication is starting to work. So I think now if we continue to do the right things, I think we will be in an interesting position.