Few Maisons can claim complete control of all watchmaking and jewellery professions. Chopard is one of these select few. Thanks to its skilful Artisans, experts in their respective fields, Chopard workshops are home to a full range of talents giving rise to the most complex watches and the most extraordinary jewellery.
Any quest to flirt with the impossible, to create the most perfect possible timepieces and Haute Joaillerie sets, necessarily begins with A to Z mastery of the creative and production processes. Such was the intention of Chopard Co-Presidents Caroline and Karl Friedrich Scheufele, and of their parents before them, in gradually developing the workshops and integrating all the skills required to achieve excellence: from gold smelting to gemsetting, from movement decoration to case engraving, as well as the ateliers where Grand Complications are created.
A visit to the Maison’s Haute Joaillerie workshops provides a golden opportunity to discover the different stages in the creation of the most beautiful of all. It all begins with a sketch – which jewellers refer to as the gouache painting – followed by a 3D construction and sculpture, before moving on to the actual crafting of the jewellery piece as well as its gemsetting. The latter naturally implies the essential prior choice of precious stones, which is the realm of Caroline Scheufele, who has been in love with gems since her childhood. She always looks for the most beautiful, the rarest, the most mysterious, the most deeply cherished, those that move and inspire her.
The Artisans exercising their craft in the dedicated workshops possess unrivalled expertise: it is here that the famous L.U.C Full Strike minute repeater with its crystal gong, as well as the Maison’s tourbillons and many other complications mastered by Chopard, are assembled.
Located in Fleurier, in the Val-de-Travers, Chopard Manufacture was founded nearly 25 years ago, in 1996. It symbolises the story of a dream come true: that of Karl-Friedrich Scheufele. Chopard’s Co-President wanted to make an authentic return to the heart of watchmaking and of the Maison’s founder, Louis-Ulysse Chopard, Fleurier in the mountains of Neuchâtel . A place where artisans would ply their trade in keeping with the purest watchmaking traditions, using contemporary tools. Offering an unobstructed view of the surrounding mountains, the workshops encompass the full spectrum of watchmaking professions: stamping, decoration, assembly, the Grand Complications atelier… Eager to revive a forgotten tradition, Karl-Friedrich Scheufele allowed an artist to train in Fleurisanne engraving, inviting her to engrave certain movements with delicate floral and ornamental decorations, whereas case engraving is done in Geneva.
Also in Fleurier, beneath a huge beam resembling an upside-down ship’s bow, like a proud space-time vessel, lies a museum dedicated to the history of time: the L.U.CEUM. Because that is, after all, what it is all about: time. Time that passes and time that is measured; the time required to make the most extraordinary timepieces and jewellery; as well as the time that has enabled Chopard to earn its place within the hall of fame of present and future watchmakers and jewellers.
For the very first time, Chopard has decided to open the doors of its Watch and Jewellery Workshops to shine the spotlight on its Artisans. In a gentle blend of humility and pride in a job well done, these men and women of character reveal the secret of their know-how, simultaneously revealing the exceptional dimension of both their artistic approach and their genius. The heart and soul of the Maison’s workshops, these “Mains d’Art” are the creators of the Emotions which give Chopard its reputation for craftsmanship, innovation and respect for tradition.
Paulo: Gold Foundry Artisan
The stuff of dreams springs to life in a gold foundry workshop
“Gold”. Few words, composed of four simple letters, have the power to generate so many emotions. And Chopard is one of the very few watch manufacturers to possess gold-smelting expertise. In its furnaces, this precious material is born from an alliance of various metals, skilfully orchestrated by Paulo, a gold foundry Artisan at Chopard since 2001. He works his marvellous alchemist’s magic in the basement of the Manufacture.
Gold, which shares its colour with the sun, is the ultimate precious metal. Credited with powers reaching far beyond its market value, it has played a decisive role in many historical quests and conquests. It is not however merely matter, but also spirit. Take alchemist’s gold, which above all symbolises spiritual transformation: it is the spirit that passes through the crucible to be transformed and enable the emergence of the new man.
In the basement of Chopard’s Geneva manufacturing premises, closely guarded behind ultra-secure doors, is a place that resembles the lair of a 21st century alchemist. It is here that Paulo smelts the Chopard gold and produces all its alloys, since all the gold used by Chopard is indeed smelted in-house. Having entered in this field through one of life’s many twits of fate, he forged his experience as a gold foundry Artisan by dint of intense passion and perseverance.
A true alchemist captivated by his craft, he meticulously fashions the ingots that will serve to produce the watches and jewellery of the Maison. From the heart of his workshop, he often likes to imagine the men and women around the world who will wear these creations. “Some people see me as an alchemist because I transform precious metals, while ensuring that Chopard gold is 100% Ethical. The fact that I can claim that people out there are wearing a watch or a piece of jewellery made from my gold makes me feel that in some way, I help to make their dreams come true” says Paulo.
Chopard ethical gold
Only a very small number of watch manufacturers in Switzerland can boast of owning a foundry. It was Karl Scheufele, father of the current co-presidents Caroline and Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, who in 1978 had the visionary idea of achieving vertical integration of production, starting with the smelting of gold. While the first furnace he acquired has since been replaced by a state-of-the-art model, complete with innovations enabled by computer science, the principle remains the same.
A factory that has its own foundry has the power to choose the raw material that will be used to create its watches and jewellery. This foundry has given Chopard the freedom to use only ethical gold, meaning ore from responsible mines that meet certain international environmental and social criteria. Since July 2018, the Maison has used 100% ethical gold in the production of its watch and jewellery creations.
Chopard is a pioneer in this field. It is the Scheufele family’s choice to offer creations whose very structure is ethical and meets strict traceability criteria. Knowing that the gold used for the Haute Joaillerie collections bearing the signature of the Maison has been extracted according to fair conditions by people who enjoy economic and social protection while working in secure mines is essential for family members. Conscience has a price, and they are happy to pay it.
The furnace used to smelt gold is a vacuum furnace, heated by an induction coil. The material is deposited in the centre of the crucible before being heated to 1000°C. To make an eight-kilo ingot of 5N gold, gold foundry Artisan Paulo uses six kilos of pure gold and two kilos of alloy including one and a half kilos of copper, endowing it with its red colour. The less copper is put in, the more silver is added and the yellower the gold will be. To obtain white gold, he uses palladium. When the mixture is molten, it is poured into the mould to obtain an ingot. It is immersed in cold water to crystallise it and obtain the desired 160 Vickers hardness. The ingot is then pressed by a roller mill to obtain a bar with 210 Vickers hardness.
The ends of the bars with remaining folds are re-used and re-melted. When the bar is finally perfect, it goes to the workshops for stamping and the material will then be used to make certain jewellery parts and watch casebands. For Haute Joaillerie pieces, Maison Chopard uses another casting technique: casting, based on gold grains, also made from ethically sourced gold. Any trimmings are returned to the circuit to be re-melted, as part of a virtuous recycling circle.
Before leaving for the workshops, each bar is numbered and a gold sample is taken from each one. It is then sent to the Precious Metals Control (PMC) office which analyses the sample and sends a certificate with the title of the gold accordingly. The precious material can then go into production.
Every day, between seven and eight ingots leave the workshop, depending on demand. Ingots ensuring that Chopard participates in building a fairer, more humane world. And the Maison does not intend to stop there…