At Chopard, Artisanal Craftsmanship Is Everything
In the basement of Chopard’s Geneva manufacturing premises, an artisan can be found smelting gold and producing gold alloys. These alloys then make their way to the watch and jewellery workshops where dedicated artisans are tasked to use them to craft the objects of desire you eventually find in a Chopard boutique.
Chopard takes pride in the fact that it has craftsmen of varied skills to work on its watches and jewellery, from gold smelting and gem-setting to producing grand complications, which go a long way in ensuring high levels of craftsmanship and quality.
Here, the Swiss luxury Maison gives a rare peek into the universe these artisans dwell in.
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Very few manufactures can boast to operate its own gold foundry. There’s Rolex. And, of course, Chopard, which established its own foundry after company co-president Karl-Friedrich Scheufele took steps to integrate watch production vertically in the late 1970s.
Having its own foundry offers two key benefits. First, it has the freedom to choose the source of its gold. As part of its commitment to sustainable luxury, all Chopard gold are sourced directly from sustainable mines for what it calls Fairmined gold.
Second, it has complete control over the alchemy of its gold alloys. The foundry uses a vacuum furnace heated to 1,000°C by an induction coil. The artisan, relying on his years of experience, then makes the gold alloys by adding other types of metal. A high copper content is required for red gold; the less copper, the yellower the gold is. For white gold, palladium is added.
The mixture is turned into ingots and then pressed by a roller mill into gold bars. The bars are also certified by Precious Metals Control before they leave the foundry.
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Historically, Chopard has been a watchmaker since its founding in 1860. Under the watchful (no pun intended) eye of Karl-Friedrich, this legacy has been modernised with the Fleurier manufacture dedicated to producing the high-end L.U.C watches. It houses a broad spectrum of watchmaking skills including the grand complication atelier.
To illustrate its considerable strength in this field, Chopard has chosen the L.U.C Full Strike, which won the best watch overall at Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève in 2017. The Full Strike timepiece is developed entirely in-house.
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As Chopard’s first minute repeater, its most distinguishing features are the sapphire crystal gongs, a first in the industry. It took the atelier more than two and a half years of research and development to perfect them. Additionally, the minute repeater function gets its own power source via a second barrel. A pusher on the crown, rather than the usual slider, activates the repeater.
Putting into the context the complexity of the watch, one watchmaker would require an entire month to assemble one Full Strike, which is composed of 533 components.
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On the red carpet of the Cannes Film Festival, Chopard jewellery shone as bright as the movie stars they adorned. As the official partner of the film festival, a move initiated by Chopard president and Karl-Friedrich’s sister Caroline Scheufele, Chopard is synonymous with glamorous high jewellery. Aptly, it has an entire collection named Red Carpet.
Caroline herself actively shares gemstones and ideas with the jewellery designers. These designers then make several sketches, with the final artwork being gouache painting. A difficult technique to master, gouache painting remains an essential part of the process because it is a faithful representation of the actual jewellery, the intricate rendering giving the illusion of 3D. The artist responsible for the painting must see the project all the way through subsequent ateliers.
The walls of the studio are lined with leather-bound files containing original gouache paintings of past collections, which the designers can always refer to should they need to recreate anything.
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From paper, another group of artisans will sculpt the design in wax or metal. For instance, a photocopy of the painting is glued to a tin plate, on which the artisan cut out shapes using fine tools.
The approved model will be set with non-precious stones to create a realistic appearance. This helps to verify the project’s feasibility, and to make the necessary modifications.
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Next comes the setting of precious gems. The Chopard master gem-setter knows all the techniques, from prong setting and pavé to the dropped setting, an ancient technique that has been updated by the Maison.
Dropped setting involves setting the stones using successive round borders, cut directly from the metal with gravers, and bent back over the gems. It's very intricate work as too much metal hides the stone; not enough, and it won't stay in place.
The artisan also has a deep understanding of different stones’ characteristics. Fragile stones like emerald and Paraiba tourmalines require a dexterity of a very experienced artisan to prevent from crushing the stones.
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- Images Courtesy of Chopard