By Jovan Krstevski and Harlan Chapman-Green
So you’re probably wondering by now why we were able to get hands-on with the Chopard releases this year before anyone else was. No, trust us, we wouldn’t really spend sleepless nights over that either. The point is, recently we were invited to tour around the facilities of a highly thought of yet little discussed, family run business by the name of Chopard. It was a very exciting time and we thoroughly enjoyed it, in fact we enjoyed it so much that we have had to split it into two parts (that and Chopard’s manufactures are split across Geneva and Fleurier with around 2 hours travel time between them). Today we will be starting off by describing our tour around the Geneva facility, next week we will offer up the conclusion to this by talking about Fleurier.
There isn’t much to tell about our flights there. Unlike our trip to Glashütte last year we did not meet up ahead of the event and fly together. It was refreshing for Harlan to leave the cold drizzle of Bristol Airport for the surprisingly warm and sunny Geneva Airport. Upon arrival Harlan was chauffeured á la taxi to the Chopard headquarters in Meyrin, Geneva, where a certain Jovan was grinning like a cat that had learned how to use a can opener. We were then greeted by Chopard’s International PR Manager, Mr. Cedric Laforge, who kindly introduced us to the reception team before we started the tour.
Actually, we started off with a three course lunch in the Chopard restaurant which was simply excellent. There was also the passing around of rather excellent wine, Chateau Monster La Tour, the vineyard of which is located in the Dordogne region of France and is also owned by the current owner of Chopard, Mr Scheufele. Suffice to say we really enjoyed the lunch (and Harlan the white, as Jovan was busy being a H2O-holic).
After that it was time to start the tour. Did you know that only two watch companies have the ability to process their own precious metals for their watches? Rolex is one of them, as the salespeople will often tell you. Interestingly, we have noted that they often say that Rolex is the only company with the necessary equipment, however it’s not entirely the case as Chopard has one too. It was very interesting to see the melted gold actually getting poured.
They showed us how the gold comes in ingots, bars that are 99.9% pure gold, which are then melted and combined with whatever metals are required for the colour of the gold. Needless to say, it was very warm in there, but pretty interesting to see at the same time.
We then moved onto the case rooms where the steel components were extruded and then finished. There are actually several steps that go into making the cases from a blank, fairly rounded shape to the honed and precise shape of a Mille Miglia. Each case is meticulously machined and finished by hand before being sent off. Fun fact, Chopard keeps a huge archive of the physical components used in their watches, in case the designs get mislaid and are needed in the future they can reverse engineer new components.
Moving forward, we went to a quiet room hidden in the skunkworks of the building where a couple of experts were assembling bracelets. There were only two or three workers there at the time, one of which was working on the bracelets for some of Chopard’s feminine wristwatches and the rest were on training that day. The other was masterfully crafting a bracelet for their jewellery line, we did get to see a little bit of the jewellery department which we will come to later but, needless to say, it was very calming to watch someone turn a tray full of bits into a stylish bracelet.
At this point we are taken upstairs to a huge workshop which is buzzing with life. There are several CNC machines here which cut out the initial shapes of the components which will then be taken and finished by hand. Walking down the length of the room we come to the polishing part of the process.
There are banks of people hand polishing the cases for the Mille Miglia watches. We stood there and watched one of the staff members turn an unfinished case into a sparkling piece worthy of the name Mille Miglia. All throughout the tour we were very surprised by the calm aura around the facility.
Given that this was the week before Baselworld and some of the watches weren’t actually ready yet, there weren’t staff running around or going flat out. Kudos to everyone on the team for being so friendly and professional during our tour in one of the busiest weeks for the company.
We then proceeded upstairs to another part of the building where we saw a small team of experts working on some L.U.C. watches, Chopard’s upmarket sub-brand known as L.U.Chopard. It was dead quiet in there apart from some light chatter, which was just as well given that they were assembling balances into the watches when we visited. There is a small contingent working in Geneva on the L.U.C. watches but most of the operations were undertaken at the Fleurier facility and, given that it was a 2 hour journey up into the mountains, it made financial sense to base most of it there. There was also a little time to see through into the jewellery section where staff were busy working away on Chopard’s newest jewellery collection known as ‘Ice Cube’.
At this point we were taken downstairs to a quiet room just past reception where we met Mr Nicholas Schlappi, the lead designer for the L.U.Chopard Full Strike watch, one which we were unable to get a hands-on with. We won’t add too much detail as there is a separate interview with him coming soon.
After this we got to see the watches, which was probably the highlight of the entire tour. We saw all of the watches we have featured with live pictures so far, plus a few more that are coming soon. We were set up with the watches in a grand conference room full of interesting antique items and paintings from the local area. The high gloss table which all the pictures were staged upon, it was so shiny the watches appeared to float in some pictures making for an excellent look. There were plenty of novelties and watches (and water, for Jovan) we were able to photograph, in fact we had to go into warp speed with some of them because we spent too much time fussing over the L.U.C. Lunar One, L.U.C. Officer XPS 1860 L.U.C. XPS Twist QF and the Mille Miglia Race Edition!
It had just gone past six when we left, but we were stuck in Geneva traffic for over half an hour trying to get back to the Hotel Auteil where we were put up, which wasn’t too far from the waterfront overlooked by Patek Philippe among others. There was much japery while we were chilling in Jovan’s room, waiting for the time to hit 8 O’clock when we were due to be picked up. Harlan seemed to remembers a pair of shoes went missing at some point, and Harlan definitely remember stealing the key card (which controlled the power) to Jovan’s room and running back down to his gaff on the 5th floor with it, only to be chased down and forced to hand it back.
We were then once again picked up by Mr. Laforge who took us out to dinner that evening, after we’d spent about ten minutes and a billion phone calls trying to find a space to park the car. The restaurant was called Le Décanteur, a tiny weeny little establishment specialising in deli style meats as well as steaks. Inside it was a hip and urban chic style with high tables and stools, when we went it was packed so there it was very noisy, but we were sat next to some pretty women so we didn’t mind too much. The food was of good quality and we enjoyed discussing all sorts of things from our home lives to our favourite watches and so on and so forth.
The evening was ended, for Harlan at least, with a relaxing beer from the minibar called Feldschlössen, which turned out to be a mistake. There were also very nice Swiss chocolate bars with hazelnuts which we enjoyed a lot. With a quiet documentary about British Motorcycles from the BBC on it was quite a chilled end to the day for Harlan, but sleep was hard as we had a late phone call and all of the next day to go!
That’s the end of part one of our two part summary of the trip to Chopard’s manufactures. Check back next week when we cover Fleurier. chopard.com