The family behind Chopard

by Admin
The family behind Chopard

It’s early May, less than two weeks before the Cannes Film Festival, and yet calm reigns at the Chopard headquarters in Geneva. Artisans in neat white coats work in silence, only interrupted by polite “bonjours” addressed to passers-by. The Swiss brand’s Red Carpet collection, 77 haute joaillerie pieces, which will debut at the French festival — sponsored by Chopard since 1998 — has already been dispatched to the Riviera, but prototypes of the most complex pieces are still displayed on a desk.

This year’s collection, a whimsical display of flora, fauna and fantastical characters in a rainbow of coloured gemstones and diamonds, was inspired by fairy tales. It includes, for the first time, the brand’s signature Happy Clown pendant, a smiling clown figurine with a see-through belly where precious stones float. It was designed in 1985 by Chopard’s co-president Caroline Scheufele, when she was 24. The story goes that, her father, Karl Scheufele III, president of the company at the time, spotted Caroline’s design and made it for her as a Christmas present, marking the company’s move into jewellery.

Family lore of this kind is important to the high jeweller and watchmaker. The company was founded in 1860 by Louis-Ulysse Chopard and has been controlled since 1963 by the Scheufeles — first by Karl Scheufele III and his wife Karin, who already owned a watch company, and today, by Caroline and her brother, Karl-Friedrich, who were named co-presidents in 2001.

The company is among a handful of watch marques that are still family-owned among the top Swiss watch brands by sales, a list which, according to Morgan Stanley, is headed by Rolex, Cartier and Omega. In a branded jewellery world dominated by conglomerate-owned names such as Cartier, Tiffany & Co, Bulgari and Van Cleef & Arpels, and where other conglomerate-owned luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton and Dior are vying for market share, Chopard’s status is even rarer.

Chopard The Red Carpet collection earrings in 18k white Ethical Gold featuring two squared-cut fancy intense yellow diamonds and set with pear-shaped, marquise-cut and brilliant-cut diamonds, POA,; Chopard The Red Carpet collection choker in 18k yellow Ethical Gold featuring radiant-cut and brilliant-cut yellow diamonds, POA,
A luxurious floral arrangement with yellow and orange lilies, pink carnations, and purple alliums, adorned with a sparkling emerald and diamond necklace
Chopard The Red Carpet collection necklace in Fairmined white gold set with pear-shaped emeralds and pear-shaped diamonds, POA,

During my visit, I was told multiple times that Karl Scheufele III and his wife, now both in their mid-eighties, often still visit their office at the headquarters. Karl-Friedrich’s daughter Caroline Marie is a manager of product development, and his son Karl Fritz is business development manager. Karl-Friedrich and Caroline themselves share an office.

“We are a family company in the very sense of the word,” says Karl-Friedrich, sitting on a brown leather couch in the company’s café, a private area in the brand’s internal museum, which includes a bracelet from the second millennium BC and a history of the brand. He believes that it’s that family element and heritage that has allowed Chopard, which last year made SFr800mn ($885mn) in sales, to continue to hold its place among giants such as Rolex and Cartier, whose revenues both float at or above the $10bn mark.

“We admit that it’s a very competitive field, but what is important is the unique approach that we offer [compared] with some conglomerate that goes on a shopping tour and buys what they need to be part of the jewellery world because that’s where the margin comes in,” continues Karl-Friedrich. “It’s an opportunistic approach [but] we have an approach that our clients appreciate — authenticity is really much appreciated.” 904f 440c a8f3 e13c021cb2be
Chopard The Red Carpet collection butterfly earrings in 18k white Ethical Gold featuring two rubellite briolettes and set with brilliant-cut multicoloured sapphires, rubellites and diamonds, POA, © A delicate pink anthurium flower with two jeweled brooches attached to it. One brooch is butterfly-shaped with colorful gemstones, while the other is a ribbon shape adorned with sparkling stones and a red teardrop gem
A sophisticated portrait of a woman with a pixie haircut, adorned with an ornate diamond tiara and an eye-catching blue gemstone ring. She wears a sheer blue top and strikes a regal pose with a hand near her face
Chopard The Red Carpet collection tiara in 18k white Ethical Gold, set with brilliant-cut and pear-shaped diamonds, with a detachable ‘fairy’ element featuring mother-of-pearl wings, which can be a brooch, POA,, Chopard The Red Carpet collection ring in Fairmined white gold with a cushion shaped vivid blue sapphire, pear-shaped diamonds and marquise cut diamonds, POA,, Proenza Schouler Riley dress, £2,400,

“I was talking to the president of the [Cannes] festival and they were talking about our colleagues and [how]they are just trying to come from all sides,” adds Caroline, sitting next to him and air quoting the word colleagues, which she uses to describe other luxury houses. “But we have been in Cannes, this year, for 27 years. It’s like, is there nothing else they can do? Why don’t they [partner] a music festival or whatever else.” (Cartier and Bulgari launched partnerships with other film festivals, in 2021 and 2022 respectively).

Despite the focus on heritage, many of the assets that allow Chopard to stand alongside the market’s bigger players, if not by size at least by name, have been forged by Caroline and Karl-Friedrich since they joined the company more than 40 years ago. The partnership between Chopard and the Cannes Film Festival is one of them, giving the brand an outsized reach in publicity and opportunities to interact with VIP clients, as is the partnership, since 1988, with the 1000 Miglia antique car race, on the watch side.

The Chopard Manufacture, founded in Fleurier in 1996 to produce high-precision Swiss watch movements, is another. The factory has consolidated the vertical integration of the company, initiated by Karl Scheufele III in 1978 with the opening of the brand’s own gold foundry, and allowed Chopard to create complex watches in-house, such as the minute repeater LUC Full Strike. On the jewellery side, Caroline has designed many signature products, such as the Happy Clown and the Happy Diamond jewellery collection, which features small diamonds moving freely inside its pendants. Many discontinued pieces have become collectors’ items.

The co-presidents consider what they describe as Chopard’s “Journey to sustainable luxury” as an asset, especially when it comes to a younger generation of consumers who, they say, are much more concerned with how pieces are made. Launched by Caroline in 2013, the initiative is a long-term commitment to improve the brand’s sustainability footprint and sourcing practices. The company has made the most progress on gold, which is today sourced exclusively from the following: mines certified via schemes such as, Fairmined, for small-scale and artisanal mines; mines that participate in the Swiss Better Gold Association; and Chain of Custody Recycled Gold by the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC).

“We are a little ahead of other companies because we started way back. To be transparent is not an added value today, it’s a must,” explains Caroline. “And we sleep better.”

Both say that there is still a long way to go, but Caroline sidesteps my question about the criticisms that human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch have aimed at some of the certification schemes Chopard (and other luxury brands) uses, including the Kimberley Process for diamonds and the RJC’s Chain of Custody for metals.

“Green people — they are never happy with anything,” Caroline says, I suspect only half-jokingly. Her brother, more diplomatically, cuts in to say that “it’s important that they continuously challenge the organisations we work with. At the same time, let’s remind ourselves that nobody is perfect”.

“You can’t sit down and say ‘let’s wait until the others do it’,” adds Caroline. “Or ‘let’s wait until it’s mandatory’,” concludes her brother.

Chopard’s sales were back to pre-pandemic levels at the end of 2022 and 2023 was “a good year” for the company, according to Karl-Friederich, with sales growing in single digits on the year before. This year, however, is set to be more challenging as the luxury market faces a wider slowdown, increased polarisation between brands and waning demand in China, where Chopard’s sales are currently 15 per cent below 2023’s levels. Watch brands in particular, which operate in a crowded market driven by wholesale, have been affected.

A profile view of a woman with light blonde hair wearing elaborate green and silver earrings. The image focuses on her face
Chopard The Red Carpet collection earrings with lily of the valley motif in 18k yellow and white Ethical Gold and titanium, set brilliant-cut diamonds and tsavorites POA,
An arrangement of vibrant green and pink tulips and peonies with two sparkling hoop earrings embellished with green gemstones and diamond accents
Chopard The Red Carpet collection earrings with lily of the valley motif in 18k yellow and white Ethical Gold and titanium, set brilliant-cut diamonds and tsavorites POA,

“Chopard has a structural advantage long-term linked to the fact that they are a really balanced brand between watches and jewellery,” says Erwan Rambourg, global head of consumer and retail research at HSBC. “It’s good that they have the manufacture, where they can do a lot of storytelling on the watch side, and they have great jewellery assets, including partnerships like the Cannes festival.” But, he adds, in times of economic uncertainty, consumers are likely to favour “the big guys”.

“You will have a polarisation, because you want to make sure that what you are buying will hold its value,” he continues.

Karl-Friederich expects the downturn to hit predominantly Chopard’s entry-level watches (which start at £4,690), while high jewellery, haute horlogerie and even entry-level jewellery will continue to perform. “We suspect that this year [growth] would probably be about flat,” he says, before celebrating their double strength in jewellery and watches. “The important thing is that we have two legs . . . ”

“It’s good to have two legs,” agrees Caroline. “It’s easier to stand,” concludes her brother.

Photographed for the FT by Francesca Beltran; model, Maike at Miha Model Management; stylist, Misha Kratina; hair and make-up, Claudio Belizario via Call My Agent; flower stylist, Elisa Benchetrit; photographer’s assistant, Tanguy Ginter

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