Chopard Watch : Interview the CEO of Chopard USA, Ralph Simons

1- Jason Pitsch: Since your move from the President of Frederique Constant/Alpina USA to CEO of Chopard USA Ltd. in 2015 what have you done to improve the business at your new company?

Ralph Simons: Well, we’ve done a lot. It has been a very interesting period since then. The main focus point has been to try to simplify the mix of products and through that also the communication part to the market. When I came we used a large number of different advertising visuals. So, there was not really a very consistent message. One level up from that, in terms of products, there were at the time I think there were way too many references that we offered to the market, which made it very hard to handle internally. Also with our final consumers and our wholesale accounts, it made it a complex brand to deal with.

That’s main focus that we’ve had and that we’re still continuing to create a core collection for the United States and for North America as a basis, as a foundation. And from there, if you have the universes that go with that, you can advertise around these universes. If you do events or if you do any other activity, we do in the light of any of those universes. Those universes are Happy Diamonds/Happy Sport is one collection. Imperiale is the second ladies collection. The High Jewelry, of course, on the ladies side. On the men’s side, Classic Racing which has Mille Miglia in there and Grand Prix Monaco Historique and Superfast. And finally, the L.U.C. collection, which is the high-end watchmaking collection, mainly targeted to men. So, it’s 5 collections.

2- JP: Can you describe Chopard’s core business areas?

RS: Yes, of course. So, we basically have three main product categories: watches, jewelry, and accessories. And what people may or may not know is that Chopard started in 1860, so a hundred and sixty years ago almost, as a watch company. So, manufacturing of movements and finished watches has always been at the core of what Chopard does.

And then when the company was taken over in 1963 by the current owners, the Scheufele family, who had a background, a more significant background, in jewelry that’s when the two worlds merged when the watch business continued to develop and at the same time the jewelry business. And then a number of years later is when we also introduced the accessories collection to create really the Chopard lifestyle.

Today, the main focus is watches and jewelry, so those are the two key focus areas. Within that, of course, you have different price levels, different designs, different target groups, and different collections.

3- JP: What is the annual international production of Chopard watches?

RS: We produce about 80,000 timepieces per year and about 80,000 pieces of jewelry. Well balanced between the two core areas.

4- JP: How important is the US market for Chopard?

RS: It’s very important. Obviously, I wouldn’t sit here and tell you that it’s not, but it’s not as important as it should be. That’s what we’re working hard on to develop the brand further here in the US because we’re actually celebrating the 40th anniversary of Chopard USA. We launched officially in the US in 1976 and if you look at the volume of the business it’s very, very significant, but we also still feel that it’s one of the areas in the world where we can still grow a lot. For that also that’s my answer to your first question, it’s essential because to further increase the awareness of the brand it’s important to have a focused, targeted message and not have too many different messages because then people won’t understand what the company’s really about. And it doesn’t help the process. So, at the moment it’s the number four market in the world.

5- JP: Some readers may not even know what the LUC division of Chopard refers to, can you please explain LUC?

RS: Yes, I can and I’d love to. The company Chopard was founded, as I said earlier, in 1860 by a gentleman by the name of Louis-Ulysse Chopard. That’s obviously where the initials of this gentleman are the name of this collection. As mentioned, creation and manufacturing of movements and of finished watches were at the core of the company at the time. Then, over the years, I think there was a general in the industry for a number of years, the movement and the inner workings of the watches were less at the forefront than they are today, and they have been for awhile. Chopard also grew the brands. It grew very quickly to a large company, but the technology of some of the watches was not the main focus. It was more about design.

And then in 1996 is when it was decided to reinstate the high watchmaking craftsmanship at Chopard, which had been there in the past, has had a break, and the idea was to bring it back and that happened in 1996. That’s when we opened Chopard Manufacture in Fleurier, Switzerland. So, that’s really when we started to develop movements, in-house, again. That’s actually twenty years ago this year so we have a celebration of the twentieth anniversary of Chopard Manufacture.

From a quality standpoint, and from a development standpoint, it’s really quite exceptional what Chopard has done. Because we are, at the moment, I think we are around sixty-eight calibers that we have developed in-house in the last twenty years. When I say in-house, I mean fully in-house, one hundred percent in-house. I mean, of course, like some other brands, maybe some of the spirals, but for the rest, it’s really fully developed in-house. The structure of these calibers is unique to Chopard. It’s not that we copied something from somebody else, but it’s just from scratch developed.

And so, LUC has developed into a separate collection within the brand, and really is considered high watchmaking. Even recently many articles that are written about some of our novelties, or about the collection itself, very knowledgeable and renowned journalists call LUC, one of them called it the best-kept secret in the Swiss watch industry. Others are comparing us to Patek Philippe, to Lange, and it’s really at that quality level. So, it’s a very exciting project, a very exciting development. It’s still relatively small with about five thousand pieces a year, but it’s growing and this year with the celebration of the twentieth anniversary we are introducing some very exciting new pieces. It’s an important line for the brand, and our goal is to make it even more important.

6- JP: Chopard is the official timekeeping of the Classic Car Club of Manhattan, can you tell us a little about that?

RS: Last year in 2015, we became the official timekeeper of Classic Car Club Manhattan. This is all related to obviously to our long-standing ties with the automobile world. In 1988, Chopard became the official timekeeper of the Mille Miglia race in Italy. Which is, I think you can say, one of the most renowned road races in the world. What I think is important here is that this partnership with Mille Miglia, but also the one with the Classic Car Club, and also the other ones that we have are really out of a passion for classic cars. Mr. Karl-Friedrich and Karl Scheufele, the owners of Chopard, own quite an impressive collection of vintage and classic cars. They participated in the Mille Miglia already back in the ’80s and the initial idea was to create a watch for the participants of the Mille Miglia.

And so that was the first thought. It was not like, “Okay let’s create a collection and try to make that a successful commercial endeavor.” But it was really to create watches for the participants and then that actually developed into a commercial success. And also to bring that world of and our ties with the automotive world to the US, to bring it a little closer, I’ve been a member of the Classic Car Club for a couple of years. I know the owners, so that’s how we got together and said, “Okay let’s do something,” and we became the official timekeeper last year. We’ve been doing a couple of events together and we actually have a few activities lined up for later this year with them. I can’t say too much about that yet, but it’s going to be very exciting.

7- JP: Are there any products you want to highlight from Chopard?

RS: Products that I would like to highlight, one of the pieces that I’m very excited about this year is the new Mille Miglia 2016 edition. It’s a classic Mille Miglia design and it’s the design with the more rounded case, I’m actually wearing one today. The numerals, really a lot of design features that people recognize as Mille Miglia but the nice thing about it for this market is that it is now in a 46 mm case, because of the rounded shapes it doesn’t look oversized but it does really do the design justice versus the 42 mm version which we’ve had for quite a few years and which continues to be a best-seller.

So that’s a great watch it’s really a nice combination of a more vintage design, beautiful brown calf leather strap which is inspired by the leather straps that keep the bonnets tied down on Classic Cars, they have these leather straps on the sides, and then it’s powered by a new movement which is developed in-house, it initially originated at the LUC Manufacture and then we have a more industrialized version of it that we produce in our other movement manufacturing company, Fleurier Ebauche, to create economies of scale and to make sure that the retail price becomes reasonable. It’s a very strong and beautifully developed manufactured movement and the price is $9800 retail which for what it is, is really a very competitive price.

8- JP: Any teasers you?

RS: A teaser than I can share is that we have developed a number of limited editions for the United States. We wanted to do a few pieces specifically for the US market and so they’re going to be launched in late October this year, it’s going to be in the Grand Prix de Monaco collection, which is also part of the Classic Racing. We’re going to do a limited edition of 100 pieces in titanium and 25 in rose gold, and those rose gold will be only available at our boutiques across the country, our 5 boutiques. And then on the ladies side we are doing a happy sport with a new dial, a special dial, also 100 in steel, 25 in rose gold and again the rose gold ones are exclusive to the boutiques and both will come as a set in a special luxurious gift box with additional straps so that people can exchange. They’re going to be limited and numbered, so that’s very exciting because it’s really focused on the US and the first reactions and the orders from clients and retailers have been very positive so that might be something that we would do more in the future, but this is really the first time that we’re doing that in recent history.