Chopard: From Fine Watchmaker to International Luxury Brand

A favorite fine jewelry brand for A-list celebrities is Swiss luxury house Chopard. With red carpet events slowly returning to the celebrity scene, Chopard has already outfitted actresses like Maggie Gyllenhaal, Rihanna Jessica Chastain and Jodie Foster, singer H.E.R., and model Bella Hadid in their haute jewelry for international film festivals and award shows. Though Chopard is revered for its stunning high jewelry pieces, which feature extraordinary diamonds, intricate metalwork and master craftsmanship, this venerable luxury house actually started out as a watchmaking firm with a focus on refining production and elevating design.

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Founder Louis-Ulysse Chopard launched his small fine watchmaking company in the Swiss farming village of Sonvilier in 1860. He distinguished his firm from its competitors by focusing on crafting slender timepieces, beginning with the individual components right through to the final finished watch. Because making watch components as small as possible is both a technical feat and art form, the thinness of a watch showcases the expertise of the artisans who made it. This marriage of accuracy with artistry is what put Chopard on the map, and made his high precision, slim timepieces the watch of choice for the ‘Tir Fédéral’, the Swiss railway network, and even Tsar Nicholas II.

Credit: Chopard 

After Louis-Ulysse Chopard’s death in 1915, his grandson Paul-André eventually inherited the company and decided to move it to Geneva in 1937 to compete with the best Swiss watchmaking firms, such as Vacheron & Constantin and Patek Philippe & Co. The move allowed the movements made by Chopard to be certified with the Geneva Seal, a certification reserved for wristwatch movements made in the Canton of Geneva and a high accolade in the industry. It also gave Chopard greater access to the international jet set crowd.

By the early 1960s, it was clear that Paul-André’s sons had no interest in taking over Chopard, and he sold the company in 1963 to Karl Scheufele III. Scheufele belonged to a family of watchmakers, whose firm was founded in 1904 and based in Pforzheim, Germany. Because his firm used Swiss movements for their watches, he already had close ties to Switzerland, but wanted to establish himself as a leading watchmaker by buying a Geneva-based company with a good reputation. Buying Chopard ended up being a win-win for both men.

Scheufele built a solid watch company over the next couple of decades by pursuing more innovative watch design and technical advances in movements. But it was also under his guidance that the company started to transform into a global luxury brand. Diamonds were introduced into the Chopard vocabulary, in particular to accent women’s watches, and also as part of the newly launched fine jewelry line. 

By the mid 1980s, Scheufele’s daughter Caroline began to design and oversee fine jewelry for women. Her first collection was “Happy Clown,” based on her sketch of a clown with a tummy full of floating diamonds. The line is a fine jewelry take on the brand’s popular Happy Diamonds wristwatch, which debuted in 1976 using an innovative system of loosening diamonds from their settings to move freely around the dial. Just like the wristwatch, the pieces in this jewelry collection are an engineering marvel, as the diamonds move freely between two sapphire crystals without leaving a single scratch. This timeless collection has made the floating diamonds motif a Chopard brand signature 

Happy Collection

Caroline’s subsequent fine jewelry collections include the delicate and feminine Imperiale with its interlacing lines, as well as the calligraphy logo design for Chopardissimo. But it was 1999’s “Ice Cube” collection that showed Chopard in a new light, as the collection was glamorous and timeless, as well as modern and genderless. The sleek, crisp lines of “Ice Cube” feature minimalist polished or gem-set cubes perfectly aligned in tight rows, allowing light to reflect off the multiple facets. 

In addition to its modern aesthetic, “Ice Cube” was also the first Chopard fine jewelry collection produced from 100% ethical gold. Since 2013, Chopard has taken steps to become a “Sustainable Luxury” brand, and as part of that initiative its gold is now sourced from ethical mines. That means Chopard acquires its gold through artisanal and small-scale mines that also adopt socially inclusive practices and minimize their environmental impact.

But Chopard doesn’t just create watches and fine jewelry - the brand has expanded its offerings to other luxury products, including sunglasses and leather goods. The sunglass line features glamorous retro styles reminiscent of 1950s Hollywood, like oversized cat-eye and square shapes, as well as aviators. And look for signature fine jewelry design motifs accenting the temples, such as “Imperiale”-inspired colored crystals and scrolling metalwork or a single row of elegant “Ice Cubes.” 

Glamorous Sunglasses

Likewise, Chopard’s leather goods also incorporate key details from its watch and fine jewelry collections, like the calligraphy Chopard logo from Chopardissimo or a heart talisman closure based on the Happy Hearts collection. The brand’s extensive handbag offering for women ranges from chic, unconstructed hobos and camera styles to classic mini chain bags in rich neutral tones and brilliant gemstone-inspired hues. For men, look for sleek briefcase and weekender styles, plus a series of small clutch options, all finished with a minimalist silver plate embossed with the house name. If you’re looking for something smaller, check out the brand’s sleek wallets, cardholders and belts.

Today, Chopard is one of the last few watch companies to remain a family-owned business. The brand is still headquartered in Geneva, while a site in Fleurier manufactures its watch movements. Of course, Chopard’s high profile sponsorships, like the Mille Miglia car rally (since 1988); the Cannes Film Festival (since 1998), including sponsoring of the Trophee Chopard prize and making the Palme d’Or trophy; and as the official timekeeper of the Historic Grand Prix of Monaco (since 2002) keep it front and center in fashion, celebrity and luxury circles.  These major events and red carpets ensure that the most fantastic Chopard pieces are seen by millions of people around the world, but it’s the brand’s extensive watch, fine jewelry and accessory collections to which anyone can aspire.