Interview with Ralph Simons, CEO of Chopard USA
September 8, 2016
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 point of focus has been to simplify the assortment of products along with its communication to the market. When I arrived at Chopard we utilized a large selection of different advertising visuals, and one level up from that, in terms of product, at the time we also offered a broad range of references. This made it harder for our final clients and our authorized retailers to capture a consistent and recognizable brand message.
The Chopard Core Collection for North America launched at Baselworld 2015 now serves as a foundation. This assortment, which is based on our key brand universes has enabled us to increase focus in all areas. For example, any promotional activities such as events or advertising, we now do in the light of one of the brand’s universes.
These five main universes are our women’s collections Happy Diamonds/Happy Sport, Imperiale and High Jewelry. On the men’s side, we have the Classic Racing universe with sub-collections Mille Miglia, Grand Prix de Monaco Historique, and Superfast. Last but not least, there is L.U.C, our high-end watchmaking collection, strongly targeting a male clientele.
2- JP: Can you describe Chopard’s core business areas?
RS: Yes, of course. We offer three main product categories: watches, jewelry, and accessories. What people may or may not know is that Chopard started in 1860––so almost a hundred and sixty years ago––as a watch company. Manufacturing of movements and finished watches has always been at the core of what Chopard does.
When the company was acquired in 1963 by its current owners, the Scheufele family, who had a more significant background in jewelry, the two worlds merged. And then a number of years later is when the accessories collection was introduced to complete the “Chopard Lifestyle.”
Today, the two key focus areas remain watches and jewelry. Within that, of course, you have various collections, designs, target groups and price levels.
3- JP: What is the annual international production of Chopard watches?
RS: We produce approximately 80,000 timepieces per year and about 80,000 pieces of jewelry. So sales are well balanced between the two core areas.
4- JP: How important is the US market for Chopard?
RS: It’s very important. Currently, Chopard USA is the number four market in the world and we’re working hard to develop the brand further here in the US. We’re actually celebrating the 40th anniversary of Chopard USA, as we launched here officially in 1976. If you look at the volume of our business it’s very significant, but we also feel that it’s one of the areas in the world where we can still grow a lot. Referring back to your first question, in this regard it is key to have a focused, targeted message versus too many different messages, in order for the consumer to understand what Chopard is really all about.
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. Chopard was founded by a gentleman named Louis-Ulysse Chopard. As a tribute, his initials are where the name of this collection is derived from. The creation and manufacturing of movements and of finished watches were the key activities of the company at the time. Then, over the years, there was a general development in the industry where the inner workings of watches were less at the forefront than they are today––and have been for a while now. Chopard grew sharply during this period into an important player, while the technology of some of the watches was not the main focus. It became more about the design.
1996 is when it was decided to reinstate Chopard’s high watchmaking craftsmanship which had been there in the past and to bring it back to its former glory. That’s when we opened Chopard Manufacture in Fleurier, Switzerland and restarted to develop in-house movements. This year we celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Chopard Manufacture.
From a technical and research and development standpoint, it’s really quite exceptional what Chopard has done. During these last 20 years, we developed over 68 in-house calibers. And when I say in-house, I indeed mean almost one hundred percent in-house. Some components like spirals may come from external suppliers, like for most other brands, but for the rest, our L.U.C pieces are fully developed and manufactured in-house. The structure of the calibers were developed from scratch and are unique to Chopard.
L.U.C. has developed into a separate entity within the brand and is truly considered high watchmaking in the industry. Many recent articles about new products or about the collection itself praise the work that was done. Some expert watch journalists have called L.U.C. ‘the best-kept secret in the Swiss watch industry’, while others compare L.U.C to Patek Philippe and Lange & Soehne. Altogether it’s a very exciting project and a very exciting development. While at the moment L.U.C is still very exclusive, with about five thousand pieces produced per year, it’s growing and this year with the celebration of L.U.C’s twentieth anniversary we are introducing some very exciting new pieces. It’s an important pillar for the brand, and our goal is to further strengthen the pillar––while ensuring its exclusivity.
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 the Classic Car Club Manhattan. This initiative is obviously related to our long-standing ties with the automobile world and aims to promote Chopard’s Classic Racing universe.
In 1988, Chopard became the official timekeeper of the Mille Miglia race in Italy, generally considered the most legendary road race in the world. What is important about these partnerships with Mille Miglia and the Classic Car Club, is that they showcase our genuine passion for classic cars. Mr. Karl-Friedrich and Mr. Karl Scheufele, the owners of Chopard, own quite an impressive collection of vintage and classic cars. They participated in the Mille Miglia back in the ’80s and the initial idea was to create a watch for the participants of the Mille Miglia.
The first thought wasn’t to create a collection and turn it into a successful commercial endeavor. The idea was to create watches for the participants, and this concept then developed into a commercial success.
To bring our ties with the automotive world closer to our clients in the US we entered into a partnership with the Classic Car Club of Manhattan after I had been a member myself for a couple of years. We’ve been doing various events together and we actually have a few activities lined up for later this year. I can’t say too much about that yet – but it promises to be very exciting.
7- JP: Are there any products you want to highlight from Chopard?
RS: One of the pieces that I’m very excited about this year is the new Mille Miglia 2016 edition. I am actually wearing one today. It features the iconic Mille Miglia design with the more rounded case design, which I’m sure people will recognize. The nice thing about it for the US market is its 46 mm case. Because of the rounded shape, it doesn’t look oversized and it really does do the design justice, versus the 42 mm version which we’ve had for quite a few years, and continues to be a best-seller.
It’s a great watch ‘in the flesh’. It combines a more vintage design with a beautiful brown calf leather strap which is inspired by the leather straps that keep the bonnets tied down on classic cars. And more good news is that it’s powered by a new movement which was developed in-house. It initially originated at Chopard Manufacture, but to create economies of scale and to ensure an appropriate retail price the type of product, this is a more industrialized version of that caliber, produced at our other movement manufacturing company, Fleurier Ébauche. It’s a very strong, beautifully manufactured and finished movement. The price of the watch is very competitive at $9,800.
8- JP: Any teasers you can share?
RS: What I can share is that we have developed a number of limited editions exclusively for the United States, which will be launched in October of this year. It’s going to be in the Grand Prix de Monaco collection, which is also part of the Classic Racing universe. We’re going to do a limited edition of 100 pieces in titanium and 25 in 18k rose gold, and those rose gold pieces will be exclusively available at the five Chopard Boutiques across the country.
For ladies, we are launching a Happy Sport Automatic 36mm with a very special light blue mother of pearl dial, 100 pieces in steel, and 25 in rose gold, exclusive to the boutiques. Both will come as a set in a special luxurious gift box with additional, interchangeable straps. All pieces are limited and numbered. The initial reactions and pre-orders received from clients and retailers have been very positive, so we are all excited about this new project!
Simons is wearing a Chopard Mille Miglia 2016 XL Race Edition Chronograph in the top photo. Photo by John Walder, taken at the two-level flagship NYC Chopard boutique located at 709 Madison Avenue. Read our interview with Ralph Simons from 2013.
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