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A TimeZone Interview with Mr. Thierry J. Chaunu [12/15/03]
On January 2, 2004
A TimeZone Interview with
Mr. Thierry J. Chaunu
President of Chopard USA Ltd
Interview conducted September 2003
Mr. Thierry Chaunu
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MS: Michael Sandler – TimeZone.com
TC: Thierry Chaunu
MS: Mr. Chaunu, would you please begin by telling us how you got your start in the watch industry.
TC: It’s very simple. I joined Cartier in the early ’80s in Paris at their headquarters, and then fairly quickly, about three years after that, I was appointed the VP of marketing for Cartier in the United States. So I got my love for watches and diamonds pretty much at that time, and throughout the ’90s I was President of Christofle Silver.
MS: How did you come to work for Chopard?
TC: As you may remember, unfortunately my predecessor at Chopard died in the SwissAir crash five years ago, and therefore when I was approached by an executive search firm, I really thought it was a wonderful opportunity to go back into the watch and jewelry industry. So that is how I joined Chopard.
MS: In the five years that you’ve been with Chopard, what changes have you seen at the company?
TC: It’s been a wonderful experience, because Chopard has grown significantly in this market. When I joined, Chopard had already started its expansion, and had opened its first U.S. boutique on Madison Avenue back in 1995. In fact, even before I was approached by the executive search firm and before that tragic accident, I couldn’t help but tell myself whenever I was walking in front of a jewelry store (you know you never lose sight of the fact that you were once in the industry), I said “My goodness, where is Chopard coming from?” Certainly Chopard was a more confidential brand in the United States back in the ’80s, but starting in ’95/’96/’97, as an observer I saw that Chopard was in many good jewelers and also in many wonderful magazines all over the place, and I was very intrigued. So to answer your question, the company had already started its expansion, but what I found most exhilarating was the opening of several other stores in the United States market. First we opened South Coast Plaza, then shortly after that, Palm Beach. Then we opened Las Vegas, Beverly Hills, Bal Harbor Miami. We grew significantly in terms of turnover by keeping the same number of doors in terms of authorized Chopard retailers in the country. That was the biggest change, I think.
Chopard New York
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MS: What are your current responsibilities as President of Chopard USA and what have been your biggest challenges to date?
TC: My responsibility is really to run the business with everything it entails, from the financial aspects of the company, the marketing aspects, the retail aspects, the wholesales aspects. I love to be involved with our retailers. I think that the true battle happens over the counter, and this is where I would like to spend more time than I can today. This is truly my passion, to work with our retailers and jewelers.
MS: You mention your involvement with the marketing aspects of the company. Is Chopard’s marketing in the U.S. geared specifically to this market, or is the approach more consistent and global in nature?
TC: It’s very consistent. It starts with the advertising, which is all conceived and designed by Chopard in-house, so we use the same materials, the same visuals that are seen in Rome, Monte Carlo, Bangkok, you name it. Obviously there are some aspects of our marketing efforts that are specifically for the United States when it comes to events, but not really, because even the charities which we support are pretty much the same charities that Chopard supports globally around the world. Even our magazine, “Happy News”, the same one which is published in 19 languages if I’m not mistaken, is the same around the world.
MS: How do you perceive the U.S. marketplace currently, in terms of it acceptance of high-end watches. Do you see it changing?
TC: In the United States, sophisticated clientele have evolved greatly over the past 20 years. When 20 years ago there was perhaps only one brand that they would trust when it came to high end watches, everyone has seen the appearance in the United States of many, many reputable brands who were before that confined to Europe. Why? Because I think the world is becoming smaller, and people have money and education. Certainly Americans in many areas, wine, food, and certainly watches, have over the past 20 years become extremely sophisticated and in some areas I would say even more knowledgeable than the European public. They are very sensitive to quality, beauty, esthetics, design, performance, and it’s wonderful for a company like Chopard.
MS: Can you tell us a little about the company and their production?
TC: Chopard has been making watches since 1860, and the family who owns Chopard is pretty much the only one left in the field, the Scheufele family, is the fourth generation in a family of jewelers originally from the Black Forest in Germany. Watches and jewelry are really in Chopard’s veins to the extent that Chopard makes pretty much everything in-house and if one day you can come to the factory in Geneva or in Fleurier now you will see how we melt the gold ourselves there in the factory. Everything is done in-house, including diamond setting. The jewelry is done in Geneva and also in Pforzheim in Germany. So to answer your question, the fact that Chopard is totally integrated, family owned and manufactures their own product is really what makes us a little bit different in this marketplace where so many people borrow engines from different manufacturers.
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I don’t think anyone is 100% self sufficient, since there are some components where it makes more sense to buy from a specialist. The degree of involvement hat Chopard has in the manufacturing of its own product is quite phenomenal.
MS: How large is the company in terms of production, etc.?
TC: Roughly, we make about 70,000 timepieces and roughly the same amount of jewelry. Within our collection, it’s important to know that we love to do small series. Very frequently we will even do a one of a kind at the request of a customer. Why? Because even though we have reached a level of production, it is important. The family works pretty much seven days a week at the factory (their offices are at the factory), and if we have a customer who wants a watch like this but with a little difference, and it’s urgent, you can be confident that the factory will stop what it’s doing in the production like to make just that piece. At our level, that is unheard of, but we still do it.
Beyond that, we do a lot of small series. I mentioned my watch, which is one out of 250. We have the Monaco Grand Prix 200 only in rose gold, the Elton John, and the Prince Charles. They are very limited production.
Watches from the Elton John Collection
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The Prince Charles
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It’s the same for the ladies watches, which means that our customers know that they can be fairly confident, and our retailers also know, that what they wear or sell is not exactly what the neighbors wear or sell. You can travel around the world, to Hong Kong, Tokyo, Munich, Monte Carlo, and you will have Chopard boutiques. However, you will not find exactly the same collection. It’s not cookie-cutter, it’s not mass luxury. It’s true luxury, and I think that’s at the heart of what Chopard is.
MS: That seems to be a very unique perspective, since there are many who define luxury as simply a price point. It’s also interesting to hear how flexible Chopard is given the size of the company as a whole.
TC: That’s exactly it. Our customers are looking for exclusivity, the exceptional. There will always be a clientele for that and I would dare say, especially in the United States, that there are more and more people who look for this special category of products. They have graduated, if you will, from a mass luxury mentality to a true luxury mentality. I think this is a normal evolution, whether you grow in economic terms or educational terms. The more you’re exposed to beautiful objects, the more you look towards the next level. That’s where Chopard is compared to most of the luxury brands. Yet at the same time, we’re not so confidential that we make only 5,000 watches for the whole world, which is also a different niche.
We bring this level of personalization that is quite appealing. Plus the design and the style which is unique to Chopard since everything is created in-house. The owners create themselves.
MS: The level of involvement of the owners in direct production also seems to be fairly unique in a company of this size. It truly seems to be a passion for them.
TC: To the degree that you would not even suspect. The word passion is important, because for us, the employees of Chopard, my colleagues around the world in every subsidiary, we truly feel the passion that the family has. It’s exhilarating to a point that I have never before experienced in my professional life.
MS: Would you speak to us a little about Chopard’s current line-up. Are there any specific models you’d like to highlight?
TC: I realize, obviously, that you’re very interested in watches, but I would like to make one point about the jewelry. Caroline Gruosi-Scheufele, who designs the jewelry, has launched a wonderful collection called Happy Spirit. It’s is a variation on the theme of the Happy Diamonds, the floating diamonds, but takes it to a new level, the next level. There is also a watch which goes with the jewelry that received a tremendous response in Basel. As you know, in our booth in Basel it’s not like we introduce only one new product. We have tray after tray after tray of new products, which is also exhilarating for the buyers, the retailers.
For the watches, one of the main thrusts which Chopard has done in recent years was the foundation of the L.U.C. movement and the L.U.C. factory in Fleurier. That was the brainchild of Caroline’s brother, Karl-Friedrich, who is more involved in watch production for the company. This, I think, is a significant adventure for Chopard, because Chopard is more known in the States for its ladies diamond watches. But for men, the fact that we have succeeded in a very short time to produce an exceptional collection of serious watches from scratch.
Watches from the L.U.C. Collection
L.U.C. Quattro, L.U.C. Sport 2000, L.U.C. Tonneau, L.U.C. 1.96
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The year the first model was introduced, it was named Watch of the Year in 1996 by the Swiss professional press. It’s one thing to create one movement, one model, but in the last couple of years, we’ve introduced the diver’s Pro One watch, the two timezone, the regulateur, and now the tourbillon. The tourbillon is not just a badge of honor, if you will, that the company decided to do just to be recognized. It is a very innovative tourbillon and has several patents and it’s an incredible watch on its own.
The L.U.C. Tourbillon
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MS: I believe the long power reserve is also rare in a tourbillon?
TC: I believe the reserve is 216 hours for the L.U.C Quattro. Also, the watch is a certified chronometer, and you have four barrels, two superimposed. The technology and creativity in this movement is a demonstration that when Chopard does something, they really do it with passion, and with an incredible amount of work. The work ethic in the company is incredible.
Also, the watches are made to Geneva Seal standards, which is no small feat given the regulations. I think it was not so difficult in the sense that once you are used to creating excellence in workmanship and design, it’s more a question of determination and commitment. It’s not something that we did one day just to occupy a certain niche. It’s really a return to the roots of Chopard.
There is this quest for excellence that, in the case of L.U.C., shows that the company is truly an innovative company, while retaining its classical roots.
MS: Is there one watch which you feel epitomizes what Chopard is as a company?
TC: To answer your question, if you look at Chopard as a whole, I just gave you one specific segment of Chopard, but the Happy Diamond line and the Happy Sport line, the floating diamonds is what personifies Chopard because it’s fun, its creative, it’s a serious piece of jewelry because of the quality of the diamonds, the work done to set each diamond in its own cup is quite mind-boggling, which is why no one else does it. To me, this is what Chopard is all about: exclusivity, fun, and quality of the diamonds and workmanship.
Watches from the “Happy” Collection
Happy Diamonds, Happy Sport, Happy Love, Happy Fish
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For men, outside of the L.U.C. line of watches, I would have to say the Mille Miglia which is certified chronometer. It’s fun, and is also a watch that you don’t see everywhere. It’s of incredible quality. I carry this watch at all times with me [Note: Mr. Chaunu points to rose gold Mille Miglia on rubber strap]. In the pool, in the shower, the watches go everywhere.
MS: Could you tell us a little about Chopard’s relationship with the automotive industry and with automobile related events, etc?
TC: It’s very simple, really. Being a family owned company, the father Karl Scheufele, and the son Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, both collect vintage cars. But they also do not just collect them to admire them in a garage, but also to drive them. Every year since 1988, I believe, they not only sponsor, but also participate in arguably the most legendary automobile race, the Mille Miglia in Italy. It takes you from Brescia to Rome and back.
To participate in that race you have to have a car which was built before 1957. You have about 300 participants from all over the world, driving for example a Jaguar from 1929 or a Bentley from 1932 or a Ferrari from 1951. That’s the passion, because every year the Scheufele drive in a different car and because of their love for fine vintage cars.
It also meets the demand of our clientele. Our clients are, more often than not, passionate about watches, movements, precision mechanics, and they also collect cars. The similarity between the two is striking.
MS: We’ve definitely noticed the correlation amongst watch enthusiasts on TimeZone as well, and in fact, have launched an automotive discussion forum to supplement our watch forums.
TC: It is common what whoever collects cars usually appreciates or collects fine watches. When it comes to Chopard, we meet quite a few of them every year ourselves in Pebble Beach in California. For years we have been sponsoring the Pebble Beach Concourse D’Elegance. It’s probably one of the top three events in the world when it comes to vintage cars. We have a hospitality suite, and we meet celebrities or collectors. It doesn’t matter if you collect five cars or twenty, they are all wonderful individuals.
MS: Can you give us any hints as to new models that Chopard will be launching in the near future? A L.U.C. chronograph, perhaps?
TC: Thank you for trying [laughs]. There’s a little bit of magic in Chopard. Perhaps when you work for General Motors or another huge company, you always have some industrial secrets which are shown in advance. Sometimes you can see their next models before the Paris Auto Show or the Geneva Auto Show.
At Chopard, it’s a very closely guarded secret. The family, being the originators and creators of our products, usually unveil them the day before Basel starts. When we ourselves fly to Basel, it’s with considerable excitement because we know we’re going to discover, literally a few hours before the retailers, all the new creations. That’s the way Chopard is.
I remember being at Chopard headquarters in Geneva two days before the Basel Fair started and I was amazed at how Caroline was fitting a model with her latest jewelry designs. I asked her about the items, and she said that they were for Basel. I said “it’s the day after tomorrow” and she said “it’s that last finishing touch”. It’s very much like haute couture work, where the couturier will finish the hem of a dress literally seconds before the model goes onto the runway. This made me think of the same thing. That’s how Chopard works. Some new products come right in time for Basel and won’t be shown before.
The Pro One
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MS: Recently, there has been considerable consolidation in the watch industry, with companies like Richemont, Swatch and LVMH acquiring multiple brands within a portfolio. How do you feel this is impacting the industry, and more particularly, how do you feel it is impacts an independent family owned and operated company like Chopard? How does it impact your ability to compete?
TC: Certainly, the economic factors at play are very important. You’ve seen the emergence of the equivalent of General Motors, but for me, it’s my own personal opinion that the danger in all of this is that all of those brands under the same group can become a little bit stale. Have you seen any really big differences between Buick or Pontiac after a few years?
The fact that Chopard is fiercely independent shows that perhaps in this world there is still room for people who have innovation at heart. I think genuinely that the Scheufele family has a passion for what they are doing. They have fun doing it. They are proud of what they have achieved over a few decades. I am very confident that the public sees that also.
As we said before, for the people who really want to buy true luxury as opposed to mass luxury, the product speaks for itself. You can see if a product was designed by a marketing committee or if it was designed by someone who is passionate….with drive…with energy. It becomes apparent in the product. I’m not saying that there is no interest in cars at General Motors, but there will always be buyers that want other brands, other models that speak to their hearts.
Watchmakers at Chopard New York
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MS: You’ve used the word passion frequently as we’ve spoken, and I can see it even in the way you speak of the company.
TC: I think Porsche has that same passion when they create their models. It wouldn’t surprise me if at 11pm at night they are thinking about their new stick shift.
MS: What impact do you feel the Internet has had on the watch industry and for Chopard in particular?
TC: I think the Internet has proven its usefulness when it comes to communication and to spread the gospel, if I may say. Strictly as a commercial tool to actually sell over the Internet, I think that many of the good jewelers and retails are greatly concerned about the fact that you turn their stores into a showroom where they would not be able to compete against products that are either stolen, or are from the gray market. This was a concern I remember that was very high four or five years ago.
Today, regarding the Internet, I think that for true luxury products like our products, we really don’t belong there. We would not be able to explain our products to the buyer. Nothing replaces the direct contact between the buyer and an experienced salesperson in a boutique. That’s not to say it doesn’t fit other brands, but for us, it’s not what we are really looking at.
MS: Are you a watch collector yourself?
TC: When I read that question I said “I’m going to be disappointing him”, but no. I think to qualify for the name collector, you have to have a certain quantity or interesting models. For me, I have a few watches but I would certainly not dare say that I am a collector. There are so many knowledgeable and true collectors out there, but I would not qualify.
MS: Besides watches, what are some of you other interests or passions?
TC: I love skiing and car racing. No surprise.
MS: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us, and for your hospitality here today. I really appreciate your openness and candor.
TC: You are welcome. And if when you write about us, if you have more questions, please do not hesitate to let me know. Thank you also for your interest in Chopard. Hopefully you can come to see us in Basel.
Special thanks to Ms. Stephanie Labeille of Chopard USA for her assistance on this interview.
Stock photographs provided by Chopard USA
Copyright 2003, Michael Sandler
All Rights Reserved