Reported by “The Nation”:
At Chopard’s watch and jewelry factory in Fleurier, Switzerland, a craftsman carefully places a tiny diamond onto a ring. He has a tray of diamonds before him and relies upon a microscope to assist in manual assembly work.
It is meticulous craftsmanship, requiring the highest technical skills and sharpest eyes. Beside him sit dozens of artisans, all involved in the delicate handiwork. If their eyes get tired, they have the luxury of relaxing them by gazing at the majestic Alps before them.
Indeed the Alps are the perk for some 600 workers at the watch and jewelry factory of Chopard. Unlike most other watchmakers and jewelers, Chopard seeks to be self-sufficient in components and parts so it can control the cost and quality of what goes into the final assembly of products. Its factory produces about 95 percent of all its parts for watches and jewelry.
Chopard is one of the few remaining family-owned businesses in the Swiss timepiece industry.
Company president Karl Scheufele said that the strength of his company was surely flexibility and ability to react quickly.
“This is especially helpful when there are dark clouds on the economic horizon, as now in Europe. Our products and company policies can adapt to the constantly changing socio-economic and political situation in any region immediately. As a result, we don’t suffer as much as the big groups, and we don’t have to suddenly panic and fire top management as some big groups do,” he said.
“Our weakness is our capital, limited to the means of our company and family. We are not listed on any exchange, and we cannot depend on outside capital. This is why we have to grow step-by-step in production and distribution. For example, we only open five or six boutiques a year and not 50 at one shot. This is why we cannot grow as fast as we wish.”
Like all Swiss watchmakers, Chopard, one of the makers of the most luxurious watches, with a company history dating back to 1860, has suffered from counterfeits. And the problem here is not about wristwatches costing $150, but fakes that can deceive a customer into shelling out $2,000.
“Most of them are made in China and Turkey, and the buyers don’t know that until the watch malfunctions and they come to us. We have to tell them that we can’t fix it as it’s not our product. It causes great confusion,” said Christine, one of the five members of the family that owns Chopard.
Reflecting her notion is the fact that at 95 boutiques, including one in Bangkok, Chopard timepieces command several thousand dollars, even if they’re not a limited edition.
Ironically Asia, where most of the fakes are made, is becoming a high-potential market for the company. By country, the United States is Chopard’s biggest customer, followed by France. Regionally, Europe is the top spot.
Amid stiff competition and the threat of counterfeits, Chopard has thrived by protecting its image, developing innovative designs and diversifying into jewelry.
“Happy Diamonds” is now the collection that is focusing attention upon the company. The watches have dazzled buyers with a double-layered crystal dial in which small diamonds are cleverly inserted and sealed.
Though introduced only 30 years ago, the jewelry business at Chopard now makes up half of the company’s total sales, and all of its products come from its two plants in Geneva and Fleurier and one in Germany.
As long as affluent customers value uniqueness, Chopard will continue to prosper. It is one of the few family businesses in the Swiss watch industry, and it intends to stay that way.