Chopard Co-President & Artistic Director, Caroline Scheufele takes us behind-the-scenes of the 154-year-old family-owned business to offer a rare insight into what makes it tick.
As one half of the brother/sister duo at the helm of historic Swiss watch and jewellery house Chopard, the brand’s Co-President & Artistic Director, CarolineScheufele, is perfectly placed to offer a comprehensive view of how the luxury domain has evolved to date.
Following the purchase of Chopard from its namesake family in 1963, the Scheufele clan has developed an indomitable dynasty which has managed to successfully balance the preservation of the brand’s core values – quality, excellence and heritage – with innovation and creativity, for decades.
More recently, under the expert guidance of Scheufele and her brother, Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, Chopard has progressively breached new markets and forged partnerships with the likes of the Cannes Film Festival, WWF and Porsche to name a few.
Chopard has also expanded its reach beyond the realm of watches and jewellery – into fragrances, eyewear, leather goods and other accessories.
The house’s latest conquest – the purchase of the five-star Hôtel de Vendôme on the esteemed Place Vendôme in Paris – is a testament to its meticulous and selective expansion strategy, reflecting the brand’s ethos, and marks a new chapter for Chopard.
Specifically, Scheufele is responsible for the ladies’ collections and high jewellery, and since her appointment in 1985 Scheufele in her tenure has introduced high-end jewellery lines to Chopard and injected a new essence of glamour and exclusivity into the growing empire.
Here, Scheufele shares her views on the changing market and offers a candid insight into how shifts in demographics, advances in technology, and fresh ventures are shaping the future of Chopard as a luxury leader.
“ We’ve always believed in providing a lot of limited editions and smaller series ” – Caroline Scheufele
There seem to be quite a lot new products and new ideas emerging in the market. How do you feel luxury has evolved in the last 12 months?
In terms of Chopard, we have always been very creative when it comes to our products, so not much has changed for us in that sense. For example, we’ve always believed in providing a lot of limited editions, and smaller series, so that our customers have more choice. Whereas some other houses are not as accustomed to that.
I think the trend, however, is very much moving towards using different types of gold. In our case, we use a lot of rose gold, but you can also mix, in terms of colors and even the materials, including different shades of gold, which perhaps was not done as much before.
Do you feel that some of these shifts are emerging as a result of changes in the demographic of luxury consumers?
Not necessarily. I think it’s the same. The changes in product also go hand-in-hand with fashion. I think it’s much more democratic in that way, rather than just a change in demographics. Of course, we are also now starting have a lot more affluent, younger clients versus the more classic consumer who tends to stick to diamond necklaces and products in that same vein. I think now you can mix and mingle.
“ We are now starting have a lot more affluent, younger clients versus the more classic consumer ” – Caroline Scheufele
In terms of the location of your consumers, is the travelling consumer becoming more important?
Travel retail is very important. This is very present in a lot of airports with duty free for example, because you have to take into account the way people move. Often, you do have some time in the airport but you don’t have enough time to go to town or a shopping area.
Travel retail, for the most part, has also become very upmarket, very luxurious. Before, you might not go to duty free, because you know you would just have magazines, and maybe some perfumes and some jewellery available. But now you go and it’s similar to what you find in the streets – the High Streets in London or High Streets in Paris. You have the same brands. So I think it’s really changed in that sense.
The internet has also had an impact. I think, often now, people know what they want to buy beforehand. They get informed, they choose, and then they go and know what they will buy.
You mentioned a variety of choice earlier, as one of the strengths of Chopard as a brand. What is the scope of that choice in terms of the range of product you offer?
Altogether, limited editions included, the house has approximately 80,000 watches and the same amount of jewellery.
Are there any plans to limit the amount of product in future, as a response to the changing market?
Chopard is a big house, but we’re definitely very exclusive and limited, compared to what our other colleagues in the same category offer, where they have, for example, 700,000 pieces. Take Rolex, or Cartier – they make some products, in some materials which we would never make. All we do is steel or we do gold. We don’t do plated or silver.
Chopard has progressively moved into other sectors – such as eyewear – and more recently, the house purchased a hotel. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Well, it’s definitely been an experience! I think, obviously, the first reason we bought the hotel is, because it houses our flagship Chopard store in Paris [on the ground floor]. The second motivation behind that purchase is perhaps because of the experience/benefits of moving into another luxury field which is somehow linked with us, in terms of lifestyle.
Obviously, there are many opportunities which we can create and currently we’ve been trying to get this particular one off the ground. The location is key – there’s only one number 1 Place Vendôme in the world, and always will be, so as pure real estate it will always be a top investment. Now we just have to make the inside just as beautiful as the address!
“ There’s only one number 1 Place Vendôme in the world, so it will always be a top investment ” – Caroline Scheufele
Beyond the hotel space, does Chopard have any other plans to expand into new territory?
I think we have already. As a hobby we have the wine business – which is more owned by my brother, and partner in business – and I think there’s a lot to do in that space. Obviously, with the wine, you’re drinking it [the wine] at Baselworld, and the wine is also in the hotel. But I think in future we will probably work more on the accessories too, so there’s still a lot to do there.
In terms of your distribution channels, Chopard is currently quite active on e commerce. Is technology progressively changing the way that you distribute your products?
It’s actually quite interesting, because five years ago you would not sit in a presentation, and show no models, no watches, no necklaces. Now, they [the buyers, clients] are just upstairs with our high jewellery and one of the buyers, for example, is taking pictures and just says: “I’m sending this to Kazakhstan, because there’s a wedding and they’re choosing what they want to buy”. So it’s really direct – because by tonight, we will know [what they’ve chosen to purchase].
We would not have imagined this happening five years ago. Especially not someone buying a piece for €200,000 over the phone. Of course, this also occurs because they trust the manager of the shop, but in saying that, many [consumer] habits have changed.
So definitely, it [e-commerce] is a tool and it’s important, and we have to use it wisely. But it’s also important not to over-exaggerate it. I think there’s still a touch and feel that you can’t take away from. I mean, you are not going to buy a 10-carat diamond over the internet or over the phone. But maybe you’ll get the information that way, and then you know where you are going to go, and what’s important. So, yes, in many ways, I think consumer habits have changed a lot and we have to respond to that.
“ With these unique pieces, if one is gone then it’s gone ” – Caroline Scheufele
Overall, is there a trend towards a particular range of price-points for pieces being sold on e-commerce, or is it more of a discovery tool for your customers?
Well, we have the e-boutique in USA and, product-wise, we generally sell more jewellery than watches. In terms of price range, we’ve sold pieces up to $50,000 [via the e-boutique].
How do you go about selling your high jewellery – in terms of Chopard’s limited edition or one-off pieces – and reaching this target market of wealthy, international clients who are often travelling?
Well, the high jewellery is rarely put on the internet for starters, because I think we still view it as something that is more intimate.
These customers don’t necessarily want the pieces exposed everywhere, because I think this is a different type of consumer we’re talking about.
These are customers who are used to going to the shows in Paris, but now you go online and you see all those photos of fashion shows live. You don’t need to sit at Chanel anymore, you can just get everything from somebody who is blogging it, and you can see the whole thing. I’m not sure this is good, because it takes away a little bit of the dream.
But with these unique pieces – if one is gone then it’s gone.
The real definition of luxury. That being said, Chopard has been quite a leader in terms of its social and digital activities. What is benefit for the brand from its interaction with social media, specifically?
I think it provides very immediate feedback and people are really amazed. Everything is alive. You don’t even have time to sit back and think, because the moment you put something up, the next second you get a question. So you have to be very proactive. You have to answer back. You cannot say: “No, I’m not available” – not personally me but the team. I think also, in terms of the communications aspect, for the press, social media has changed the world. Because the exact day something happens in another part of the world, you know it’s happening.
It [social media] is also very aspirational though, so it’s useful for building broader brand awareness, rather than something that is particularly targeted to top-end clients.
Advances in technology and the internet itself has influenced certain products to an extent – wearable technology for example.
Do you think that we’ll see changes to the products that luxury brands offer as well?
I think at a certain price level, yes. But, in the top, top, top end, I would say no. I think a mechanical watch is still a mechanical watch. It’s something that people collect and it will outlast generations, because in 50 years, 100 years, wind it and it will work. Whereas, maybe an Apple Watch because lacks these functions is not something our consumers are likely to collect.
At the time, when this [Apple] Watch came out, people started to collect it, but nobody talks about it anymore. I think this is not something of true luxury – I would call it a high tech gimmick. I don’t think the real watch collector would trade in a mechanical watch for that. They might have it have for fun, but that’s it. You have all the things on the iPhone, but you cannot write an email on your watch. I don’t see that.
What’s your view on brands who are trying to integrate electronics into mechanical though?
Of course, that’s just something that is going to happen now, because the devices are available. However, while other brands may think it fits their image, I don’t think it fits the image of Chopard. So, I don’t see us doing it. My brother likes to climb mountains, but I don’t think that means he’s going to make a watch that measures how many times he climbs up and down. But then again, I don’t know, you never know!
“ There’s no question that we have to adapt to price gaps” – Caroline Scheufele
Has the fluctuation of the Swiss Franc impacted any of your business strategies for this year?
There’s no question that we have to adapt to price gaps – which we have, especially within Europe. We had to put the prices up a little bit in Europe. Of course, we can’t put it all up 15 to 20 per cent, because all of a sudden the product is much too expensive. So we will absorb some of those costs and we see how it goes. I think everybody’s in the same boat.
In terms of clientele, it [price fluctuations] matters more for the middle class. It matters to the younger customers – because something that was €500, all of a sudden becomes €600 or €700. That makes it a big difference, even more so for other areas. The hotel business and tourism, for example. If you go skiing in Switzerland, or skiing in Austria all of a sudden everything is 10 to 20 percent more. And if you have a big family then it also makes a difference, for sure.
Are there any markets that you feel cautious about in 2015?
Russia is challenging and it’s a big market for us. But there are also new markets on the rise. Africa is coming up for sure. India has a lot of potential. Asia is doing fine. However, it’s always shifting, so you have to go with the flow.
What are the shopping hot-spots for Chopard consumers from some of the emerging markets, in terms of location?
Everywhere really… But first and foremost, they like to go to the nice capitals, such as London, New York, Paris.
How do you measure success at Chopard?
Here, at Baselworld it’s a very good barometer. This is where we show the new trends, the novelties. So we immediately see the response and if we get [new] ideas. We often know beforehand what’s good or bad, but events like these confirm we’re doing it right.
As a family-owned company, do you feel there’s always that pressure to grow?
It [being a family-owned company] has positive and negative sides. However, I think that the positives, for the time being, take the bigger part. Because, obviously, we are free to do what we want and we are very flexible, so we can adapt quickly to different situations. In terms of big projects, such as the ‘Fairmined Gold’ project [ethical gold extracted by Artisanal and Small-scale miners certified under the ‘Fairmined’ standard], I think it would have been very difficult to push through in a big machine, like LVMH or the Richemont corporation with politics and CEOs coming and going.
They’re so much into figures and statistics they may be don’t look at the quality. I think if it comes to, for example, a big shopping center opening up in Shanghai, we have to fight, because it’s one brand coming with one shop versus maybe, a big group with eight shops, so we have to fight for locations… But, so far we’ve defended ourselves fine.
What lies ahead for Chopard, in terms of challenges and opportunities?
I think we have lots of challenges. As I said, there are many markets which are upcoming. I think we have rich potential, yet it is always a big challenge to balance staying creative with maintaining [our] high standards of quality. This is an important consideration [when discussing opportunities] because, even if we grow, we have to make sure that our products, when they get to the final recipient, are not deceiving the customer.