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Happy hours

Caroline Scheufele, the co-president and artistic director of Chopard, on keeping luxury timely and relevant

Scheufele is a champion of eco-sensitive luxury. Photo: AFPPremium
Scheufele is a champion of eco-sensitive luxury. Photo: AFP

In this era of global political conflict, economic instability and endangered environment, the relevance of luxury is no longer a black and white idea. Its haloed notions of rarity, craftsmanship and finesse are being questioned. Not just by critics but also by its creators and customers, who no longer believe that an extraordinary, expensive and exclusive product is the end of a story.

Caroline Scheufele, the co-president and artistic director of the Swiss watch and jewellery brand Chopard, began looking at luxury in a different way three years ago. At a concert organized by the Elton John AIDS Foundation—Chopard is one of the main sponsors of the foundation—Livia Firth, wife of British actor Colin Firth, asked Scheufele where Chopard bought its gold. “I said we bought it from the banks," says Scheufele, recalling that moment. “Then I wondered where banks got their gold from," she adds, narrating the anecdote that became the foreword for Chopard’s Journey to Sustainable Luxury programme, launched in 2013.

Set up in partnership with the brand consultancy Eco-Age and its creative director Livia Firth, it created a philanthropic relationship with the Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM), the South American non-governmental organization. This made the Swiss brand the first company to support and enable gold mining communities to become eligible for Fairmined certification.

Scheufele is back in India after eight years to gain more insights into the luxury market here. She met retailers in Bengaluru, Mumbai and Delhi. A trip to Agra to see the Taj Mahal was sandwiched in between. “The road driving up to the Taj Mahal, the airport in Delhi, these are signs of the many infrastructural changes in India," she says.

Chopard currently has 123 boutiques and 1,600 points of sale across the world. In India, it sells from Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru and is planning to open its first monobrand boutique in Delhi early next year.

Scheufele met me at The Leela Palace hotel in New Delhi a fortnight ago. The 53-year-old artist with hair the colour of golden topaz, who has designed Chopard’s most talked about jewellery collections over the years and initiated innovative branding strategies influencing global luxury at large, is an easy person to chat with. It is equally easy to connect her persona to Happy Diamonds, the first jewellery collection she launched in 1985. Happy Sport, the first watch to combine steel with diamonds, which Scheufele launched in 1993, remains Chopard’s best-selling watch for women.

Happy is a word that comes up frequently in Scheufele’s personal dictionary and design book. “I am someone who sees the glass half-full and I often tell my colleagues at Chopard to leave their bad mood at home," she says.

Most of the Scheufele family moved from Germany to Geneva in 1963, after buying Chopard from the small manufacturer of high-end watches. It had five employees then. It employs more than 2,000 now. The brand has since been owned, steered and nurtured by the family.

Scheufele, who moved to the Geneva International School after leaving her German hometown of Pforzheim, joined the family business after completing her schooling, simultaneously pursuing a course in design and gemmology. In 1985, she and her brother Karl-Friedrich were made co-vice-presidents of Chopard. Since then, this has been Scheufele’s only job. Fond of drawing and painting as a child, with a strong musical inclination, Scheufele underlines her calling by saying, “If my father had a truck company instead of Chopard, I would have found something to do in architecture."

Her unflustered countenance, however, doesn’t disguise her keenness on bringing together disparate ideas into harmonious coexistence. For starters, she is dressed in black and white, fundamental opposites in the fashion palette—a sequinned, black Tom Ford jacket, black fitted trousers, a white-cream top and Manolo Blahnik black heels. The nail paint on her feet is black, while the Chopard solitaires on her ears wink right back at the glittering chandeliers over us. When I ask her about her watch, she gently pulls up the sleeve of her jacket to reveal her LUC Tourbillon that had 672 diamonds in 21 carats. Using Fairmined gold, it is from a limited collection of 25 pieces. The diamond-studded watch with finely crafted dark-blue hands, says Scheufele, is symbolic of the perfect sync between watchmaking and high jewellery, a Chopard signature. Around her neck is a long string necklace from the Happy Hearts jewellery collection of 2015—it has heart-shaped pieces, some with single diamonds and others in mother-of-pearl or coral-coloured enamelling. When Scheufele orders a tall glass of orange juice and a small shot of espresso and chases one with the other, she inadvertently stamps her love for mixing polarities.

The growing global relevance of eco-sensitive luxury, the recognition given to Scheufele by the BRAVO Business Awards—presented annually by the Latin Trade Group, an information and business services provider based in Latin America—as the environmentalist of the year in 2014, and Chopard’s recent decision to support a new gold mine in Bolivia through the mining 15 de Agosto Cooperative, one of the largest independent cooperatives in that country, currently consume and drive her. But it is difficult not to associate her name with haute jewellery and the Cannes red carpet.

In 1997, Scheufele, who had gone to Paris to meet the president of the Cannes International Film Festival “to explore something for Chopard", ended up redesigning the Palme d’Or for the festival. “I am good at designing, not organizing parties for celebrities," she remembers telling the festival director. After the redesign of the Palme d’Or, Chopard became one of the official partners of the Cannes festival.

Since then, every global actress who has gone to Cannes with a film has worn Chopard jewels. She says the brand has grown at Cannes. In 2001, they institutionalized the Chopard Trophy, which is given to one male and one female young talent every year.

The world’s top celebrities reportedly call her for watch and jewellery advice. “VIP customers often have special orders, they want to be sure of what they choose, the gemstones used, and seek personal advice," says Scheufele. She speaks fondly of French actor, singer and songwriter Marion Cotillard, whose stunning red-carpet appearances began to make fashion news after she won the Chopard Trophy in 2004.

Chopard has dressed many an Indian actress at Cannes with its jewels, from Aishwarya Rai Bachchan to Freida Pinto and Sonam Kapoor. As a luxury market, Scheufele describes India as “an important and growing market for Chopard, offering great potential for the years to come".​

Currently, the company manufactures around 80,000 timepieces and 70,000 pieces of jewellery every year. Chopard’s forthcoming monobrand boutique in Delhi will work as the base for product launches, VIP events and public relations activity.

So when one of her accompanying colleagues says, “We are in business, not in show business," and Scheufele nods knowingly, you realize that now is a good time for luxury brands to support and speak of sustainable luxury instead of red-carpet glamour. Luxury needs a new story and Chopard has found an engaging one.

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Published: 19 Nov 2015, 07:54 PM IST
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