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Ferdinand Berthoud looks to the future

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Chopard Group revived the Ferdinand Berthoud brand back in 2015 and since then, alongside the rapid rise of independent watchmakers across the globe, it has gone from strength to strength.

Chopard’s, and more specifically Karl-Friedrich Scheufele’s aim was and still is to bring back and honour the work of historic horologist Ferdinand Berthoud with the creation of a luxury brand in his name.

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Berthoud was born in Switzerland in 1727 and became a Master Clockmaker in 1753 while working in Paris as Horologist-Mechanic by appointment to the King and the Navy for France, most notably creating marine chronometers that helped the nation navigate at sea.

Chopard established the company, Chronométrie Ferdinand Berthoud, in Fleurier, Switzerland, and unveiled its first timepiece with the same name in 2015 – the Chronométrie Ferdinand Berthoud FB1 which aimed to present a modern vision of the creations that Berthoud might create if he were still living today, the company says.

Since then, it has continued to gain popularity and launched the Chronomètre FB 1.4-3 in November of 2021, showing WatchPro’s Alex Douglas at Seddiqi’s Dubai Watch Week.

It is inspired by an 18th century armillary sphere whose movement, created by Ferdinand Berthoud, indicated the time he time on a glass dial. The sapphire half-bridges reveal the hand-wound Calibre FB-T.FC-2, rhodium-plated and dotted with blue accents, its pillar-type architecture and its reversed and suspended fusee-and-chain transmission mechanism.

Thanks to its bead-blasted titanium case, this timepiece with its contemporary design weighs only 80g, extremely light for such a complex design.

The silver-toned dial with straight-grained lines and an openworked centre bears a blue-toned counter at 12 o’clock displaying the hours and minutes. At 9 o’clock, the power reserve appears through a recessed opening with beveled edges. The seconds are indicated by a central hand on a translucent matt sapphire inner bezel ring, colored in blue. All finishes are entirely hand-crafted.

The FB-T.FC-2 calibre powering the Chronomètre FB 1.4-3 offers an exceptional level of readability thanks to its three sapphire half-bridges, finely chamfered with sandblasted bevels.

This too has already proven to be a massively popular release and the last one in the series, the watches have already sold out, according to Mr Scheufele, who went on to explain how this mirrors the wider independent market today.

He said: “Since I re-launched Berthoud, I realised the difficulties you have when you are just a small, very small independent brand. Your means are limited, your production is limited and basically, everything is limited except your imagination.

“I think that now, looking around, I realise that independents are getting the recognition they deserve and I think it’s thanks to people like yourself with WatchPro and others who talk about us and what we are doing on a regular basis.”

He continued: “It is also massively down to the collectors who all of a sudden realised that, here’s a watch of which only 25 pieces are made, or the total production is 30 or 35 per year and here is a watch of which thousands are made. Why would I buy this watch rather than the one which is so much more exclusive and rare?”

Adding: “Even last year, the pandemic gave people the time to properly research and consider the story behind the brand of the watch they wanted to buy. We found that they really did their homework on independents and we, among many others, definitely benefited from this. I think for the first time, this year we are booked out and are booked out until almost the end of next year too.”

On this change in recent years and the well-documented rise of independent watchmaking, particularly in Europe and the Middle-East, Mr Scheufele is perfectly positioned to consider just how and why we have seen a shift.

Having his eyes on both the monster brand and business that is Chopard, while being heavily involved in the running of Ferdinand Berthoud which really does seem a true passion of his, Mr Scheufele thinks it is the creative freedom in recent years that has set the independents aside somewhat.

He commented: “I think the independents play an important role because to be honest, and I can say it because I am also involved in a much bigger brand, the independents are more daring. They often develop and take risks a lot more, specifically if you look at their means versus what they produce, they are more much more daring and more risk taking than the bigger brands.

“I think it’s they do away with rules and they have this innovative, creative freedom which is just so important for the wider watch industry too because when you look at some of the bigger brands, they’re almost afraid of going out and exploring more left field ideas and they tend to stay on their own highway because they know it is the easier route.”

Looking at how markets have changed is interesting on both sides of the coin when you consider the mainstream brands as well as the independents and how, particularly in the UK with the post-Brexit VAT issues, businesses have had to adapt.

For the Ferdinand Berthoud CEO, this meant the ceasing of plans to open an Art in time boutique in London, which would have been the second of its kind after Monaco.

Art in Time is based on a unique concept in watchmaking of bringing together niche brands on the basis of their common values rather than their types of watch, ranges, or similar styles.

Mr Scheufele details: “The ethos of Chronométrie Ferdinand Berthoud, just like that of Chopard, is rooted in a respect for Fine Watchmaking; as custodians of this heritage, we seek to promote its value. The maisons in Art in Time are all motivated by the same deeply-held convictions, each in their own distinctive fashion.”

Brought together under the banner of Art in Time, each of these watchmaking houses which includes the likes of Bovet, De Bethune, MB&F and Laurent Ferrier among others has its own well-defined identity.

Every year, these rare watches emerge from the workshops of the maisons in question – themselves among the most innovative and outstanding in the world of Fine Watchmaking.

As expected, this has been a major success so far in Monaco and it was Mr Scheufele’s plan to bring this concept to London. However, at the beginning of 2020 this was put to a halt but it wasn’t COVID-19 that enforced the decision.

He explains: “We wanted to open Art in Time in London because Monaco is doing extremely well but unfortunately, I had to stop the project. This was not because of COVID but mainly because of the VAT that’s becoming increasingly difficult and is becoming a problem we are continuing to experience.

“Yes, we now have tourists visiting London again and the obvious question is can you prepare the VAT for them but we cannot do that so we have to ship it to them and that is not luxury. When you buy a luxury item, whether it be a suit or a watch or whatever it may be, part of that purchase is going into a story, trying it on, and walking out with it that same day. This is why we have seen a lot of that client base going to Paris.”

He continues: “I love London so it is a real shame but we just do not need that boutique there given the new VAT issues. It is sad for us because we even had all of the furniture produced but it has become that much of an issue, we needed to stop the process.

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