Back to the Future
Inspired by a master clockmaker of the 18th century, Chopard’s Karl-friedrich Scheufele has created a heritage brand and a watch worthy of their illustrious namesake, writes Sean Li
Those who follow modern watchmaking seem to be on a perennial quest for something new, and numerous entrepreneurial spirits have sought to make their mark with a new brand—or the revival of a historic name. Karl-friedrich Scheufele, the co-president of Chopard, has most recently taken the latter approach, reviving the name of Ferdinand Berthoud, an illustrious Swiss clockmaker of the 1700s, and launching the brand’s first timepiece. Scheufele has paid particular attention to the qualities that built Berthoud’s reputation and the technical aspects that could be brought into the
Ferdinand Berthoud may not be a household name today, but he was one of the most prominent clockmakers of his era. Not only did his chronometers contribute to key maritime expeditions, his teachings were almost required reading and became part of the horological know-how of the era. Scheufele is no stranger to this history. He has a number of Berthoud’s creations in his collection and knows of their significance to watchmaking.
Scheufele had not been looking to start a new venture, but a few years ago he heard someone had the rights to the Berthoud name and was about to launch it as a brand. He felt so strongly about the importance of Berthoud’s heritage that he acquired the rights, shelved the former owner’s plans and designs, and set out to create something worthy of the 18th-century master.
Berthoud’s well-documented work focused on clocks, marine chronometers and pocket watches, as wristwatches were yet to be invented. So Scheufele took as many technical and aesthetic cues as he could from Berthoud’s timepieces and imagined what the clockmaker would create today.
Scheufele announced some three years ago that he was going to launch a brand using the Ferdinand Berthoud name, but he has kept very quiet since then while he and a dedicated team of five watchmakers toiled at creating the new brand’s first timepiece. While the team was housed in Chopard’s manufacture in Fleurier, Switzerland, and colleagues in the building knew they were working on a new watch, the team members were sworn not to disclose any of the specifics.
All was revealed in late September, when Scheufele gathered the media at the Yacht Club de France in Paris to unveil the
Chronomètre Ferdinand Berthoud FB 1. And the watch doesn’t disappoint. The movement is entirely new and undoubtedly inspired by Berthoud himself. Featuring a fusée-chain tourbillon, the FB-TFC calibre takes its architectural cues from the marine chronometers Berthoud built—in particular, the marine clock MM No. 6 dated 1777, which is part of the Chopard museum’s collection.
While the fusée chain is highly prized by watch collectors, its construction is very delicate. Some 474 steel links and 316 pins have been used in the FB 1’s chain alone, with the movement containing a further 330 components. A differential has been added so movement will not stop when the watch is being wound, a key characteristic of the most accurate timepieces. The highly visible tourbillon may be a classical feature in a watch, but its construction is thoroughly modern. The use of titanium for the carriage and copper beryllium for the balance spring endow the FB 1 with some resistance to magnetic fields. The unusual octagonal case, which has apertures in its flanks that allow you to peer inside, gives the FB 1 an instantly recognisable profile. Every detail of the watch has been carefully honed, from the shape of the hands to the typeface.
The nascent brand is preparing to ship the first pieces of the Chronomètre Ferdinand Berthoud FB 1 by the end of the year, with 50 pieces of each version—white gold and titanium, or rose gold and black ceramic— being available. For Scheufele, however, this is only the beginning. He has development under way for less complex timepieces and also even more accomplished ones. If the FB 1 is any indication, there is little doubt the Berthoud name is in safe hands and we can look forward to seeing the brand grow over the next few years.
FERDINAND BERTHOUD MAY NOT BE A HOUSEHOLD NAME TODAY, BUT HE WAS ONE OF THE MOST PROMINENT CLOCKMAKERS OF HIS ERA