There’s Chopard , and then there’s L.U. Chopard. This is the same brand, although the latter costs more than the former—a lot more. It’s unusual for a brand to split itself so clearly down the middle—this kind of move is usually spread across group brands, like with Rolex and Tudor. Is L.U.C. the real deal, or is it bluffing with a hand worth nothing?
There’s no doubting Chopard’s credibility; in fact the century-and-a-half-year-old brand has been making watches since the day it opened its doors in 1860. Founder Louis-Ulysse Chopard actually established his company, L.U.C., primarily as a movement manufacturer, using cases to showcase his mechanical creations rather than the other way around.
And, since then, there haven’t been any real dramas worth reporting. The company switched locations a couple of times, from Sonvilier to La Chaux-de-Fonds and again to Geneva; ownership changed hands a few times, merging with a jewellery brand in 1963 which resulted in the seminal—like it or not, you can’t deny its popularity—Happy Diamonds watch; all very straight and level flying, really. Even our old friend the quartz crisis was water off a duck’s back. Everything was fine.
It all started with the calibre 96, developed with master Michel Parmigiani
And fine, while not great, is fine. For a long time, fine was fine with Chopard. But with off-the-shelf movements becoming the norm and more jewel-encrusted offerings available than not, the powers that be decided, like Jenny from the block, that the company should go back to its roots and produce something a bit more special.
And so, in 1996, Chopard opened a workshop; not to make jewellery, or to case other people’s movements—but to make its own movements.
What resulted was the calibre 96, regarded as one of the finest automatic movements of the modern day—master Philippe DuFour praised Chopard as one of his favourites—housed inside a Classic Small Seconds much like this one. What had started as L.U.C. was L.U.C. once again.
Today's L.U. Chopard watches continue to use the excellent calibre 96
What is it that makes the calibre 96 so special and, as it continues to be manufactured to this day, so enduring? Let’s jump to the Lunar Twin to look a little closer. Those familiar with movements from the likes of Patek Philippe and the horological giant Laurent Ferrier will see a few familiar sights, like the bevelling, turning and graining, but the most prominent feature is surely the solid gold micro rotor.
Given that the micro rotor serves no real mechanical advantages over its more visually invasive cousin, it serves as an intriguing appetiser for the rest of the calibre 96. Being as small as it—the density of the gold making up for its size, filling the stacked twin mainsprings to their full capacity of 65 hours with ease—means that we can poke our noses in closer, see more of the detail on offer.
Chopard wasn’t messing about with this movement. It took three years of development to make, with advice sought from one of the most impressive minds in watchmaking today, Michel Parmigiani. As well as assisting with the design of the calibre 96, Michel also makes movements through his company Vaucher, including some of Richard Mille’s money-no-object power plants, and of course those for his own watch brand, Parmigiani. He makes other movements for other companies, too, but those are a secret. If walls had ears.
The micro rotor design is elegantly finished and has earned high praise from eminent watchmakers
What results is a beating heart with a bit of individuality, and the same can be said of the dial-side as well. Chopard has set out to give its watches a distinct and recognisable look, evolving from the Classic Seconds, which borrowed more of its aesthetic from its contemporaries, to this Perpetual Twin, which has a distinct personality all of its own.
Like the Lunar Twin, it’s a design that sits somewhere between smart and casual, sporty and dressy. There’s certainly no mistaking it for anything other than one of Chopard’s upper crust creations. Like the movement, once the unique appearance has caught your attention, it’s the details that keep a hold of it. Multi-faceted hands like these are far harder to manufacture than a simple dauphine shape, and its only with a closer look that this extra effort really becomes appreciable.
The same goes for the enlarged Roman numerals, curved to catch the light whichever way you look at them. And the sub-dials aren’t the only element to feature a concentric ring pattern; they can also be found around the edge on the chapter ring as well. Even the subtle sunburst on the dial has a dose of Chopard individuality to it, originating eccentrically from the logo rather than the centre.
Here is the calibre 96 with a full perpetual calendar with leap year indicator
What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate. Chopard, under the L.U. Chopard moniker, makes world-class watches in the same way it did back when it first got started in 1860. Problem is, they don’t seem to have told anybody! The watches have the right heritage, credibility, support and quality, but all that seems to get lost behind a curtain of Happy Diamonds. The hand, it turns out, is actually a Royal Flush. Chopard just needs to play it right.
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