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The swimmer, the gamekeeper, the driver and the watch lover
Angus Davies reports on the launch of the Chopard Superfast models, the latest high-performance timepieces from the Genevan brand.
Man has always had an obsessive, predilection for speed.
History is punctuated with numerous records where to be the fastest is the sole raison d'etre for hours of training or engineering or both.
Sir Roger Bannister was the first man to run a mile in less than four minutes. But, who was the second? The answer will be unknown to the majority of people, myself included. Speed is all or nothing, first or nowhere. Second is not an option for the true velocity obsessed competitor.
I recently travelled to Marbella as a guest of Chopard. The purpose of the trip was to attend the launch of the latest addition to its Classic Racing collection, the Superfast model.
The helicopter collected me and a few other fortunate figures from the world of journalism and whisked us away to the Ascari Race Resort track near Ronda. The alacrity of our shuttle to the track could not have prepared anyone for the break-neck speeds we would later be subjected to.
The press conference
The media assembled in a room, cameras were readied and pens were poised for copious note taking. Adjacent the rows of chairs, sat a Porsche 936 Spyder once driven by six-time winner of the “Le Mans 24 Hours”, Jacky Ickx.
The scene was set. The eagerly anticipated timepiece was clearly another octane inspired watch from a brand who have long been associated with motorsport.
Chopard have been a long term partner of the Mille Miglia and the Grand Prix de Monaco Historique. However, nothing quite prepared me for three models being simultaneously presented.
Three men who know about speed joined the assembled visitors; Ryan Lochte, Jacky Ickx and Karl-Friedrich Scheufele.
Ryan Lochte, a talented swimmer was first to speak, sporting a handsome Superfast Chrono. The American is no stranger to speed, having won several Olympic medals, one of which he brought to the event. He expressed a passion for watches and stated he liked to design his own jewellery, some of which he was wearing at the time.
The sculpted physique of the famous swimmer, was honed to slice through water leaving his competitors in his wake. There was a clear absence of body fat. His form was a function of relentless hours swimming lengths of a pool and lifting weights.
Lochte provided a small insight into the psyche of the swimmer during the presentation of the Superfast model. “As a swimmer, time is ...my worst enemy”.
Those of us fortunate enough to interview other leading lights from the sporting world, could immediately recognise that steely resolve. It is inherent in the majority of successful sporting figures.
There is a prerequisite for achieving plaudits at the highest level of sport, dogged determination. The relentless pursuit of excellence.
Ryan's choice - Superfast Chrono
A man who is no stranger to speed is Jacky Ickx. He competed at the highest level of motorsport. A successful Formula One driver, he drove for Ferrari, Ligier and Lotus in an era where the risk of death or injury tinged the blue, fuel filled air.
His greatest success was competing in the Le Mans 24-hour endurance races. He secured six victories at the iconic circuit, four of which were behind the wheel of a Porsche.
I sat opposite this racing legend slightly apprehensive at meeting someone of his immense stature. However, within two nanoseconds any anxiety evaporated into the ether, as Jacky’s warm, disarming smile, immediately put me at ease.
There was no sense of ego, no trace of swagger. Mr Ickx came across as a gentle soul with a modest persona.
He cited Ken Tyrrell as a man who was instrumental in his career. However, his revelation for me was when he stated, “I never wanted to be a racing driver. It just happened”. I was incredulous, “What did he wish he had done?
Jacky explained, “I always wanted to be a gardener or game keeper. I love nature, I never wanted to be a racing driver”.
Jacky has five children, one of which races, Vanina Ickx.
I was curious could he watch his daughter race when she competed at Le Mans? “I can, but I can tell you, it is unpleasant”. I had empathy with Jacky, my son competed in karting at eight years of age and I remember the sense of relief when he told me he no longer wanted to compete. A foreboding aura engulfs the mind of many parents watching their children compete in an intrinsically hazardous sport. It clearly was no different for Jacky.
Jacky has been a long term Ambassador of Chopard. I enquired how his relationship came about with the luxury brand. “I gained a friend with KFS (Karl-Friedrich Scheufele). We have known each other for more than twenty years and we have really become close. In life you have many relations, but only a few real friends. I have very few, I can count them on the fingers of one hand. Real ones, you can call friends.”
I later sat in the front passenger seat of a Porsche 911 GT3 RS with Jacky, his prodigious talent behind the wheel has not diminished with time, “he still has it”. Jacky remains Superfast and long may this continue.
Jacky's choice - Superfast Power Control
The Co-President of Chopard is no stranger to high-performance driving. He has long had a fascination with classic and vintage cars.
He has been a keen supporter of the Mille Miglia and the Grande Prix de Monaco Historique. However, unlike many business leaders, his passion for speed is exampled on the track.
Karl-Friedrich clad in his race suit, looked at home driving the Porsche 911 GT3 RS. He is a talented driver in his own right, probably as a result of spending hours with Jacky. His insatiable thirst for speed is demonstrated with the many years competing in the Mille Miglia.
Mr Scheufele comes from a long line of jewellers. His great-grandfather, founded Karl Scheufele in 1904 in the “Golden City”, Pforzheim. In 1963, Karl-Friedrich’s father, Karl Scheufele III, decided to visit Geneva and see if there was a suitable brand which he could purchase, as he was an admirer of Swiss movements.
After one week of being in Geneva and looking at various options, he met Mr Chopard on the last day of his stay. Karl Scheufele III, liked Mr Chopard and “very quickly they made a deal and he bought Chopard”, his son explained.
The family moved to Geneva in the 1970s.
The existing company in Pforzheim continues in business as a member of the Chopard Group.
Karl-Friedrich explained that, “In the early 90s, I became fascinated about what was happening inside the case, the movement. I felt the company should make more of its own movements and I convinced the family board that we needed to go back to our routes and produce movements again, like Mr Chopard did many years ago.”
I said to Karl-Friedrich, “I have been looking at the case of the Superfast. It is a very complex design. Is that made in-house?”
“Yes”, Karl-Friedrich replied. “Ever since my father re-launched Chopard, he was always very keen on vertical integration. This goes back to something my father said, Can we produce it ourselves? Do we need outside help? If we can make it in-house we should. However, this raises more challenges. For example many years ago, we did not have our own foundry, so one of the first things we did was establish our own gold foundry to make our own 18-carat gold. Now we are able to make our own cases, whether it is gold, platinum, titanium or stainless steel.”
Later whilst chatting to Karl-Friedrich Scheufele back at the hotel, he admitted that he would have loved to have been a professional racing driver. However, based on his latest watches and his passion for clipping apexes behind the wheel of some of the finest cars, I think his cravings for speed have been adequately sated.
Karl Friedrich's choice - Superfast Automatic
The watch lover
My lumbering frame was never designed for speed. Moreover, no race car was ever designed for my height of 1.93 m or portly physique as evidenced by the snug fit I experienced in the majority of cars at the track.
If I was a lady I would be described as having a rubenesque figure. Hardly the norm for professional drivers frequenting the podium, showering in the eau de Epernay.
As I placed a helmet on my head, even this appeared too small, I could not hide my playful excitement. I was to be a pseudo racing driver for the day.
A few laps in a BMW 3 series Compact was my first taste of high speed driving at the Ascari track. The roll cage, high performance engine, slick tyres and sequential gearbox bore little resemblance to the usual three door hatchbacks I have driven before on public roads. I was alone in the car, honing my skills and endeavouring not to crash on my first outing.
Later, I was shoe-horned into a silver Lotus Elise and my instructor patiently conferred some of his vast knowledge. My lines improved and my lap times became shorter. This was not the most powerful car I have driven, but it encouraged unbridled smiles within my liveried helmet.
I had to learn to brake within the desired area of the track and shed speed before turning the wheel. "Slow in, fast out" was the advice that I was repeatedly given. Reinforcement is necessary when trying to compute all the aspects you need to recall whilst cresting apexes with millimetric precision.
After a short passenger ride in the front of a Porsche 911 GT3 RS with Jacky, it was time for the ride of my life in the Radical SR3.
A six point safety harness, was pulled tight to prevent any movement of my body within the confines of the intimate cockpit. My lung capacity was significantly reduced by the tourniquet-like restraints that held me in position.
This was a car only a true professional could handle. I gladly sat in the passenger seat, relaxed I was in safe hands. But, this was not to be a quiet sojourn on a Sunday afternoon. This was hard-core speed.
My head was thrust backwards as we accelerated from the pit lane. My brain appeared to accrue mass as if I had suddenly become a genius. The sinews within my neck were stretched as muscles and bones wanted to go their separate ways.
The immense downforce of the Radical appeared to tether the car to the ground almost defying physics and allowing spellbinding braking and acceleration. A few laps, I can’t recall how many, and I was exhausted.
This was my taste of Superfast and as exciting as it was, I've concluded I am better suited to wearing the timepieces which carry the soubriquet than cresting tarmac at warp speed in a race car.
My choice - Superfast Chrono
Ryan was wearing the Superfast Chrono. Of the three models presented, this was my personal favourite.
Close examination reveals vertical silver brushed stripes on the dial. They are reminiscent of cooling fins found on air-cooled racing engines. They are a welcome flourish of style which enhances the aesthetics.
Hour markings are arrow-like, conferring a dynamic persona. They are bright white and edged in gold, save for noon where an italicised “12” is presented in contemporary font.
Three subdials feature; a 30 minute chrono counter at 3 o’clock, subsidiary seconds at 6 o’clock and 12 hour chrono counter at 9 o’clock. The subdial for the subsidiary seconds is smaller in diameter than the others. The stop-watch functions take precedence as any competitor knows.
Gold hands convey hours and minutes. They are detailed with Superluminova, enhancing legibility. The gold hue is repeated on the subsidiary seconds hand.
A vivid shade of red is used on the chrono-counters and the central chrono seconds hand.
The judicious use of colour provides the same visual differentiation appreciated by racing drivers as they stare at their cockpit instrumentation in the heat of competition. Ease of interpretation is assured.
A date aperture is located between 4 o’clock and 5 o’clock.
The watch has a case diameter of 45 mm. It is presented in 18-carat rose gold.
A tachymeter scale is depicted on the bezel.
The case of the watch is incredibly complex in its construction. The caseband is beautifully detailed with parallel lines. They alternate between highly polished and recessed sections in satin-brushed form.
Eight hexagonal bolts join the bezel to the case in purposeful union. The allen key heads on the bolts, reinforce the mechanical persona of the watch.
The crown is rubber-moulded gold. It proffers wonderful tactility. “The devil is in the detail” is a saying that could easily apply to the crown. Study its vertical flank and you note a gold steering wheel depicted in miniature.
Wet or dry, the strap presented in slick black rubber will suit all occasions. Comfort is assured with a 18-carat rose gold deployant.
This is no ordinary chronograph. This is a flyback. The flyback offers the budding race engineer a useful complication when monitoring lap times of their driver. Press the rubber pusher at 4 o’clock whilst the chronograph is operational and the chrono stops, resets and restarts in one simple operation.
Chopard have fitted this watch with a sapphire caseback, facilitating view of the finely finished movement.
This is a manufacture movement. Chopard took the bold step back in 2009 to open Fleurier Ebauches workshops in the Val-de-Travers region. With an annual capacity of 5,000 movements in 2012 and plans to increase this to 15,000 by 2015, Chopard are moving towards greater independence.
I make no secret of my affection of L.U.C models from Chopard. The finissage is breathtaking. However, perfection comes at a price and for some this may be just beyond their financial grasp. With Fleurier Ebauches, greater reliance on state-of-the art machinery has provided high quality movements at a more accessible price point.
Readers should not misconstrue, these are high quality, beautifully finished movements. The greater reliance on CNC provides lower production costs than hand applied techniques. But, the results are stunningly beautiful.
The Chopard 03.05-M automatic movement features a skeletonised rotor. This affords greater visibility of the delicious bridge work and componentry I wish to gorge on.
Chopard have eschewed Côtes de Genève motif on bridges, seeking a neoteric design with thin parallel lines. They titillate the wearer with a slight view of the watches underwear beneath. The partial view of gears indulges one of my horological fetishisms.
COSC certification provides reassurance that this is a Chronometer worthy of its name.
The watch has a modernity to its appearance and at first I questioned whether this was in keeping with the classical role that Chopard has cast. However, look at the Tachymeter scale and the red handed chrono counters and there is familiarity and ties to Chopard’s existing catalogue.
I like the honesty of the movement. It reveals its charming details via the caseback. It does not subscribe to convention but embraces new technology and presents a finely detailed movement courtesy of modern manufacturing methods.
Most of all, I cherish the handsome lines and beguiling details. This is a sports watch I would be proud to wear even if my talents behind the wheel are best restricted to my daily commute to the office.
Reflecting on the event afterwards
Like many Alpha males, I am competitive. I hate losing and confess to occasionally throwing the Monopoly board upwards when the game has not gone my way. I am not proud of this behaviour and with age, I have become a little less ambitious and slightly less hungry.
The stark realisation in Marbella is that I won't swim as fast as Ryan or lap the Nürburgring as quickly as Jacky, but I still enjoy experiencing the sensation of speed. My lack of driving talent and airship physique preclude me from top-end competition. Yet, one thing we all had in common was a love of watches.
Chopard make 80,000 watches per annum and have taken a bold step with their significant investment in manufacturing movements in Fleurier. But, as any true competitor knows you have to take risks to achieve greatness and with the latest offering from Chopard, I would not be surprised if the brand does not win a Grand Prix or two.