Chopard Alpine Eagle habillage (part two)

After visiting Fleurier, Angus Davies travelled to Meyrin, a suburb of Geneva, in order to appraise the creation of the Chopard Alpine Eagle. He recounts the making of the model’s case and luxurious bracelet as well as the assembly of the final watch.

Chopard Alpine Eagle

Image – Chopard Alpine Eagle Large – ref. 298600-3001

After spending time at the Fleurier Ebauches site, the home of the Calibre Chopard 01.01-C and the Calibre Chopard 09.01-C, my host and I left the district of Val-de-Travers, a quaint region, where good manners are much in evidence and life ticks to a becoming andante beat.

We joined the A5 near Yverdon and subsequently travelled towards Geneva. Switzerland’s second largest city, Geneva is positioned at the southern tip of Lac Léman and is framed by the Alps and Jura mountains.

The city exudes an air of sophistication. Numerous boutiques, brimming with luxurious goods, sit cheek by jowl along immaculate streets. Chopard calls this famous city ‘home’ and its headquarters are situated in the suburb of Meyrin. It is within the confines of Chopard’s various buildings that haute joaillerie creations and fine watches are brought to life. Indeed, it is here that each movement morphs into a complete Alpine Eagle watch, destined to confer ownership delight.

Chopard Alpine Eagle

In this second article, I focus upon ‘habillage’. This term is used to describe those parts, other than the movement, which complete a watch and provide its finished and functional appearance. This inventory of parts includes the bracelet, case, crown, crystal, dial, hands and a multitude of other components.

Chopard Lucent Stainless Steel A223

Chopard has repeatedly demonstrated its concern for the environment, exhibiting a responsible, caring approach to commerce. In 2013, the brand unveiled its environmental and social strategy, ‘The Journey to Sustainable Luxury’. Today, Chopard procures ‘Ethical Gold’, ‘Fairmined Gold’ and diamonds which adhere to the transparency stipulated by the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, demonstrating the company’s admirable social conscience.

Image – A case blank made of Chopard Lucent Stainless Steel A223

Chopard Lucent Stainless Steel A223 was developed by Voestalpine, an Austrian based company. It is produced ‘in an environmentally-friendly manner using up to 70 percent recycled steel’, again reaffirming the brand’s commitment to the planet.

However, beyond its environmental benefits, Chopard Lucent Stainless Steel A223 has several additional attributes. For instance, by melting the steel alloy twice, its purity is enhanced, delivering similar characteristics to surgical stainless steel and, by default, conferring hypoallergenic properties. Furthermore, the steel alloy is 50% harder than conventional stainless steel, enhancing scratch resistance. Lastly, the highly reflective steel alloy exhibits an extraordinary brilliance, courtesy of its pure composition.

Chopard Alpine Eagle

Image – Chopard Alpine Eagle Small with gem-set bezel – ref. 298601-3002

Lucent Stainless Steel A223 is used on all Alpine Eagle models except those versions made solely in rose gold.

The case

The Chopard Alpine Eagle is offered in two sizes, 41mm and 36mm, referred to as ‘Large’ and ‘Small’. Irrespective of their size, both case options begin life as a rectangular shaped blank. This blank is fed into a machine which punches out a case shaped profile using colossal force. Thereafter, the case is tempered to prevent it becoming brittle. After the initial stamping process, the outer edge of the case lacks definition, therefore a further stamping action is needed to remove a slither of metal from around the edge of the case in order to refine its shape. Once again, the case is tempered.

Image – Case stamping

Image – various stages of stamping

Next, a circular recess is cut into the centre of the case, providing a haven for the watch’s movement. After the case is stamped, it is drilled and then its shape is subtly refined using a CNC (computer numerical control) machine.

Each facet of the case, including the bezel, is polished by skilled personnel. The craftsmen and craftswomen in the department position each surface of the case against a rotating wheel and, with well-judged pressure, enrich the housing with a flawless gleam.

Once the case is polished, it is fitted with the crown, crown tube and various gaskets. Sapphire crystals are then fitted to the front and rear of the case. The case is temporarily sealed and immersed within a special machine which simulates the watch being worn underwater, validating the water resistance of the case.

After the completed case is cleaned and rendered blemish free, it is forwarded to the Assembly Department.

The bracelet

The bracelet fitted to the Chopard Alpine Eagle is comprised of many parts, making it incredibly complex.

Each brushed link features a recess at its centre which accommodates a highly polished square section. The links are graduated in size, making assembly just that little bit more challenging.

Chopard Alpine Eagle

Image – the bracelet links are graduated in size

Once the links are aligned, the bracelet is positioned against various rotating wheels in order to create a faceted, gleaming edge. Thereafter, a rotating, abrasive belt imbues the flank of the bracelet with a brushed appearance.

Chopard Alpine Eagle

Image – polishing the bracelet to create a faceted edge

Image – using an abrasive belt to imbue the sides of the bracelet with a brushed finish

Chopard Alpine Eagle

Image – bracelet before and after polishing

Throughout this painstaking process, the bracelet dimensions are repeatedly measured using a micrometer. Everything must be to specification. The word ‘approximate’ seems absent from the Chopard lexicon.

Image – micrometer used to ensure bracelet within tolerance

Chopard Alpine Eagle

Image – highly polished squares (above) are fitted to the centre of the bracelet

The crowning glory of each bracelet is the highly polished square which sits in the central part of each bracelet link. Each square section sits above the neighbouring satin-brushed link sections, conferring a becoming depth to the bracelet’s appearance. Ordinarily, it would not be sensible to place highly polished surfaces above neighbouring metal as they would be more susceptible to scratching, however, the hardness of the Chopard Lucent Stainless Steel A223 sets aside this concern.

As the bracelet approaches the final stages of production, the staff wear black rubber finger cots, mindful of preserving the near aseptic status of the bracelet. Once the bracelet is complete, it is housed in protective packaging and dispatched to the Assembly Department.

Chopard Alpine Eagle

The dial

The dial of the Chopard Alpine Eagle features a prominent pattern, intended to resemble the iris of a golden eagle. The Maison offers the model with a choice of dial colours, each produced using galvanic treatment. Every hour is denoted with an index, treated with Super-LumiNova, designed to augment readability in restricted light.

Chopard Alpine Eagle

Bold, luminescent hour and minute hands articulate the prevailing time. A lithe central sweep seconds hand features a stylish counterweight which emulates the profile of an eagle’s feather. A date display, positioned at 04:30, completes the inventory of functions. Irrespective of the dial hue selected, all options exhibit an extraordinary quotient of elegance.

Assembly Department

The creation of every Chopard Alpine Eagle is reliant on many people. Every employee at the Genevan brand plays his / her part in producing an object of beauty, intended to impart lasting enjoyment.

Each part is made to a precise specification, checked and checked again. However, ultimately all roads lead to the Assembly Department. It is here, within a dust-free setting, that each component is carefully combined to create a complete watch.

Chopard Alpine Eagle

Image – dial affixed to the top of the movement

The dial is equipped with feet which are carefully pushed into corresponding holes in the upper movement surface. In the esoteric world of luxury, much importance is placed upon hand craftsmanship, however, sometimes automated methods are preferable. For example, the hands are fitted to the dial of the Alpine Eagle using a special machine. This ensures each hand is located at the optimum height, allowing them to circumnavigate the dial without impeding the motion of the other hands.

Image – hand fitting machine

The case back is removed. The dial and movement are fitted to the inside of the case along with a ‘casing ring’. The crown and crown stem are inserted into the movement and secured. The case back is then refitted and the watch is subject to an air leak test. This dry test is used to ensure the timepiece conforms with the Alpine Eagle’s stated water resistance of 100 metres.

Image – a sapphire crystal being fitted to the case back. Note the seals pictured help ensure water resistance.

After testing, the bracelet is fitted and the watch is sent for final inspection. Thereafter, the watch is ready for its maiden flight, destined to be sent to one of the many authorised Chopard stockists around the globe.

Chopard Alpine Eagle

A closer look

With the advent of middle-age, my eyesight no longer matches the coveted ’20/20 vision’ of my youth. Nevertheless, by spending time with my host from Chopard, along with her many colleagues, I saw clearly how this fine watch is made.

Chopard Alpine Eagle

Image – Chopard Alpine Eagle Large with 18ct rose gold bezel and bi-metallic bracelet – ref. 298601-6001

Irrespective of whether the Swiss firm’s employees were polishing a bracelet, assembling movement components or measuring a part to infinitesimal tolerances using a micrometer, it became very apparent that uncompromising quality pervades all areas of this organisation.

I have looked at the various references within the Chopard Alpine Eagle collection and find it hard to choose one model in favour of another. Each model exhibits a handsome mien and makes a compelling case for acquisition. However, as my time with Chopard revealed, the virtue of each model is more than skin-deep, harnessing much goodness for the delectation of discerning wearers and proffering a lifetime of wearer enjoyment.

Further reading

https://www.chopard.com/

Technical specifications

  • Model: Chopard Alpine Eagle Large
  • Case: Lucent Stainless Steel A223; diameter 41mm; water resistance 10ATM (100 metres) sapphire crystals to the front and back
  • Functions: Hours; minutes; central sweep seconds; date
  • Movement: Calibre Chopard 01.01-C; automatic movement; frequency 28,800 VpH (4Hz); 31 jewels; power reserve – approximately 60 hours
  • Strap: Stainless steel bracelet with folding buckle
  • Price: From £11,200 (RRP as at 25.11.2019)
  • Model: Chopard Alpine Eagle Small
  • Case: Lucent Stainless Steel A223; diameter 36mm; water resistance 10ATM (100 metres) sapphire crystals to the front and back
  • Functions: Hours; minutes; central sweep seconds; date
  • Movement: Calibre Chopard 09.01-C; automatic movement; frequency 25,200 VpH (3.5Hz); 27 jewels; power reserve – approximately 42 hours
  • Strap: Stainless steel bracelet with folding buckle
  • Price: From £8,770 (RRP as at 25.11.2019)