She is among the most influential women in jewellery making and for as long as Caroline Scheufele remembers, she has always been enthralled by colourful gemstones and their inimitable lustre, which enable her to touch the hearts of millions.
“As a child, I used to play in the workshops, drawing hundreds of colours of all kinds of jewellery and funny watches that came straight from my imagination,” Caroline opens up to me about her childhood.
Her mother’s “stone room” was her playground, which sometimes her mother would grant her access in exchange for her assistance. There, Caroline completely immersed herself in the energy radiating from these precious stones. She would lose herself in the intimate repository of gemstones she coins as “the most magical place in the world.” She would visualise how a symphony of gemstones could be composed into a finished article adorning a woman’s neck and her extremities. Caroline harboured a dream of turning her trains of imagination into reality. She began her quest to uncover the most beautiful, mysterious and rarest of stones that would “speak to me,” as she puts it.
Founded by Louis-Ulysse Chopard in 1860, Chopard has been a purveyor of high watchmaking since its inception when the young, ambitious watchmaker established the L.U.C workshop in Sonvilier, located in the Jura Mountains forming the cradle of Swiss watchmaking. Despite his tender age, Louis-Ulysse’s aptitude for creating beautiful, precise pocket watches gained him a regal following around Europe. Among whom was Tsar Nicholas II of Russia.
The Scheufele family inherited Chopard in the mid-20th century when none of Louis-Ulysse’s great grandchildren expressed any interest in perpetuating his legacy. And although the Scheufele family had been in the watchmaking business for some time and were relatively successful in their own right, Caroline’s father Karl Scheufele was convinced that he needed to equip their watches with their own movements in order to take the next step forward. The mutual agreement between both families for the Scheufele family to assume Chopard naturally fell into place.
As a storied brand rooted in watchmaking, introducing jewellery into the family business took some gentle persuasion. Caroline remembers vividly when she announced her intention to those nearest and dearest to her as a lass. “The first people I had to convince were my family,” she says. “We were in an era of less is more and jewellery was not really the main core of the business at that time.”
According to Caroline, her first-ever design was a little clown motif with diamonds and precious stones moving in its centre. She was only 16 years old. Unbeknownst to her at the time, however, was that her father was moved by her gesture. Karl adored her design and secretly ordered the clown pendant to be made in their workshops as a surprise gift for Christmas. Her father was not the only person who was won over by Caroline’s talent. “Some of our clients saw and ordered it, and that sparked the start of the jewellery activity at Chopard, because before this, we had no jewellery collection, only watches,” she says. “At that point, I knew that was exactly what I wanted to pursue.”
Her formal education took her to design and gemology. Caroline paid her dues in various departments within Chopard. The vigorous on- the-job training she received paved the way for her to eventually ascend to her current role as co-president of the maison, where she oversees the ladies’ collections, working in tandem with her brother Karl-Friedrich who manages the men’s collections.
Recalling her seminal debut collection in 1985, “the launch of Happy Clown was a great success and it was the start of our jewellery collection,” Caroline says, emphasising that her love of jewellery design has never dimmed. “I still have that same passion, if not more now.”
Today, Chopard is known for its exuberant and whimsical interpretation of diamonds. The Happy Diamonds, Happy Hearts and Happy Sport collections are anchored by dancing diamonds moving freely within the confines of precious metals. Though these collections are iconic, the depth and breadth of Chopard’s jewellery goes much further.
The Ice Cube appeals to young women with contemporary aesthetics, while the Imperiale evokes glamorous empresses from a modern perspective. Admirers of copious diamonds can perhaps discover the L’Heure du Diamant, while fans of timeless design can look forward to the Chopardissimo.
While there are artisans such as sculptor-jewellers, lapidaries, gem-setters and polishers who help materialise each jewellery piece, Caroline remains firmly involved in every process till the final products. For her, inspiration can emergence from many sources, and often it lies beneath the surface.
“As a designer, I am a firm believer in Mies van der Rohe’s famous words: less is more. The Chopard aesthetic follows this principle with a signature style of always placing the most important stone in the centre of a piece.”
“I draw inspiration from nature, art, my numerous trips, experiences of different cultures, architecture… The world surrounding us is so beautiful; you just have to look at it with curiosity and a creative perspective,” she says, adding that she spends the better part of her day in the high jewellery workshop. Sometimes, she confesses, the precious stones themselves are also a source of inspiration.
One aspect Caroline refuses to concede is that “each piece of jewellery must be spectacular.” For me, none is more spectacular than the maison’s coveted and ultra-exclusive Red Carpet collection unveiled annually in conjunction with the Cannes International Film Festival. Chopard has been playing the supporting role of official
partner to the glittering festival since 1998.
As our conversation turns to her passion for films, I take the rare opportunity to put Caroline on the spot by asking her to choose between the Palme d’Or, which she was responsible for its redesign, and sustainability as her proudest achievement. I have a hunch that she may reply both. “Definitively both,” she confirms my suspicion.
The Palme d’Or is an encapsulation of Chopard’s commitment towards craftsmanship and sustainability, she elaborates. Made of 118 grams of Fairmined-certified 18k ethical gold and a solid, one-of-a-kind block of crystal, the award brings Caroline a great sense of pride.
“As a family-run business, sustainability has always been a core value and that year marked the achievement of a vision that has started more than 30 years ago,” she says, referring to 2018, the year the maison started to use 100% ethical gold in the production of all its watches and jewellery and would continue so going forward.
“It’s not just about us taking the decision to make the change,” she continues, “it was a challenge and we did prove that we could do it. I am very happy now that we have seen a lot of other key players in our industry who are following (in our footsteps).”
Caroline cautions that just because they adhere to the highest ethical standards, it doesn’t mean their jewels are of lesser quality. For her, quality and traceability are non-negotiables. She rejects the notion that sustainability inhibits creativity. She asserts, “Our strong commitment to sustainability will not be compromised at any phase of the creation and production process.”
(Main image: Caroline and Karl-Friedrich Scheufele. All images by Chopard)
This story was first published in Prestige Malaysia.