Last month’s big horological reveal was of course Audemars Piguet’s golden-anniversary Royal Oak collection – 50 years since Gérald Genta ripped up the rulebook by inventing the very notion of a luxurious steel sports watch. With the mighty Oak, plus Patek Philippe’s Nautilus of 1976 he brought high-end Swiss watchmaking onto the teak decks and Connolly-leather car seats of younger, rakish Riviera gadabouts.
Assuming Genta’s baton and dancing headlong into the jetset discotheques of the Eighties were three other grande dames of glam horology: Cartier, Chopard and Piaget, ticking in tune to the era’s funky beats. But unlike the Santos of the former or Polo of the latter, Chopard’s so-called ‘St Moritz’ had its goggles trained on the winter season, not just the summer.
“When we launched in 1980 under my impetus,” M. Scheufele explains, “Switzerland’s famed Alpine mountain resort was the place to spend glamorous and sporty skiing holidays. In terms of design, the Alpine Eagle is the logical, modern continuation.”
Two years on from its redux revival, Alpine Eagle née St Moritz has expanded into a bolder, brassier counter to Chopard’s more sepia-tinted, motoring-inspired sports models. And Scheufele’s right: ‘in terms of design’ is where the comparisons run out. Thanks to the relentless momentum of innovation he kickstarted 42 years back, it’s the difference between a ski made of laminated ash and a snowboard in carbon fibre.
He was only 5 years old when Louis-Ulysse Chopard’s grandson Paul-André entrusted the brand’s legacy to his father, Karl Scheufele III, a player of Germany’s ‘Gold City’, Pforzheim and jeweller to Chopard’s ritzier timepieces. By 22, the far-sighted heir to Scheufele Sr’s new empire made his first, fateful move with ‘St Moritz’, as a bid for the future.
Scheufele Jr went on to establish the ‘L.U.C.’ manufacture as one of Switzerland’s finest watchmaking imprints, supplemented soon after by its more ‘business class’ cousin, Fleurier Ébauches whose workshops are neighbours in the same, sleepy mountain village.
The new Alpine Eagle XL Chrono, in ethical gold with ‘Pitch Black’ dial, slaloms effortlessly between vintage tropes, nouveau glam, solid sportiness and zeitgeist conscientiousness. Drawing inspiration from the colours of alpine flora and fauna, Karl-Friedrich Scheufele wanted to echo the intense black of mountain nights when wildlife reclaims its slopes from holidaying alpinists, reminding us of the extent to which urbanisation and its associated light pollution disrupts the nocturnal ecosystem.
As on all Alpine Eagle models, the dial’s texture evokes the iris of eagle eyes, while a feather-shaped seconds hand flies above. What’s new here, though, is the chunky 44mm case, which blends ethical gold with ‘ceramised’ titanium for the first time.
Through a process of oxidation using electro-plasma technology, Chopard’s engineering partners – usually in the business of aerospace and automotive supply – have endowed certain titanium components with a scratch-resistance comparable to ceramic. One thousand Vickers, to be precise. Plus an anthracite-grey colouration that complements the rose gold as broodingly as Batman.
Things inside are equally sophisticated as aforementioned dark knight’s utility belt, while representing a pleasing cross-fertilisation between Karl-Friedrich’s L.U.C passion project (celebrating 25 years this year) and F.E. over the road. It’s a fully integrated chronograph complication, whose stopwatch mechanism is hard enough to master in-house – viz. L.U.C’s Chrono One of 2006 – let alone upscale on a relatively industrial scale.
Necessarily more ‘agricultural’ in aesthetic, those who know, know: upping numbers gives less opportunity to fine-finish, but crucially more pressure in guaranteeing rocksolid engineering reliability. To whit, F.E’s ‘Calibre 03.05-C’ evolution of Chrono One; still certified by the Swiss Official Chronometer Testing Institute (COSC), still packing column-wheel-mediated, vertical-clutch stopwatch mech’, boasting flyback and small-seconds reset functions, as well as a particularly precise jumping minute counter.
Over 40 years on, St Moritz is still every Alpinists ‘winter St Tropez’, but Karl-Friedrich Scheufele’s vision continues to soar beyond. Who knows where the Eagle will land next.
Chopard Alpine Eagle XL Chrono
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