Owning a timepiece worth thousands — or even hundreds of thousands — of dollars requires the kid-glove care akin to fine-tuning a sports car.
So, Chopard, the luxury Swiss watch and jewelry company, has expanded its operations in South Florida, with a new customer service facility in Coral Gables to handle repairs and maintenance for the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean.
It’s another way to get an edge in the highly competitive luxury watch sector, with boutiques like Cartier in the Design District also offering on-site service.
More than doubling its space and increasing its staff from five to 12, Chopard’s center’s move and expansion was two years in the making. Now it can handle 6,000 watches or pieces of jewelry a year and has room to add more employees to service as much as three times that volume, said Chopard Co-President Karl-Friedrich Scheufele. Much of the work is regular maintenance of the delicate timepieces, which is recommended every few years.
“When you decide to purchase, acquire, a Chopard watch, the relationship only starts when you buy it,” said Scheufele, who is based in Geneva and visited the new center with his wife and other executives on Wednesday. “We intend the relationship to be only a happy one, so we have to guarantee a perfect after-sale experience, and that is for a long time, because a watch and jewelry are things people tend to keep and pass on to the next generation.”
Founded in 1860 by Louis-Ulysse Chopard, the company was purchased 50 years ago by Scheufele’s father as a workshop with three watchmakers. Today the company has nearly 2,000 employees worldwide, and its watches and jewelry are sold at 120 jewelry stores and department stores in the United States, and 1,500 worldwide. Chopard also has four company-owned boutiques in the United States, in Bal Harbour, Las Vegas, Costa Mesa, Calif., and New York.
The company has expanded its presence in Latin America and the Caribbean, with boutiques in Mexico City and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico; St. Barts; Puerto Rico; the Bahamas and Aruba, including franchises, as it has seen an increase in business in the region.
Still, Chopard remains one of the only family-owned Swiss watch companies, now owned by five family members: Scheufele, his parents, his sister, who is also co-president, and his wife.
While Chopard’s name is synonymous with its watches, which range in price from $4,000 on up — with some jewel-laden timepieces at $100,000 to $500,000 — it also makes pendants, cuff links, earrings and other jewelry. It also has expanded into accessories, including leather goods, handbags, ties, scarves and sunglasses. Overall, Chopard generates about $870 million in annual revenue.
Inside the new 11,000-square-foot Coral Gables facility, watchmakers pore over the intricate movements. Room after room is specially air-pressured and filtered to minimize dust.
Each year, Chopard produces 80,000 watches and 65,000 pieces of jewelry and services almost 80,000 pieces globally, Scheufele said.
The work is done at 16 centers worldwide, including one in New York. But with a nearly $2 million investment in the Coral Gables facility, and room to expand, the plan is to redirect work from New York to Miami, said Rudolf Lang, managing director of Chopard Marketing Services, who is in charge of the Caribbean, Latin America and the Miami facility. “Geographically speaking, Miami is an ideal location,” he said.
At the center, customers and retailers can drop off or send in pieces. Within 24 hours, the center will give an estimate — from $50 for maintenance on a basic quartz watch to $745 for a mechanical, complicated watch. If the customer approves, the turnaround goal is 10 days, said André Theurillat, technical coordinator and area manager, who is in charge of the Miami workshop and the Caribbean and South American markets.
“It’s like a car,” Theurillat said. “You have to bring a car into a service center every two or three years.”
The work is tightly organized, from disassembly to cleaning to re-assembly, with jobs divided between the outside casing and the inside movements of a watch. On Wednesday morning, a watchmaker in training was adjusting a timepiece’s hands, while a seasoned watchmaker was overhauling a watch’s 200-piece movement.
Nearby, a room is dedicated to polishing, and a cleaning lab is equipped with high-powered machines. Another room has $700,000 worth of parts, and yet another contains a huge vault and a table where incoming and outgoing boxes are unpacked and packed, with cameras overhead that can be viewed in Geneva.
Down the hall, in the jewelry room, pieces are fixed or laser-welded, diamonds are set, and rings are sized. In two months, the center will be the only Chopard facility outside Geneva to be able to engrave. It also trains watchmakers from Latin America and the Caribbean.
“As a family company,” Scheufele said, “we can afford the luxury to give this service for a long, long time, which we believe is just as important as a beautiful diamond and a beautiful watch.”