Chopard Co-President and Artistic Director Caroline Scheufele is the creator of the iconic Happy Sport watch. For the launch of the new Happy Diamonds film, starring Julia Roberts and directed by Xavier Dolan, she gives an intimate perspective on the things that inspire her and her commitment to Chopard’s creative edge.
As a little girl, you made your first watch from aluminum foil as a present for your parents. How did they introduce you to the creative process?
The first thing my father taught me to do, before I learned the alphabet, was to read the time on a Mickey Mouse watch he brought me from America. This was my first contact with watches, so I looked for anything I could find – paper, aluminium and anything else – to make my own timepiece.
The only mistake I made was that I got confused with my piano lessons and wrote Chopin on the dial instead of Chopard!
Chopard is one of the rare family Masons in the watchmaking world and you are regularly seen with your family at major events. How does your family contribute to making you the woman you are? One of the things I love most about Asia is that families are very close, with traditions such as having Sunday lunches together or the kids tending to spend time at home. Our family is very similar. In addition to living near each other we work very closely together, and I have shared an office with my brother since forever. Chopard is a family-owned and independent Mason. This is one of our main strengths and a great blessing in many ways. We don’t always agree on things, but we like to make decisions together and work as a team regarding business development, global strategy, production, distribution, new designs, and new products. We hope we will always be able to continue working this way.
How do you think one becomes a creator? Both you and your brother took drawing lessons during your childhood from a teacher who had a great influence on your training. How important was this to your creative process?
We are a very creative family. My brother draws and paints very well. I think our lessons were really the door that opened the way to what we are doing at Chopard today both in terms of what he does in the masculine environment and what I do with regard to jewellery and the ladies’ side of things. My brother is also very passionate about the mechanics of watches and complicated movements however and particularly excels when it comes to his other Mason, La Chronométrie Ferdinand Berthoud. It is there that he can truly express himself.
Even today, you never leave home without
sketchbook. As an artistic director, do you think
that the need to express your ideas through design is
inherent to the nature of creators or do you think that
it is a talent that you have to work on?
I think it is a bit of both. On the one hand, being creative never stops and on the other, creators are always searching for something new. One cannot simply push a button and be creative. It is an ongoing process – often in the back of one’s mind. Due to that, I always have my sketchbook at hand, including next to my bed at night, because I might dream of something and not remember the next morning. I may just write down a word so that I remember what happened during the night in the morning. One might have an idea at any moment of the day, even during a dinner – I sometimes even sketch on napkins! To create is a wonderful thing but it’s also a responsibility as one always must come up with something new.
In 1985, you created your first jewel for Chopard: The Happy Clown. Initially intended to be a one-of-a-kind creation, it soon became a success that marked the beginning of jewellery-making at Chopard. Did you have any idea of this little clown’s potential when you made this sketch?
Never! I was still at school when I designed that little clown. As a child, I loved to go to the circus. And apart from the acrobats and all the animation, my favourite act was the clowns, because although they’re sad, they make people laugh. As a result, I designed the little clown with diamonds in his tummy. And as a surprise, when my father saw the design, he produced it for me for Christmas. I thought it was a unique piece, but a bit later I went to the workshop and saw lots of them. That was the beginning of jewellery at Chopard.
The idea of dancing diamonds came from the vision of a waterfall and droplets gleaming under the sun’s rays. Can you tell us more about them?
Actually, the Happy Diamonds concept has existed for much longer than I have been involved in the Maison, but I’ve always been fascinated by seeing these little diamonds spin around and actually talk about dancing from their place within the pieces of jewellery or the watches. My mum invented the name Happy Diamonds. When she saw the first prototype in our workshops, she said: “Diamonds are happier when they are free.” Just as a person who is free is happy. Everybody agreed that her comment was very accurate, and it became the name of the entire collection.
In the 1990s, you decided to create a new watch with dancing diamonds: the Happy Sport. When you presented the project, is it true that a workshop manager originally didn’t believe in it very much?
Not just the workshop manager, but the whole watch development team, along with my parents. They thought it was a crazy idea to put diamonds in a steel case when diamonds are normally hosted in white gold or in platinum But there was nothing to prevent it. Steel isn’t a precious metal but it’s cool, young, and fun, and you can wear it around the clock. It was a big battle, however. And when it came to producing it, it was another challenge because everybody thought I had gone mad. But I’m a very persistent person who doesn’t take no for an answer. The more I hear no, the more determined I am. Anyway, it did happen, and the results are clearly visible. I remember the workshop manager saying that for every watch sold, he would give me a rose. I ought to have a rose plantation by now!
Did he keep his promise?
As we had this little bet, at the end of the day, he kept his promise. One Sunday morning, I received a beautiful rose tree for my garden!
What were the Happy Sport’s technical challenges?
Originally, in the classical Happy Diamonds watches, the dancing diamonds were just allowed to spin around the dial. In the Happy Sport, they’re totally free, because they’re floating over the watch. This was a technical challenge because we had to find the aesthetic balance between the case, the dial, the first sapphire crystal, the position of the dancing diamonds and the next sapphire crystal, which made it quite complicated. Then, of course, the watch had to be waterproof. That was another technical challenge. For me, when you say Happy, it says it all. The diamonds inside are actually truly free. They’re not stuck in a setting where they can’t move. And when you see them dancing, you realize it was worth the challenges!
Like Yves Saint Laurent, whose invention of luxury ready to-wear enabled women to dress in designer clothes on a daily basis, your introduction of the Happy Sport took the mystique out of jewellery watches, meaning women could wear them 24/7. You invented the watch of the free-spirited 1990s woman. What does being a free-spirited woman mean today?
When I invented the Happy Sport, it was most of all because I was doing a lot of sport myself. That’s why the word “sport” is in there. At Chopard, we had a few summer watches, which were cool sporty pieces. But I really wanted something with a bit of sparkle that you could wear around the clock, suitable for going swimming, water-skiing, playing tennis, shopping, taking the kids to school, going to the office or going to a cocktail party. So, if there was no time to change, you would already be somewhat dressed up with little diamonds dancing on your wrist. For me, that was what being a free spirit was all about, because today’s women are all active, whether it’s taking care of several kids or doing charitable work or travelling or working… And this watch is just perfect for all of it.
Women no longer simply look at the time, they take the time to contemplate the choreography of the diamonds. Were you aware that you would revolutionized our relationship with time this much?
I wasn’t really thinking of shaking up the watchmaking industry, I was just doing my job, which is also my passion, namely creating and designing. Maybe I did come up with something very unusual and unexpected, which is often the-case with the best creations. But I had no idea that we would come that far with this watch.
How do you explain that the Happy Sport is still as contemporary today as it was when it was created in 1993? When young women come to your boutiques asking for the same Happy Sport that their mothers and grandmothers wore, what do you feel?
It’s a watch that somehow really crosses generations. I think this is how icons are born, when something is passed on from grandmother to mother to daughter. I had no idea when I first designed it that this would be the case. How do you wear your own Happy Sport or think it should be styled?
I would mix and mismatch it. You could wear it alone, or with beautiful Happy Hearts bangles, or with some beautiful diamond bracelets that would also go well with it to dress it up. I also wear the iconic clown pendant with it, so it lends itself to being dressed up or down. That is the beauty of the Happy Sport. You can easily pair the steel version with a diamond ring. There is no “no go” Since 2015, Happy Hearts has also become a jewellery icon. How did this idea come up?
It was during a very boring meeting! When I get bored, I start designing, so I doodled around. We already had these long chains with simple empty hearts, which I also design. And I thought about giving them some colour and started colouring the hearts. One often doesn’t see things that are glaringly obvious as was the case in this instance. Subsequently, the trend was for young girls and women to wear lots of chains and good luck charms and bangles. As a result, we came up with the bangle, which is beautiful as well as being lovely to wear because it’s very soft and easy to put on and take off.
You chose Julia Roberts to embody the Happy collections. Was she an obvious choice? Why this particular actress?
When we first talked about launching a Happy Diamonds film, the team said it would be nice to have an ambassador with an incredible smile. So, I immediately suggested Julia Roberts! I said that to my mind she has the most radiant smile on the planet!
Who doesn’t like Pretty Woman? Who wouldn’t want to be Pretty Woman?
She is one of my all-time favourite actresses. She has made great movies including Erin Brockovich. She’s the kind of actress that shines from the inside out. She’s a happy person. She has this sunny energy fostering hope that everything will be reborn even more beautiful than before, as well as amazing magnetism and inextinguishable Joie de Vivre. Julia Roberts was the only person I felt could convey the free-spirited charisma of Happy Diamonds and that is exactly how I wanted the Happy Sport watch portrayed.
How did you come up with the idea of entrusting the film to Xavier Dolan? How did you meet him?
He is one of the darlings of the Cannes Film Festival, where I met him. As one of my favourite directors, I immediately thought I should ask him to collaborate on our project so he could capture the emotions I wanted to convey thanks to his sharp attention to detail, which is what makes the intensity of his movies. He was instantly enchanted with the idea of working with Chopard and Julia Roberts and has turned out to be a very good choice.
This brings us to your historical partnership with the Cannes Film Festival that reflects your love for cinema. When did this passion strike you? Tell us the story of your collaboration.
I have loved going to the cinema ever since I as a little girl, and I still do. The beauty of movies, whether they’re romantic, scary, or educational is that they take you into another world completely for two hours. I think that’s what initially led me to Cannes. I had always followed the festival from afar, however, and one day I suggested opening a boutique during the festival because of all the celebrities in town. I went to Paris to investigate the possibilities and met Pierre Viot, then president of the Festival. He was charming and he invited me to redesign the Palme d’or, for the 50th anniversary. I left Paris that afternoon with the old version Palme under my arm and stormed into my brother’s office in Geneva and told him I was going to redesign the Palme d’or. He looked at me as if I were completely mad but that was how it all began. Twenty-four years after the new Palme d’Or was unveiled in its current form, the love story continues. Since 2014, as part of our Journey to Sustainable Luxury, the trophy is made of Fairmined gold. We also created the Chopard Trophy in 2001, in order to reward young acting talents. Chopard belongs to Cannes and a bit of Cannes belongs to Chopard.
As one of these free-spirited women, you were at the origin of the Journey To Sustainable Luxury initiated in 2013 by Chopard. Today, sustainability is at the heart of the concerns of all the major maisons. Tell us how you came up with this visionary idea?
In 2012 at the Oscars, Livia Firth asked where our gold comes from. My immediate reply was “from the bank” but that wasn’t really the expected answer. There are millions of men and women digging up gold, often working in unsafe conditions and unfairly compensated for their work, or not at all. From that moment onwards, I was determined to embark on a mission to change not only Chopard as a company but also the entire industry. Sustainability is a Journey which never ends. And today, more than ever, our priority must be to protect the people on the ground who make our business possible. Once we became aware of the situation, there was no going back. All of us at Chopard are convinced of the importance of putting ethical issues at the heart of our concerns. The sourcing of responsibly mined gold for our watch and jewellery production was one of the biggest milestones on our Journey to Sustainable Luxury.
People who know you say that your optimism and positivity are contagious. What are your tips for
First, I think you must be happy in yourself. Otherwise, you can’t make others happy. It doesn’t cost much to smile. I always see the glass half full, not half empty, and I think waking up in a good mood, going to work in a good mood. and sharing your good mood with your team is essential.
What is your favourite motto?
Be happy! And dance with your Happy Diamonds, of course.