It’s difficult to know where to start with Chopard’s new Alpine Eagle. The watch covers so many contemporary trends; it’s a heritage reissue (to a point), it adds to the ever-growing sports luxe category, it’s a new materials story, it includes a bit of environmental philanthropy and even manages to fit in a spot of multi-generational family ownership for good measure.
The story of Chopard’s new sports watch actually began thirty-nine years ago in 1980, when current co-owner Karl-Friedrich Scheufele had only just started cutting his teeth at the family-owned jewellery and watch brand as a 22-year-old executive. Scheufele presented his father with the idea of what would be the brand’s first steel watch and its first sports watch with an integrated bracelet named St Moritz, after the alpine resort the keen skier had developed a great deal of affection for. He agreed the use of its name with his friend, the then director of tourism, ‘on a handshake’.
The St Moritz, instantly recognisable by the pairs of exposed screw heads at the cardinal points of its bezel, was a huge success for Chopard, developing into a comprehensive collection including male and female pieces featuring complications from chronographs to calendars and selling some 50,000 pieces over the course of 25 years.
The watch was discontinued in the 1990s, however, and only recently ‘rediscovered’ by Scheufele’s son, Karl-Fritz, now a university student as he explored the brand’s Geneva HQ and came across sketches of an abandoned attempt to resurrect the St Moritz. Taken with the watch and convinced of its contemporary commercial appeal, Karl-Fritz set about convincing his father of the model’s renewed potential.
Not only has the model been completely redesigned (those curved bulges around the screw heads just wouldn’t have cut it today) it has also been renamed. KFS told QP that he wasn’t convinced the St Moritz reflected the same image today as it did 40 years ago. The Alpine Eagle is also the first watch to use a new stainless steel alloy, Lucent Steel A223, developed by Austrian foundry Voestalpine.
The new metal, which Chopard is referring to as "Precious Steel", is twice smelted to alter the crystal structure of the metal, resulting in a 50 per cent harder, more scratch-resistant metal, which appears lighter in tone to conventional alloys and is apparently better able to hold a fine polish over time - much like Rolex’s Oystersteel, although that’s not something I was able to verify given our limited time with the new watches. It is also responsible, being composed of 70 per cent recycled steel (although before you get too excited, it's worth pointing out that all stainless steel is partly recycled; Chopard has taken that percentage from around 60 per cent to 70 per cent). Much like the gradual roll-out of Chopard’s use of Fairmined gold, you get the sense that the maison will make much wider use of Lucent Steel A223 in the future.
My favourite update, aside from the intricately stamped "Eagle iris" dial, has to be the integrated bracelet which has been lavishly over-engineered. While the original St Moritz featured a three-link bracelet to allow for the introduction of bi-metal models, it was completely flat, something addressed by the Mk. 2 facelift, which introduced some topography by raising up the centre link. That extra relief is carried across into the Alpine Eagle, but the central ‘ingot’ is now part and parcel of the bracelet’s adjustment with each set of links sliding laterally into place before being fastened in place by placing the ingot on the front and fixing it into place using a screw from the reverse. Having spent a few minutes at one of Chopard’s benches piecing this bracelet together really illustrated how complex its construction is and how many polishing passes are needed to create the finished product.
The same kind of fiendishly clever engineering has been employed to solve one of the most geeky of all watch nerd complaints, why the notches of exposed functional screw heads don’t align (you can wander down that particular rabbit hole, should you wish here).
The screws in the Alpine Eagle’s bezel fasten it in place and are not nuts bolted from behind like those used in the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak so how do the screw heads align, following the contours of the bezel? Much like the conclusion of our own enquiries, it can only be achieved through incredibly precise engineering tolerances and a ‘piton’ component inserted between the screw and the hole.
What is not new for the Alpine Eagle is its movements, Chopard Manufacture 01.01-C and 09.01-C, but as these are proven in-house automatic chronometers that becomes more of a positive. The two movements relate to the two sizes being offered at launch: 36mm and 41mm, both perfectly wearable for either sex and offering 42 and 60-hour power reserves respectively.
Mr Scheufele has also established the Eagle Wings Foundation, a body which aims to reintroduce Golden Eagles to their natural alpine habitat.
Alpine Eagle launches as a fairly complete collection with steel, bi-metal and full gold options already available. A full gold 41mm is still in development, as it is currently considered too heavy, something borne out by the not insubstantial weight of the full-gold 36mm. Prices start at £8,770 for the 36mm steel version.
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