On September 22nd, the Chopard Group (which includes Chopard, the watch and jewelry maison, as well as Fleurier Ebauches, SA, the movement manufacturer) announced the very first timepiece from La Chronométrie Ferdinand Berthoud. La Chronométrie Ferdinand Berthoud is a new business for the Group – it was first announced in 2013, and its first wristwatch represents what co-presidents Karl-Friedrich Scheufele and Caroline Scheufele (brother and sister) hope will be the first in a series of wristwatches inspired by the life and work of Ferdinand Berthoud. These watches are intended to be a no-holds-barred exercise in luxury watchmaking, and will occupy a commensurate price point, but according to Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, whom we interviewed at the launch event at the Yacht Club de France, Chopard also hopes to stimulate interest in, and awareness of, one of the most important figures in the history and evolution of the marine chronometer.
It’s a pretty common practice nowadays (and for many years, for that matter) to take the name of a famous watchmaker from the past and build a brand around it. A lot of serious watch enthusiasts react badly to this, and with good reason – while we understand the practice (tradition and grounding in history is a big sell) it can seem forced or even disingenuous. In this case, though, we think Chopard is doing the thing right. They’ve also given themselves a major challenge, because Ferdinand Berthoud is someone whose work was very diverse, and very rich, but who also sets a very high standard to follow if you want to plausibly claim inspiration from him.
Berthoud (19 March 1727 – 20 June 1807) is considered, along with Pierre Le Roy (1717–1785) one of the two fathers of the marine chronometer in the form in which it was most widely used. (Mostly, nobody nowadays really understands what this means, but think about it: for several hundred years, if you didn’t have a marine chronometer, you had no blue water navy and no blue water merchant marine; you had no Empire.) This might surprise you if you’ve heard that John Harrison was the father of the marine chronometer. It’s true that Harrison deserves the reverence in which he is held, but it is also true that his work in portable timekeepers was both wonderful, and something of a dead end. The first successful marine chronometer he made – H4 – was very, very complicated, and extremely difficult to make and adjust (it took Harrison many years to develop the design and construct it, and it took English watchmaker Larcum Kendall over a year to make just one copy of H4 for testing purposes). H4 used a (admittedly extremely advanced) verge escapement (the oldest known to horology) as well as a highly complex system for compensating for the effects of temperature on the balance spring; and he also included a remontoire. It was an almost miraculous effort, but it was also obsolete at the same moment it achieved its success.
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