At precisely 6pm on March 13th of 1930, one Joel “Woolf” Barnato, decorated British Army field artillery officer, but more importantly a three-times winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, set his empty champagne glass at the bar of the Carlton Hotel in Cannes. He leaped with athletic grace into his H.J. Mulliner bodied 6 ½ liter Bentley and roared out of the hotel’s famous circular driveway.
There was a great deal at stake. 100 pounds in Sterling and, more importantly, his reputation as the era’s preeminent gentleman racer. Barnato had wagered that he could reach his gentlemen’s club in London before Le Train Blue — the most glamorous and fastest passenger train in France — could travel the distance between Cannes and Calais. As the sun plummeted into the Mediterranean, one thought was on his mind, how time was an invaluable element in this race.
For instance, he had to measure the elapsed time between his fuel stops at Aix-en-Provence, Lyon, Auxerre and Paris so that he could reach the docks of Boulogne at precisely 10:30am. Giving him time to refuel, dine on some cold chicken — washed down with more champagne —before boarding the 11:30am sailing to Folkstone, England. Roaring off the boat, Barnato in his Bentley made the mad dash to Dale Bourne’s Club, in St James arriving at precisely 3:30pm.
He was already ensconced at the bar sipping a refreshing libation and puffing on a restorative Cuban corona, as Le Train Blue crossed into Calais. Barnato had traveled the distance of 1,340 kilometers at an average speed of 69.89 km per hour. His watch had been a critical tool. A precise instrument capable of measuring elapsed time with extraordinary precision, allowing him made the timepiece Barnato to calculate average speed over a fixed distance to keep him on pace. It is not known who wore during this daring feat but if he were alive today, I can say with full conviction that he would be wearing the new Chopard Alpine Eagle XL Chronograph.
If you’ll forgive the leap across the space-time continuum, I’ve come to this conclusion for three irrefutable reasons. First, understanding the Cambridge educated Barnato’s sense of refinement, an immutable penchant for perennial elegance, there is no doubt that he and his fellow Bentley Boys, Glen Kidston and Henry “Tim” Birkin would have found a kinship with Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, who is epitomizes the sense of old world understated gentlemanly charm.
Second, Barnato and the Bentley Boys would share an immense passion with Scheufele for refined motorsports and, in particular, the collecting and driving of mythical automotive icons. Though I believe and Karl-Friedrich and Woolf would be on opposite ends of the argument related to the implementation of super charging of the 6 ½ litre Bentleys that enabled Barnato to win Le Mans but also made the cars highly unreliable. Scheufele who is the owner of a spectacular 4 ½ litre Bentley has confided to me, “I side with Walter Owen Bentley who was not a fan of the super charged cars.”
Finally, the Bentley Boys who were known for their incomparable glamour and who drove their battle-scarred winning race car “Old No. 7” into the ballroom of the Savoy Hotel in 1927 to celebrate their first victory, were nothing if not sublimely stylish men. As such they would be drawn to the aesthetic charm of the Chopard Alpine Eagle, a brilliant integrated bracelet sports chic watch of the modern era. Even more so that it is now offered in a new version equipped with that most invaluable of tools for automotive enthusiasts, the chronograph.
The Alpine Eagle – A Story of Three Generations
But the broad strokes go like this. The 1970’s were characterized by an evocative sense of leisurely hedonism and into this world the first integrated sports chic watch the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak was born created by design genius Gerald Genta. This type of timepiece slim and elegant but bold and sporty becomes the dominate category of luxury watch for that decade and beyond. It is an emblem of the new way of living where haute monde denizens are leaping off yachts on the Riviera or the Amalfi Coast, in the day and attending glamorous parties in the evening. These watches are perfect in both setting.
Cut to 1978, a 20-year-old Karl-Friedrich’s life is characterized by the elegant world of his family’s global jewelry and watch business, but also by sports, in particular skiing and driving. As such he urges his father to create a watch which is equally at home the worlds of sport and style. Karl-Friedrich Senior recalls, “I was not initially enamored with the idea, but I appreciated my son’s passion for the project and eventually he convinced me.” Says Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, “I knew that this was exactly the type of watch my generation wanted, something I could wear while skiing but also when I put on a tuxedo.” He prevailed and the resulting watch, named the St Moritz, which in Scheufele’s mind perfectly evokes winter’s alpine equivalent to summer’s stylish Côte d’Azur, was designed, prototyped and put into production in just 18 months, created totally in-house.
Sidebar: Regarding the St Moritz
Regarding the name St Moritz, it is impossible to overstate how evocative this fabled destination could be. To get a better understanding read this article written for The Rake by the incredible, Nick Foulkes.
It was after all the location of the legendary Conviglia ski club, which was founded by Prince Alfonso von Hohenlohe, with members such as Gianni Agnelli, Stavros Niarchos. The Chopard watch of the same name begins a similarly legendary ascent starting with its launch in 1979 when the prototype is shown to Chopard’s network in Hong Kong, and a doubt it raised over its waterproof status. With great aplomb, Karl-Friedrich takes it off his wrist drops it in an ice bucket and leaves it there for two hours before retrieving it to the delight of the assembled dealers. By the first day of Basel Fair in 1980, 1000 St Moritz watches had been ordered and the watch was nothing less than a bonafide hit.
Cut to 2016 and Karl-Friedrich’s son, Karl-Fritz Scheufele has understood how two integrated bracelet watches the Audemars Piguet 15202 Royal Oak Ultra-Thin and the Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711 have successfully enchanted the new generation of Millennial and Generation Z customers. As such, Karl-Fritz is motivated to relaunch the St Moritz as Chopard’s response to the demand for this kind of watch. But, in an entertaining parallel, his father is not enthusiastic. So, he begins to work on the project in secrecy. Together with his grandfather and his aunt, the amazing Caroline Scheufele, they create a watch they all love. Says Caroline, “We could see there was a clear demand for this type of watch and interestingly, we saw the secondary prices of the vintage St Moritz pieces rise quite significantly in recent years. So, we took it upon ourselves to design a watch that would be its successor. Finally, when we were happy with the result we asked Karl-Fritz to present it to his father.”
Karl-Friedrich immediately recognizes its potential. He explains, “When they showed me the watch, I was astonished. I think that you can tell immediately if a watch will speak to you and it immediately connected with me. I knew that it would take some refinement and I said to my son, ‘OK let’s proceed with this watch but only on the condition that we only launch when all of us are convinced it is absolutely 100 percent perfect.” He and Karl-Fritz continued a process of refinement, which ultimately took three years. The result is the Alpine Eagle launched last year. And it is spectacular. So much so that I went on record stating that I would buy a Negroni for anyone who tried it on in the flesh and wasn’t charmed by it. I would, of course, buy two Negronis for anyone that bought one. After viewing and trying the Alpine Eagle my mind began to race with its potential motivating me to ask of if we might see other complicated versions in the future. Karl-Friedrich smiled and said, “Don’t worry we have a lot of plans for the Alpine Eagle.”
Chopard Alpine Eagle XL Chronograph
What makes the Alpine Eagle so great? First, it’s the design of the watch which manages to be elegant and sleek, bold and sporty and modern and retro all at the same time. The dial creates a unique visual signature with its swirling embossed decoration that evokes the eye of an eagle. Second, it’s the extraordinary quality. It is the very first watch in the world made from Lucent steel, which comprises of 70 percent re-cycled steel. Because it is twice forged it has a Vickers hardness of 225 Vickers versus the 150 Vickers of the more ubiquitous 316L stainless steel. The resulting material is also brighter, whiter and polishes more beautifully. The use of recycled steel underscores the Scheufele’s family commitment to sustainability already well expressed by their exclusive use of Fairmined Gold. Finally, there is the integrity of the watch expressed by its in-house COSC certified Calibre 1.01C and yet is priced at approximately half the cost of the other more entrenched players in this genre.
So, when I heard that Chopard was launching a chronograph version of the Alpine Eagle I immediately sat up at attention. In particular because I know that Karl-Friedrich Scheufele has a very strong affection for this complication. And he didn’t disappoint because the Alpine Eagle XL Chronograph represents the combination of one of the best new designs around with a movement, descended from of one of the very best chronograph movements in existence, the L.U.C 10 CF chronograph caliber that powered the L.U.C Chrono One. The all new Chopard 03.05-C is derived from this groundbreaking calibre that was first presented by Scheufele in 2006 for the 10th anniversary of Chopard L.U.C. The L.U.C Chrono One was announced on this very occasion.
At this point, in ten years Scheufele had created an extraordinary succession of in-house movements, including the fabled Calibre 1.96 — the first true pedigree micro-rotor movement, since the Patek Philippe Calibre 240 — featuring both the COSC certification as well as the Geneva Seal.
In 2000 he created the Calibre 98.01-L, aka the Quattro a movement with four barrels and a mighty eight days of power reserve. He followed this up in 2003, with a COSC certified tourbillon beating at 4 Hertz, also with 8 days of power reserve, the Calibre 02.01-L. A year previous to the launch of the Chrono One he would unveil the Calibre 96.13-L, a resplendent perpetual calendar with a world’s first in its orbital moonphase indicator. The point is Scheufele only creates movements with the highest level of integrity. And so, my expectations were high when he unveiled his first in-house chronograph movement. I think it would be fair to say that he exceeded all expectations.
The resulting L.U.C 10 CF chronograph movement featured a veritably Olympian level of Palmares, which breaks down like this: It ran at 28,800 vph or 4 Hertz, an optimal speed for a chronograph as at this speed it is largely impervious to small micro shocks subjected to the watch on a regular basis on the wrist and is able to time things to 1/8th of a second. It’s automatic winding system was bi-directional, and its barrel stored 60 hours of power reserve.
It was column wheel activated, which is the highest level of refinement for a chronograph but featured a vertical clutch. The vertical clutch allows the chronograph to run indefinitely without creating a parasitical effect on the movement’s amplitude. The vertical clutch, where the chronograph wheel and drive wheel engage on their flat sides, rather than their rims, also eliminated chrono back lash, which happens in laterally coupled clutches when the teeth of the two wheels don’t mate precisely. The movement also featured a flyback function, where all chronograph indications can be reset to zero and begin running again instantaneously without losing a second which was initially popularized by aviators but it also perfect for auto racing.
Now, pay attention because this is where the movement gets really interesting. Because the L.U.C 10 CF is the only chronograph movement in the world that features a zero reset for the small running seconds. This means that when you pull the crown out to set the time the continuous seconds hand stops and jumps back to zero, which allows you to set your time with unparalleled precision.
Says Scheufele, “To me this function was important because a chronograph should be about precision. But what is the point of a watch that is precise in every dimension regarding the measure of time but is not precise when it comes to time setting?” Let me stress that there is no other movement on the planet with a zero reset for the small seconds because there is no other individual with as much total commitment to this kind of performance integrity as Scheufele. One thing I love about the L.U.C 10 CF Chronograph Caliber, was that during its development it was code named “GT3” named after the race prepared Porsches that Scheufele has a particular affection for. He explained, “To me the GT3 is the ultimate example of a precision race car, that is perfectly balanced and does everything you want it to with the maximum of efficiency. I wanted to impart this same philosophy to Chopard’s first in-house chronograph movement. Where there was no aspect of the movement that wasn’t optimized for performance whether it was the clutch system, the flyback or the zero reset.” The all new Chopard 03.05-C powering the Alpine Eagle XL Chronograph is a movement that finds its ancestry in this groundbreaking movement. I hope you understand now why I feel that Woolf Barnato would be thrilled to wear the Alpine Eagle XL Chronograph?
If all this wasn’t enough the Chopard 03.05-C has one last trick up its sleeve in that it is only one of three chronograph movements in the world that features a precise jumping minute counter, the other two being the movement in the Lange Datograph and the in-house Calibre CH 29, found in Patek Philippe’s manual wind chronographs.
This kind of counter features a snail cam on the seconds wheel that drives a lever that pulls the minute counter forward only and exactly when the chronograph second hand crosses the 60 second mark. The Chopard movement is the only vertical clutch chrono calibre to boast this feature.
With all the focus on the extraordinary technical integrity of the new Alpine Eagle XL Chronograph let’s not forget to address the watch’s aesthetics, which are phenomenal. What’s particularly impressive is that you could imagine that the Alpine Eagle had been conceptualized as a chronograph model first, so perfect is the integration of this complication.
For instance, the chronograph pushers have been subtly added to the right side of the case so that they follow and complement the lines of the crown guards. The layout of the chronograph on the dial is perfectly intuitive. Small seconds is at 6 o’clock, which is exactly where it should be on a chronometer.
The hour and minute counters occupy the left and right positions at 9 and 3 o’clock respectively. To me no chronograph can be truly considered a driver’s watch without an hour counter which is of paramount importance for endurance racing events.
But that’s just the beginning because the dial resonates with charming details that will seduce watch connoisseurs. In particular the use of the “square markers with tails” on the hour and minute counter, which are a subtle but fun nod to exotic or “Paul Newman” dial Daytonas, which also use these markers.
Each counter on the dial is given a full set of extremely clear and visible markers and the combination of these radial lines great a dynamic energy radiating from these subdials that perfectly contrast with the signature stylized “Eagle Eye” embossed pattern on the rest of the dial.
You can understand why Scheufele selected a 44mm case size once you see the fantastic visibility afforded by all these indications, which also includes a huge oversized date display at 4:30 on the dial. Similarly, the tachymeter is perfectly positioned on the inner flange of the dial which keeps its separate and distinct from the watch’s minute track. As someone who’s eyesight is clearly on a downward spiral as my age increases, this is one chronograph with fantastic visibility that you could actually read on your wrist, piloting a vintage car in the Chopard sponsored Mille Miglia. Aiding in visibility are the applied gold Roman numerals filled with a new Super Luminova that is 30 percent brighter and that degrades slower over time.
You might think 44mm is on the large side for a sports chic watch, but I urge you to try on the XL Chronograph. Because, what you will find is unlike some of the older integrated bracelet watch designs, here the bracelet falls straight down against the wrist and can accommodate a vast variety of wrist sizes. Indeed during the launch of the Alpine Eagle, it was Caroline Scheufele’s preference to wear the “large size” 41mm in diameter watch despite her small wrist. As with the time and date version of the watch the new chronograph is crafted in Lucent steel, as a demonstration of Chopard’s underlying commitment to ethics in luxury. It comes in both a grey as well as a blue dial. And there is a two-tone model that combines the Lucent steel with Chopard’s Fairmined ethically sourced rose gold and a grey dial. Says Karl-Fritz, “For my generation it is incredibly important that any luxury object is impacting the climate, the environment and the global arena in a positive way. The ethics behind a watch or the brand that makes it are incredibly important.”
And it is perhaps this last quality of the Alpine Eagle XL Chronograph that elevates it to one of the best timepieces of 2020. It has a great design sure. It is a symbol of old-world sports chic elegance perpetuated by a family that very much embodies this sense of ineffable style. It features a movement descended from probably the most ambitious chronograph movement around from a technical standpoint. But it is also made by a company that cares very much about the world they live on and impacting it in a positive way. I think once sitting in the comfort of his club in St James recognizing all this it seems clear to me that Barnato would be highly enamored with this spectacular chronograph a symbol of style, elegance, substance and human decency unlike any other.
Self-winding Chopard 03.05-C; hours, minutes and small running seconds; flyback chronograph with minutes and hours totalizer; 28.80mm diameter; 7.60mm thick; 28,800vph (4 Hz) frequency; Variner® balance with balance-spring featuring a flat terminal curve; COSC certified; 60-hour power reserve
44mm in Lucent Steel A223 or bi-metal in Lucent Steel A223 and 18-carat ethical rose gold; 13.15mm thick; water resistant to 100m
Tapering bracelet in Lucent Steel A223 or Lucent Steel A223 and 18-carat ethical rose gold, wide links with satin-bushed sides and polished central cap; triple folding clasp in Lucent Steel A223 and 18-carat ethical rose gold
In Lucent Steel A223: USD 19,200
Bi-metal in Lucent Steel A223 and 18-carat ethical rose gold: USD 26,800