Though he’s far too humble to admit it, Karl-Friedrich Scheufele has been one of the most innovative individuals in watchmaking. But you probably aren’t aware of this; because it’s not his or his company Chopard’s practice to be self-aggrandizing.

In fact, quite just the opposite, he and his family practise a sort of humility in extremitas — a sort of Martin Luther meets John Calvin sense of puritanical self-effacement despite their incredible achievements.

But on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the L.U.C Manufacture — the in-house watchmaking division at Chopard that he created — I thought it highly appropriate to look back at Scheufele’s extraordinary history in the creation of some of the loftiest, most ambitious and technically innovative movements in contemporary horology. All of which are entirely due to Scheufele’s unremitting commitment to never compromise the engines powering his sublime timepieces.

If you want some fast and easy perspective on what Scheufele has accomplished, ask yourself this: In the context of 1996, when Scheufele launched his first in-house movement, the caliber 1.96 with twin barrels providing for 70 hours of power reserve, a micro-rotor and with both a Geneva Seal for its peerless finish and a COSC certificate for its chronometric performance, who the hell else was making in-house movements of this quality?

Fast-forward to 2003, Chopard became the very first manufacture to launch a 4Hz tourbillon and only the second-ever tourbillon in the history of watchmaking that was COSC-certified. It is important to understand that debates have raged for some time about the tourbillon’s efficacy as an accuracy-enhancing device.

Many critics are of the opinion that since the era of the industrialized tourbillon, it is essentially an additional spinning device that allows watch brands to add an extra zero to the price of their watches. Yet more than 13 years later, with a vast landscape chock-full of tourbillons, Chopard remains only one of three brands that COSC-certifies each and every tourbillon it makes (the other two are Patek Philippe and, as of this year, TAG Heuer).

On the eve of the launch of Scheufele’s greatest horological achievement yet, his new in-house minute repeater, I sat down with the intention of setting the record straight in terms of what Chopard L.U.C and he have achieved to the vast benefit of the watch industry. The result was a refreshingly frank and to-the-point interview that it is my pleasure to share with you.

Tell me about when you were creating your first watch movement, the caliber 1.96. What was going through your mind?

I had been researching the environment of movements in the ’90s. And the more I investigated the year of introduction for these movements, the more I realized that nothing new had been done for a very long time. The vast majority of the watch industry was content to use movements that had been designed 10, 20, and, in some cases, 50 years ago!

I said to my team, “Look, if we are going into movement creation, then we really need to think about a watch movement from the perspective of a contemporary watch. We need to come up with some real functional innovation.” That’s when the idea of the twin barrel came up. I said, “What is the most hindering part of a mechanical movement today? The barrel!”

This is related to two issues. First was the power reserve itself. Most movements had around 35 hours to 45 hours of reserve. With the double barrel, we were able to offer in excess of 70 hours. The second issue related to the quality of power during that reserve, and for that the two barrels also helped to optimize consistent power delivery. It was important for me that our first movement came with a COSC chronometer certification as objective proof of its functional worthiness.

Is it true your team tried to talk you out of using a micro-rotor?

I was interested to have a micro-rotor for the movement. At first, everybody said, “Oh, micro rotors don’t function very efficiently to wind the movement.” But I thought, with a big rotor you don’t see the movement, and what’s the point of creating an innovative movement with a very high level of finish that receives the Geneva Seal, if no one can see it?

We came up with a technical solution that not only allowed us to have the micro-rotor, but also achieved a good result for winding efficiency. In its time, I think it was a really revolutionary movement. The idea behind having both the Geneva Seal, which at the time was the highest certification for movement finish, and the COSC certificate, which was the most recognized certification for chronometric performance, was to communicate to the buyer that our movements were amongst the most beautiful as well as the best performing movements in watchmaking.

I think it is important to consider that launching an in-house movement in 1996 was already something quite unique. Launching it with two of the most prestigious independent certifications was even more groundbreaking. And looking back over the last 20 years, it’s true that now almost every watch brand has an “in-house” caliber. But ask yourself this: How many of them have also a Geneva Seal as well as a COSC certificate? I think you will find you can count the number of these on one hand.

Is it true you were thinking about buying Lemania at one point for its chronograph caliber?

Lemania was a company that we looked at with the consideration to purchase it. This was before we decided to do everything ourselves starting with a blank slate. I was looking at some options for movements. I visited Lemania as well as Minerva.

Lemania had a beautiful chronograph movement but beyond that, it didn’t really have anything worth writing home about. In addition, the CH-27, which is its icon, is a movement that is from the 1940s and has many idiosyncrasies related to an older movement. And it was a very old factory.

I concluded that if we were going to make contemporary watches, we should take up the challenge of creating contemporary movements that can actually bring some improvement in performance to the watch world. Also, I felt that I didn’t want to be in Le Brassus because I thought we should be away from the crowd.

Tell us about the development of your own in-house automatic chronograph caliber. Wasn’t it at one point codenamed the “GT3”?

The chronograph caliber was an immense challenge. At the time, I was developing the movement and I called it the “GT3”. The story behind this was, I had told myself, “If I can possibly realize this movement, I will buy myself a [Porsche] GT3!” Now, in the end, I never did buy the car. But this was the hidden code behind the name of the caliber.

I wanted to create an expression of contemporary watchmaking and high performance from the perspective of today. We wanted the beauty of the traditional column-wheel design. But we also had to have a chronometer certification, of course. We decided on a vertical clutch so as not to affect amplitude when the chronograph was activated, and we wanted a precise jumping-minute counter because this was the ultimate in precision.

And, perhaps most importantly, we wanted to really transmit a nice feeling when you activated the chronograph, in terms of how the click for the start or stop pusher felt. This was not an easy thing to accomplish and it led us to create these flexible parts for the chronograph mechanism. These helped get it right so that you get that soft but distinct feeling when you press the start button. Same thing for the experience of winding the crown. It’s like touching a piece of cloth — you have to get it just right. People sometimes don’t realize how tactile an object a watch is.

When you launched your COSC-certified L.U.C Tourbillon in 2003, it sent shockwaves through the watch industry. What was the objective of COSC-certifying your tourbillon?

We launched our tourbillon in 2003. And as we were developing this movement, I felt that in order to honor the underlying principle of this mechanism, which was invented by Abraham-Louis Breguet to improve accuracy, our tourbillon had to have a COSC certification. This was considered to be an immense challenge because the only other brand that COSC-certified its tourbillons was Patek Philippe.

But rather than trying to regulate each movement over and over to achieve chronometric results, we decided to start from the basic concept of the movement. The vast majority of tourbillons in the market are not COSC-certified because, again, these are older constructions. We started with the power supply and used our four barrels to provide not just a longer power supply, but also a better level of consistent power over the watch’s reserve.

Because the tourbillon is an additional element that sits at the farthest end of the gear train, it can amplify both the positive qualities as well as the faults in the power supply. We also filed a patent for the balance wheel with the adjustable weights. Also, our tourbillon differs from the others in the market at it beats at 4Hz. So [in short], we set out to make a modern tourbillon movement.

How did you get around using the 3Hz tourbillon escapement that the rest of the watch industry is dependent on?

Ah! The escapement for the tourbillon. We had it built specifically for us at Nivarox. This was the last time they accepted to create a special component for someone. This was instrumental to our ability to have the tourbillon run at 4Hz, which at the time was critical to our being able to COSC-certify 100 percent of our tourbillon production. Today, this component is made in-house. But it is a very important part of our history.

One of my favorite watches is the Steel Wings Tourbillon. Why did you discontinue this watch?

Not without some pride, I would say that the Steel Wings gave birth to quite a few watches created by some of our friends. I said to my wife Christine, “We shouldn’t have stopped this tech look too early, because now everybody is doing this look.”

Tell me a bit about the development of your minute repeater

We started the minute repeater project more than five years ago. Again, the vast majority of minute repeaters are created using ébauches that are many decades old. So when we decided to make our minute repeater, again, it was a question of making a contemporary movement taking advantage of all our know-how in modern movement construction. We had to offer some additional value or innovation, and that is precisely what we did.

I love your new world-time watch [the L.U.C Time Traveler One], which is also the only worldtimer I can think of with a seconds hand and a full date ring as well. Was the intention to create a truly functional worldtimer?

With both the seconds hand and the date displayed on our world-time watch, our complication offers more information than most timepieces. At the same time, information is laid out in a very intuitive way. Your eye goes from the center of the watch, from the display of time, to the date ring, to the 24-hour time indication, to the city disc, in a very logical manner. So even though there is a lot of information, it is very clear — which is not easy to achieve.

How important are affordable complications to you?

The idea of affordable complications is very important to us and to the world in general. We are required to make this kind of watch if we want to involve the next generation and also keep existing clients. We must have accessible watches. But these watches must express excellence without compromise. That is the statement we are making with the steel L.U.C GMT One, L.U.C Time Traveler One and L.U.C Perpetual Twin.

On the subject of the next generation, is it true you turn to your son for advice on occasion?

Yes. Just recently, we were working on a new ad visual for L.U.C and the input my son provided was very interesting. His remarks were very precise. He’s always been like this but he is also offering us some perspectives on how young people think. It’s funny that when he was working as an intern at one of the major men’s magazines in London this summer, he did not find the people very hardworking. He said, “It’s strange, on Friday, everyone goes missing and you find them all at the bar drinking gin and tonics.” I like that he really gets involved in whatever he puts his mind too.

What watch does he wear?

He is wearing a black Mille Miglia GMT that he chose. He felt it was young and cool. It is a limited edition and I had to go out of my way to find one because he is, like most young people today, very specific. He said, “It has to be that one.”