Haute monde 1970s was an unabashedly nomadic experience. You could wake up one day in Mustique and the next in Marrakesh. Its glitterati eschewed the permanence of any one home base as it had embraced in the 1950s with New York and in the ’60s with Swinging London. The 1970s effectively fused mid-century café society with the rebellion of the ensuing decade and an altogether new breed of peripatetic hedonism. As if in much needed escapism after a period of radical political upheaval and social change, the ’70s was about carefree libidinousness with a brazen succumbing to one’s carnal impulses as demoiselles and dandies alike took to the dance floors of Regines and Studio 54 in a hedonist trans-global gathering of the tribe.
In the ’70s the watch world was similarly amid upheaval as the Swiss industry reeled from the opening salvos of the quartz crisis that would grow to decimate watchmaking so effectively that before the decade was over, 50,000 people would have lost their jobs. Amid this period of liminality, in order to reflect cultural changes and express a new spirit of freedom, one watch designer began to conceptualise a new category of timepiece that would be equally at home plunging into the swimming pool of the Hotel du Cap, on your wrist guiding a Haston-clad ingénue through the serpentine labyrinth of some sweaty after hours boîte, or holding court in front of your board of directors.
It was a watch that was equally appropriate when you were wearing an evening suit or your birthday suit. It was the integrated sports chic timepiece and its father was a maverick genius named Gérald Genta.
His first overture that ushered in an all-new era for this style of watch as the ultimate symbol of rakish elan was the Royal Oak, designed for Audemars Piguet in 1972. This slim sublime gem of a steel watch characterised by its octagonal bezel and visible white gold screws gained further notoriety with a price tag of 3,300 Swiss Francs, equivalent in those days to the cost of a new Jaguar. And while reactions initially ranged from outrage to perplexation the watch eventually struck its intended mark when it was adopted by Gianni Agnelli and his legion of Italian playboys. Quick to follow up was Girard-Perregaux with its hexagonal bezel, quartz-powered Laureato designed by a Milanese architect. Then came Patek Philippe with its Nautilus in 1976 and IWC with its Ingenieur SL from the same year, both designed by Genta. While the Nautilus went on to wild success, the Ingenieur was always adversely affected by a sort of identity crisis, in that while it looked like a playboy’s watch, it was positioned as an amagnetic scientific watch. That having been said, today vintage Ingenieurs have become desirable cult classics. And I have a particular penchant for the svelte “Skinny Ingenieur” iteration. In 1977 Vacheron Constantin unveiled the 222 designed by then hot upstart Jörg Hysek, and remains to my mind one of the most charming and underrated vintage watches around. In 1979 Yves Piaget designed the delicious Polo which integrated bracelet, case and even dial with the same design.
As the ’70s gave way to the 1980s a then 20-year-old Karl-Friedrich Scheufele became enthused by the idea of his family’s company, Chopard, also entering the world of the integrated bracelet, sports chic watch. His rationale was simple. As a young man who loved motorsports, skiing, sailing and had undoubtedly cut a swathe amongst the hearts of Geneva’s most eligible bachelorettes, he wanted a timepiece that embodied the modern world he was connected to. He wanted a symbol of the future, both of society and of his family’s firm. And so he began to speak to his father about the idea. Karl-Friedrich Senior recalls, “I was not initially enamoured with the idea but I appreciated my son’s passion for the project and eventually he convinced me.”
Says Karl-Friedrich, “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.” The resulting watch, named the St Moritz, which in Scheufele’s mind perfectly evoked winter’s alpine equivalent to summer’s Côte d’Azur, was designed, prototyped and put into production in just 18 months, created totally in-house.