Do you remember the scene in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey when the monolith appears before the apes accompanied by the stirring refrains of Richard Strauss’ musical interpretation of Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, endowing the primates with self-awareness and enlightenment? OK, now flashback to 1996, when Tom Cruise was bellowing “Show me the money!,” to his ambassador of Quan, to the moment Karl Friedrich Scheufele unveiled his first L.U.C movement and find a moment as revelatory, as forever game-changing as the appearance of Kubrick’s monolith. And that was the introduction of the Calibre 1.96, which would usher in one of the most staggering two decades in mechanical movement innovation, that would bring a new heretofore unknown level of performance to every known complication in Christendom. All this from a brand that was previously considered primarily a jeweller.
It is almost impossible to fully express how totally mind-blowing Chopard’s L.U.C automatic Calibre 1.96 was in the context of the mid-1990s. While Swiss mechanical watchmaking had pulled itself back from the brink of disaster represented by the Quartz Crisis, there was still a prevailing timidity related to movement innovation. The rationale was understandable. After all, it was just barely a decade since the very future of Swiss watchmaking precariously teetered on the whim of a consumer seduced by inexpensive timepieces with soulless electronic heartbeats.
Says Karl-Friedrich Scheufele: “At the time, the most pervasively used chronograph movement was the Lemania 2310. While I love this movement, this is a calibre that dates back to the 1940s. It was clear that with very few exceptions the industry was content to use the existing movements that had been around for decades.” But that wasn’t good enough for Scheufele, who explained: “I knew that Chopard had long been considered a jewellery brand. But we were never seen as a serious horological maison. We were not a manufacturer of movements. So when I took the decision to start making our own movements, I wanted to create a calibre that reflected all the technical advances of our era, and not repeat something that had already been done half a century before.”