You definitely don’t need me to tell you that these days, stainless steel sports watches are, as the kids like to say, a thing. Walking into a watch shop that carries Rolex, Patek Philippe, or Audemars Piguet and actually seeing a steel Nautlius, Aquanaut, Daytona, GMT-Master II, or Royal Oak in a display case was once a commonplace occurrence, but as many of us know all too well, it just isn’t anymore. Our own Joe Thompson has written about this state of affairs as it pertains to one of these companies at length. One has to wonder, if supply simply isn’t meeting demand for steel watches from the above-mentioned watchmakers, where consumers who have the money and the desire will go? Today, Chopard is launching a new collection of watches called Chopard Alpine Eagle 36, in what looks to be a bid to win over watch buyers looking to scratch the steel sports watch itch.
To understand Alpine Eagle, where it comes from, its place in the broader watch market, and its position within the Chopard collection, it might be useful to remember the St. Moritz, a sport watch created by Chopard’s Karl-Friederich Scheufele back in 1980, when he was a 22-year-old newcomer to the family business. Named for the famed Swiss alpine ski resort and coming in a variety of executions, the St.Moritz was a successful line for a number of years before eventually being phased out in favor of other collections. In the intervening years, the Mille Miglia and its alignment with the world of vintage motorsports came to dominate the sport watch side of Chopard watchmaking, and the more classically elegant side of things was represented by the L.U.C watch collection.
While Chopard had in the St. Moritz a watch that was tailor-made for looking good while living well – not for driving, flying, or driving – the line was far enough in the rear view mirror that the youngest generation of the Scheufele family, Karl-Fritz Scheufele, had to ask his grandfather Karl about a watch he wore to the office one day a few years ago. It was a stainless steel variation of the St. Moritz that featured the classic configuration of integrated bracelet, tonneau-shaped case, and screwed bezel. “That’s the kind of watch that we should be making today,” the younger Scheufele said, and he had a point. It is the style of wristwatch that people are lining up to buy in 2019. Today, we’re seeing the launch of a new sport luxury line from Chopard with a design that is informed by the St. Moritz of yesteryear. Still, it bears mentioning that Alpine Eagle is very much indicative of the type of watchmaker Chopard is today, with manufacturing facilities spread throughout Switzerland and an estimable penchant for in-house manufacturing, which is quite a bit different from the kind of watchmaker it was back in 1980. And the increase in watchmaking know-how at Chopard is largely the work of Karl-Friederich Scheufele.
The Chopard Alpine Eagle 36 is available in two sizes at its launch. There is a 41mm size and a smaller 36mm variation. Each of the two sizes comes with an in-house movement. In the case of the 41mm size, this is the 01.01-C mechanical movement with automatic winding. It beats at 28,800 vph (4Hz) and has a power reserve of 60 hours. In the case of the 36mm variations, we see the automatic 09.01-C, which beats at a slightly slower 25,200 vph (3.5Hz) and runs for 42 hours on a single wind. With both movements, we have in-house designed and manufactured calibers with COSC chronometer certification.
At launch, there are ten different references. There are three different variations of the 41mm version with date, and seven examples of the 36mm no-date version. Looking at the collection and seeing the various versions of the 36mm watch with gem-set cases and bracelets, it’s tempting to infer that the 36mm size is the ladies’s segment of the collection, but that is not how Chopard is presenting them. And in fact, there is a 36mm version in plain stainless steel, sans diamonds, that I had a chance to try on earlier this summer – while I preferred the feel of the 41mm version, I could definitely see guys I know wearing these 36mm versions.
Chopard has long been known for its use of ethically mined gold, and where gold appears in the Chopard Alpine Eagle 36 , it is of that type. What’s new with the Alpine Eagle is the introduction of a new proprietary alloy of stainless steel called Lucent Steel A223, which is composed partially of recycled stainless steel. Beyond the obvious ecological benefits of repurposing stainless steel in a new product, the new Lucent Steel A223 also boasts practical benefits, among them a greater hardness – to 223 Vickers, making it 50% more resistant to abrasion than conventional steel. All of the case and bracelet components, whether steel or gold, are produced in-house by Chopard.
The cases feature alternating brushed and polished surfaces with eight screws holding the bezel, case middle, and caseback together. In addition to helping to provide 100 meters of water resistance, the screws, which are grouped in pairs and located at the watch’s cardinal positions, provide a modern twist on the original St. Moritz design of 1980. If you look closely, the lines of the screw heads follow the periphery of the dial. I think it would bother me if there wasn’t an order to their orientation, and what Chopard has done here feels appropriate for a sport luxury watch.
The dials of several of the new pieces in the line feature a a reflective, rock-like texture that is reminiscent of an eagle’s iris, and it’s from these dials that the Alpine Eagle gets its distinctive name. Why not just call it St. Moritz, one might ask? After all, St. Moritz is a line that people remember and that would pretty instantly ground this new collection in Chopard’s own history. The answer is that another watch corporation, the Swatch Group, has an existing agreement in place with the municipality of St. Moritz, and Karl Friedrich Scheufele felt that for this collection, it would be best to go in a different direction and start anew. In any event, while it’s easy to see that the design of the Alpine Eagle is an evolution of the St. Moritz, there is a lot of newness here, from the use of a new steel alloy to the implementation of in-house movements.
To me, it’s the use of that new alloy that seems most exciting, especially as it’s being deployed in a watch of this design type. There is something about the faceted cases and bracelets often seen on watches of this general type, with their contrasting brushed and polished finishes, that I have long felt makes them more susceptible to showing even slight scratches. Thanks to Lucent Steel A223, one can hope that that the Alpine Eagle will continue to look great after months or years of daily wear. I definitely look forward to reviewing one of the 41mm all-steel variations when I can get my hands on one.