[dropcap size=small]J[/dropcap]udges at the Grand Prix d’ Horlogerie de Geneve (GPHG) literally could not believe their ears when they listened to Chopard‘s chiming timepiece, the LUC Full Strike. The sweet, crystal clear sound of the minute repeater so enthralled them that they awarded it with the watch industry’s equivalent of an Oscar.

How they achieved this is not a big secret. Watchmakers have always known that crystal sapphire can help make a minute repeater tell the time loud and clear. That’s what watchmakers at Chopard repeatedly told the boss when working out how to build Full Strike, which has a steel hammer striking sapphire instead of the usual steel or gold gongs.

“We asked which material we could use to improve the sound quality and volume and every time we concluded that sapphire crystal would be the right one,” recalls the family-owned watch company’s co-CEO Karl-Friedrich Scheufele.

Jaeger-LeCoultre has created minute repeaters with a sapphire gong. Yet, though this extremely scratch-resistant material is now commonly used for the watch’s back case, rarely has anyone produced an acoustic watch which employs sapphire crystal as building blocks for its sound system.

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Chopard LUC Full Strike

Obviously the challenges – and costs – are daunting. “We ruled it out at one point,” Scheufele confesses.

Hard as the sapphire crystal is, it’s not unbreakable. Chopard had to put the sapphire gong through one and a half million knocks by steel hammer to ensure that it did not give way. Even more difficult is working with such a hard material. Machining a tiny set of its parts, without breaking the connection between the gongs and the watch glass, called for tools that are powerful and precise.

Machining the gongs/glass set alone took more than three years of development, representing a technical and human feat, according to Chopard.

Chopard launched the LUC Strike One in 2006, a chiming watch that chimes every hour. Full Strike, as the name suggests, is the brand’s first full minute repeater watch – and its most complicated; it strikes the hours, quarters and minutes. The sapphire gongs, tuned to the C and F key, serve both as the generator and acoustic amplifier of sound. They are further integrated with the watch glass to create a perfect loud speaker.

What’s more, Full Strike is equipped with other world-first features, including three security devices protecting the minute repeater from damage by mishandling.

Chopard wanted to produce an acoustic timepiece to mark the 20th anniversary of its high-end LUC line, which pays tribute to Louise-Ulysse Chopard, watchmaker and the company’s founder.

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But Scheufele didn’t want to make just another classical minute repeater watch. Every LUC timepiece Chopard created came with new innovations. Full Strike must also live up to this tradition, which is why Chopard has taken over six years to produce it.

Scheufele admits that it was costly: “17,000 hours (of development), plus all the experimental parts we had to make, plus our collaboration with a university in Lyon, France”. But he says it was worth the while.

Several pieces of the chiming timepiece, encased in ethically and responsibly mined “Fairmined” rose gold and priced at S$351,330, have been snapped up since it was a launched at end-2016. Sales should have picked up after the timepiece bagged the GPHG grand prize early this month.

Scheufele say he’s still “stunned” by the win, coming a year after Ferdinand Berthoud, another watch brand he owns, walked away with the prize. “I’d hoped for (only) a prize in the complication category.” Chopard’s Lotus Blanc also took GPHG 2017’s Jewellery Watch Prize.

Story first appeared on The Business Times.