Let’s begin by saying that to many, Chopard is predominantly seen as a jewelry house and not really thought of as a serious horological manufacture. There are reasons for this of course, with questionable watch designs over the years and their dominance in Haute Horlogerie, it was always going to be an uphill battle. That being said, after you’re done reading this, you will see why the Chopard 16/1860/2 is anything of the aforementioned and one of the most revered watches to those who are in the know.
Beginning with some historical context, the ’90s was seen as a period of recovery, where watch companies were still wary of the devastating quartz crisis that decimated the industry in the ’80s and as a result, remained largely conservative. Most houses were content using movements that had existed for decades from suppliers such as Valjoux, Lemania, and ETA. Bar a few outliers, it was just not the time to go wild.
Relative to this, Chopard was looking to launch themselves as a serious watchmaking house and begin in 1993 with the help of independent watchmaker, Michel Parmigiani. As a testament to how seriously they were taking this undertaking, it wasn’t until 1996 that they felt ready to launch their high-end watchmaking line- the manufacture L.U.C. The 16/1860 you see here today is the first watch released by Chopard L.U.C. and it was universally praised when it came out. With a brand new in-house movement, it was described by Walt Odets on Timezone as ‘probably the finest automatic movement being produced in Switzerland today.
There are several things that make this watch impressive, with the Caliber 1.96 being at the top of that list. Just taking a single look at it, even a layman would be able to see how beautiful it is. It is clearly evident that Chopard made no shortcuts when it came to this caliber as the micro-rotor 1.96 is one of the most beautifully finished movements of its era. With a stunningly engraved 22k gold micro-rotor, thick hand bevelling throughout, and deep Côtes de Genève all over, even Philippe Dufour rated Chopard only second to A. Lange & Sohne in terms of finishing at the time.
Not only was the 1.96 masterfully decorated, but it was also technically a marvel. With a 70-hour power reserve from two stacked mainspring barrels, it also featured a Breguet over-coil hairspring and a swan neck regulator, all contributing towards its precision and power dispersion. The most comparable movement to the 1.96 would have to be the ever-trusty Patek Philippe Caliber 240. While that movement is historically important and impressive nonetheless, when comparing the two side by side, I think there is no contest as to who comes out on top. As a cherry on top, not only is this Chopard COSC certified, but it also bears the hallowed Geneva Seal.
Flipping the watch over, there is a strong resemblance to a certain Dufour Simplicity and that is because the 16/1860/4 dial was produced by Metalem, the same Swiss dial manufacturer that produced for the Simplicity. The beautiful hand engine-turned dial is stepped and made of gold and features a beautiful central guilloche pattern that reflects light beautifully.
What makes this particular example even more special is the /4 designation in the reference number. While 1680 examples were made of the previous generation, the /4 you see here today was a commemorative piece in the 2000s made in a small series of only 100 pieces. On top of this, the /4 also features an officer case back that opens and closes revealing the beautiful caliber. With a white gold case and an opaline dial, this is the example that resembles the Simplicity best in my opinion.
I really do think that the 16/1860 is one of the most underrated and forgotten watches out there, perhaps because from photos it just looks like an ordinary dress watch. Its perfect 37mm sizing and great proportions really makes for an elegant watch. You really do start to notice just how special this watch is when handling it in person and it just could be one of the greatest dress watches of all time.