The most innovative watch design of 1976 came from the inspired mind of Ronald Kurowski, a designer at Chopard. Hiking through the Black Forest, he came upon a waterfall with water droplets sparkling in the sunshine. It inspired him to design a watch embellished with countless dancing diamonds, without settings and freely moving between dial, bezel and sapphire crystal.
Brilliant-cut diamonds are at their most beautiful when their 'fire' is lit by movement. Like water droplets refracting sunlight, diamond facets also refract light into rainbow hues. Kurowski always felt restricted by fixed gem settings so the new design really "liberated the diamonds".
It was never meant for regular production as it was a one-of-a-kind entry into the annual 'Golden Rose of Baden Baden'; a jewelers competition organized by the 'Society of Friends of Precious Stones' in Germany. Together with the 'International Diamond Award', the 'Golden Rose' was the highest award for watch design in the 1970s and 1980s. It was the 'Oscar' of the design world.
In those days, Chopard already employed six to eight designers - an incredible large team compared to the industry average. Any design has to be translated into actuality by the Chopard craftsmen watchmakers and jewelers. Kurowski's 'One Big Idea' was deemed impossible to realize because diamonds are rated at the maximal 10 on the Moh's Hardness Scale whereas the other visible components of the watch (dial, bezel and sapphire glass) are softer. Freely-moving diamonds would scratch everything in their path.
Unfortunately, these rational objections could not be tolerated because the Preliminary Entry Acceptance Jury had already nominated it as the 'Most Interesting Design of the Year’, which came with a small prize.
Karl-Friedrich Scheufele recounts: "That was a problem because all accepted and shortlisted entries for the 'Golden Rose' had to be actualized". Furthermore, the rules required the development from design sketch to competition grade product was within three months.
Achieving the Impossible
The initial prototype tests revealed further issues: How could they prevent the diamonds from flipping over and showing their undersides? How could they hide the winding stem but allow space between the dial and crown for dancing diamonds? How could they prevent the diamonds from scratching the sapphire crystal?
The 'One Big Idea' was implemented by 'One Bright Idea' of using golden sheaths.
Each diamond was surrounded with a handmade white gold sheath, so thin that most observers don't notice it. The sheath tube protrudes a few millimeters above the diamond surface so the smooth rounded soft gold edges glide against underside of the watch crystal without deleterious scratches. As an analogy, consider a cupcake, where the diamond is the cake and the gold sheath is the paper cup.
No sooner had the craftsmen encased thirty "Happy Diamonds" with custom-fit sheaths when they were instructed to release them again. Further testing had resulted in another seminal design change that would determine the unique selling point of the 'Happy Diamonds'. By changing the original flat-bottomed sheath to a single-point sheath with an elaborate downward curve, the diamonds adopted an unstable attitude and could be more easily set in twirling motion like dervishes. The slightest finger tap on the case caused the diamonds to rotate; this became the "tap test" that remains the definitive test of authentic "Happy Diamonds".
The Scheufeles planned to display the prize winning watch as an attraction to the Chopard booth at the 1977 Basel trade fair. There were no plans for commercial production and it was to serve merely as a conversation piece. At best, perhaps a watch collector could have purchased the 'dancing diamonds' watch as an exotic “piece unique”. That was the big error of judgement that the family freely admit to. As soon as the doors were opened, jewelers started ordering the nameless watch in large numbers. Never looking at a gift horse in the mouth, the Scheufeles accepted the orders and named it the "Happy Diamonds" watch.
Karin Scheufele had remarked that "diamonds are happiest when they are free to dance".
A ladies' version joined the Gents' Happy Diamonds watch and in that first year alone, more than 10,000 Happy Diamonds watches were sold !
"Because the Lady loves..."
Despite the launch of a smaller ladies' version, in those early years, customers were mainly men who wore the TV-shaped dress watch.
In 1978, the first 'Happy Diamonds' advertisement in the German fashion magazine, Madame, still promoted it as a men's watch. A suave tuxedo-clad gentleman with a whiff of "eau de Bond...James Bond" is wearing a Happy Diamonds watch for real men with the slogan: "Moving diamonds for happy hours!"
The Chopard catalogue that year proclaimed: "Have you ever stirred up diamonds with your fingers? A glorious feeling - the sparkling, glittering swarm flashes fire and colour with every movement!"
Since then, Chopard has continued to introduce new variations of the theme in watches.
People first thought that 'Happy Diamonds' was a passing fad but that was proven not to be the case.
During the "quartz crisis" of the 1970s, nearly all of the Swiss watch brands were floundering but Chopard saw triumph upon success because of 'Happy Diamonds'. In fact, quartz movements unleashed the full potential of Happy Diamonds watches allowing complete transparency for the diamonds to dance between two panes of clear sapphire.
Chopard recognized the imminent demand for quartz movements early and was initially supplied by Girard-Perregaux, which had been a buyer of watch cases from Chopard. The only complaint was that the G-P movement was rather large for ladies' watches. "It was a potato," says Karl III with a twinkle in his eye.
Chopard took on half the development costs of a mini-quartz movement by ETA, and receivedexclusive supplies for 10 years.
Chopard produced more than 300 models and 130,000 gem-set watches between 1976 and 1996. Growth can be judged from the raw materials used.
In 1978, Chopard used 500 kg of gold and 120,000 diamonds weighing 2500 carats.
In 1981, that had grown to 600 kg of gold and 6000 carats of diamonds.
Paradoxically, the only item not available since the early 1980s is a regular production Gents' Happy Diamonds watch.
Chopard will custom-make one as a special order but nowadays, the 'Happy Diamonds' has become a ladies' watch.
The use of simple quartz movements does not mean that technical excellence is no longer required. Although the construction of 'Happy Diamonds' watches was simplified by quartz movements, the increasing demands placed on the watches by modern ladies' lifestyles mean that a commensurate increase in technique is expected. Water-resistance has been a standard feature of 'Happy Diamonds' watches since the 1980s. This is not as simple as one would imagine because the shaped watches (square, oval or heart) with a vitreous track for freely moving diamonds are difficult to make water-resistant to 30m rating. Machines still cannot achieve that and only an experienced watchmaker or glass setter with technical dexterity can do so.
Although Chopard owns basements full of computer guided stamping and milling machines to perform basic heavy tasks, all of the delicate work is still by hand - invenit et fecit.
Delicate handiwork such as gem selection for nigh on identical size — Chopard's tolerances are measured in a hundredth of a millimeter.
After this historical introduction to the importance of the Happy Diamonds watches we offer you this example. With a 32x36mm gold case and with 10 perfectly cut diamonds dancing inside. Powered by the above mentioned ETA quartz movement developed specifically for these watches.