Chopard And The Mille Miglia: How An Event Became A Pillar For An Empire Across 30 Years
by Martin Green
Today there isn’t one high-profile event that hasn’t been claimed by a watch brand.
In the 1980s this was however entirely different, with only a few brands venturing out and building partnerships that offered them extra promotional value in return.
In 1988 Chopard became a main sponsor of the Mille Miglia.
The Mille Miglia began in 1927 as an open-road endurance race starting in Brescia, Italy and traveling to Rome and back, going through places like Ferrara, Cervia, San Marino, Sienna, and Parma – covering 1,000 miles (mille miglia in Italian).
It was organized 24 times from 1927 until in 1957 a tragic accident involving a Ferrari 335 S not only took the lives of driver Alfonso de Portago and his navigator Edmund Nelson but also that of nine spectators, among them five young children.
However, the concept proved to be too tempting to abandon completely, especially since the routes are absolutely breathtaking. And in 1982 the Mille Miglia as the time-trial rally we know today was born.
The Mille Miglia evolved from a high-speed endurance race for professional drivers into a road rally reenactment event, in which only vintage cars are allowed that had participated, or were registered, to drive in the original events until 1957.
This has resulted in something quite spectacular because it means that some of the most impressive historic automobiles drive through what is perhaps the most beautiful region of Italy. The popularity of the event has reached such heights that cars put up for auction that are eligible to participate in the Mille Miglia actually achieve a premium.
How an event can define a company
For most watch brands, sponsoring an event means flying in clients, press and important retailers, having your brand name on everything related to the event, and giving it as much exposure on social media as humanly possible.
Events are often great excuses for launching limited edition watches, but as soon as the lights are switched off, most brands are on to the next event. Yet with Chopard and the Mille Miglia, it has been different.
The Mille Miglia became part of Chopard’s DNA – to such an extent that the event has not only become one of the nominal pillars of the brand’s collection but an icon in its own right. The Chopard Mille Miglia is one of those chronographs that has obtained a prominent position in its market, with an appeal that goes far beyond being associated with a high-profile event.
I feel that three ingredients made the Mille Miglia collection such a successful, and hence valuable, part of Chopard.
First of all, there is genuine commitment. Like any business, Chopard’s aim is to make a profit. Being family owned makes profit margins less compelling than if it had shareholders, but nevertheless, money needs to be made.
A partnership with the Mille Miglia helps with that as it means exposure. But Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, co-president of Chopard, seems to have 50 percent watch oil in his veins, while the remaining 50 percent is high-octane fuel.
Scheufele is an avid collector of vintage cars and not shy about using them as means of transportation when he visits one of the three Chopard manufacturing sites. Does he get personal pleasure out of his brand’s alliance with the Mille Miglia? Without a doubt, but it is that passion that makes the difference – especially in the watch business, where emotion plays such a vital role.
The second reason why I feel the Mille Miglia is such an enduring success is that Chopard has never repositioned the Mille Miglia collection. It has always been part of its “entry level.”
For a comparatively modest price, you get a good watch with a lot of character. A few of the editions have been quartz, but the majority of them were mechanical, relying on ETA base movements with Dubois Dépraz chronograph modules or the famed ETA Valjoux 7750 caliber.
These were reliable choices that provide clients with the Chopard experience at a competitive price. It also gave Chopard room to allow its “racing” collection grow with models that share the same spirit but are not directly related to the Mille Miglia such as the Superfast collection, which features movements by Chopard’s Fleurier Ébauches workshops.
Chopard has also wisely completely forgone the ambition to create complicated watches that might appeal to the few people who actually participate in the Mille Miglia with priceless automobiles, but hardly have a consumer audience outside of this select group.
In return, Chopard gained something that in today’s market we can only consider a grand prize: solid footing in the men’s sports watch segment in non-precious metal cases. Especially for a jewelry brand, which Chopard essentially is, this is a nearly unprecedented achievement.
The third factor that I identify as offering a crucial contribution to the success of the Mille Miglia collection is design.
Over the last three decades, Chopard has been able to continuously update the design of the Mille Miglia models to meet the demands of its era. These watches were never ahead of their time, yet also never behind.
To do that consistently for three decades says something about both the abilities of Chopard’s designers and the steady hand of its management. It also has a very pleasant side effect: while the current Mille Miglia models always enjoy a warm welcome, Chopard has also created a history rich with different models.
As a result, the pre-owned market for the Mille Miglia has something appealing to a wide range of collectors. In general, a thriving pre-owned market for a certain model is also very good for current collections.
Steady as she goes
When we look at the watch world, it becomes hard to find another brand that has been able to integrate an important event to such an extent it into its own DNA, contributing significantly to the exposure and profitability of the company, as Chopard has done with the Mille Miglia.
Rolex has certain events it has been allied with for decades, yet the Geneva crown utilizes these more for promotional activities than touching the core of its brand.
The same can be said of Omega in its role as official Olympic timekeeper. Part of its collection is dedicated to this event, yet not in the same integrated way that Chopard has achieved.
It doesn’t happen often, and especially not after continuing for 30 years, but to keep the future of the Mille Miglia collection bright, all Chopard has to do is remain steady as she goes.
For more information on the Mille Miglia please visit www.1000miglia.eu/MilleMiglia.
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Also published on Medium.