Chopard L.U.C XP Il Sarto Kiton: Horological And Sartorial Elegance
by Martin Green
As the resident gentleman of Quill & Pad, I have done my fair share of wandering through the world of menswear – most of it wearing a suit, or at least a sports jacket. A collaboration between Chopard and the Neapolitan sartorial house Kiton should have been music to my ears.
But from the photos showing a thin, black, DLC-coated case, dial with houndstooth motif and grey-and-black cashmere strap, I was not convinced. It seemed against the grain for both brands. It looked to me from the photos as if the watch was quirky just to stand out rather than to highlight the strengths of both brands.
In my opinion, Hublot wrote the manual on collaborations with other brands. While Rolex, Longines and Ebel pioneered this field, Hublot took it to the next level. A personal favorite of mine occurred in 2017 when Hublot joined forces with Fiat heir and style icon Lapo Elkann and Rubinacci, a tailor – like Kiton – from Naples, Italy. They provided the Classic Fusion with straps and dials made of (vintage) fabrics from the Rubinacci archives and created, in my opinion, a benchmark.
I had to let go of my mental images of these Hublot models to assess the L.U.C XP Il Sarto Kiton honestly, and that didn’t happen until the watch was put in my hand at Chopard’s headquarters in Geneva. The irony of this moment was not lost on me: to appreciate a tailor-made suit, you also need to see and feel it. Only then can you comprehend what makes it a superior product.
It was the same with this Chopard. I realized that the black DLC coating on the stainless steel case was not used to make the watch stand out but rather to tone down its appearance.
The bead-blasted finish of the case focuses attention on the dial and texture of the cashmere strap. Because the houndstooth motif is not actually fabric, you can appreciate the intricate repetitive pattern, which looks a little similar to a painting by Dutch graphic artist M.C. Escher.
While I would have rather seen the signature red Kiton button more discretely placed on the crown, I understand why it is on the dial, making it something of a secret signature for those who know the brand. While a strap crafted in Kiton’s signature cashmere cloth was mandatory, I find the red alligator-skin lining a stroke of brilliance, skillfully underscoring both brands’ excellence and imparting a genuine sense of luxury.
I am less excited by the red stitches on each side of the strap where it meets the lugs. While this splash of red offers a nice color accent, it is a trend that we have been seeing for some years now, and I feel that both Chopard and Kiton are beyond that.
Another thing that I find essential when two brands decide to collaborate is their venture’s sincerity. Of course, it is also about commercial success: although both Kiton and Chopard are family-run businesses, they still have to make a profit. Beyond this, though, there needs to be a viable connection, some shared nucleotides in the DNA that make a collaboration worthwhile.
Chopard and Kiton share commonalities on multiple levels. Their heritages are is similar as is their outlook on business and product development. Both companies are owned by families that look long term and focus on the human aspects of their activities. They are also nicely matched in terms of style as they are both grounded in classic craftsmanship with a contemporary attitude.
The quartz crisis in tailoring
While many are familiar with the quartz crisis of the late 1970s when inexpensive yet highly accurate Japanese timepieces flooded the market and nearly spelled the end of Swiss watchmaking. Fewer perhaps are aware that a decade earlier, European tailors were experiencing a similar situation.
In the late 1950s, menswear was about to change radically. The threat came not from Japan, but from the United States. There, ready-to-wear collections were being produced on an industrial scale, offering convenience and low prices. Combined with a slight relaxing of “appropriate dress,” the new attitudes and production methods wreaked havoc among traditional European tailors.
A close observer of the times was Ciro Paone: as a member of the fifth generation in a family of cloth merchants, he saw many tailors in his native Naples close their doors. At the same time, cloth producers such as Cerruti and Zegna expanded their businesses as they began making ready-to-wear collections of their own. Not a bad business model as this allowed them to vertically integrate and become more competitive. While history would prove Cerruti and Zegna to be right, Paone’s vision was quite different, yet would become equally, if not more, successful.
Like some Swiss watch brands during the quartz crisis, he decided to swim upstream, starting Kiton, which focused on producing high-quality, handmade suits. Where some thought that failure would be imminent, Paone recognized that the quality of fine wool cloth combined with a traditional tailor’s unsurpassed craftsmanship would always result in a superb product.
He also knew, or at least suspected, that as Europe was overrun by inexpensive menswear from the U.S., it would make some men lust even more for a suit that was handmade art and not a commodity made by the thousands in a factory.
Paone’s strategy paid off, making Kiton one of the most formidable Italian sartorial forces today. A key element was not only his market approach but also his belief in and commitment to his employees, another similarity between Kiton and Chopard.
As a firm believer in human capital, Paone believed that to protect and nurture craftsmanship, you need to care for the people making your products. By offering competitive pay and comfortable work conditions, Kiton became a place where people both were happy and proud to work.
He achieved this by dividing the process of making a suit into 45 different steps and made a single tailor responsible for each step, instead of one tailor making the whole suit himself. This ensured that each tailor became a master in the individual section he is responsible for and that the overall time it took to make a suit was brought down to about 25 hours.
While this is still considerably longer than it takes to make a suit in an industrial way as in the U.S., it was enough to give Kiton the competitive advantage of being able to produce enough volume while allowing the brand to deliver the handmade suits to its clients in good time.
Chopard L.U.C XP Il Sarto Kiton: cut from the right cloth
This watch is cut from the right cloth as it is based on the L.U.C XP. To me, this is one of the great contemporary ultra-thin dress watches currently available. Cased up, it is a mere 7.2 mm in height thanks to the L.U.C 96.53-L automatic movement.
While the movement is only 3.3 mm high, Chopard didn’t create a thin watch just for the sake of numbers. Instead, the brand balanced it out nicely, creating a comfortably slim timepiece that is also robust enough to serve as a daily companion. The movement is fitted with a tungsten-alloy micro rotor and can be admired through a sapphire crystal case back with a smoky finish.
This is a stunning detail as it gives the watch a bit of mystery while still allowing appreciation of the movement. I also like that Chopard is s a forward thinker when it comes to its movements: Caliber L.U.C 96.53-L runs at a contemporary 4 Hz with a power reserve of 58 hours thanks to two mainspring barrels.
The L.U.C. XP Il Sarto Kiton will not be for everybody, and I consider that a good thing. More traditionally inclined clients are perfectly served by the regular L.U.C. XP models, while the collaboration with Kiton shows that this Chopard model is able to overstep its invisible classic boundaries and become something more contemporary.
It might be somewhat ironic that it is a tailor – viewed by some as an obsolete institutionin our modern society – that brings these aspects forward. To me, it is evident that it had to be a tailor: for centuries tailors have been the ones that through craftsmanship, passion, and knowledge created garments that both ensured perfect fit and form and reflected the personalities of their clients. And sometimes, ever so gently, advanced taste and fashion.
Kiton’s Paone family is as much a guardian of this process as the Scheufeles are in perpetuating Chopard’s legacy.
For more please visit www.chopard.com/intl/l-u-c-xp-il-sarto-kiton.
Quick Facts Chopard L.U.C XP XP Il Sarto Kiton
Case: 40 x 7.2 mm, bead-blasted black DLC-coated steel
Movement: automatic Caliber L.U.C 96.53-L, 3.3 mm high, tungsten alloy micro rotor, 4Hz/28,800 vph frequency, twin spring barrels, 58-hour power reserve
Strap: Kiton fabric strap made of grey and black cashmere, red alligator leather lining with red topstitching, pin buckle in DLC-coated steel
Functions: hours, minutes
Limitation: 100 pieces
Price: 10,800 Swiss francs