Luxury timepieces could pass as intrinsically eco-friendly by nature of their meticulous crafting and longevity. Above fleeting fashion appeal, they’re built to last. Despite the resources and energy enlisted in creating these watches, if, as the familiar Patek Philippe slogan infers, they are treasured, they will tick over for generations to come: often offering a solid return on investment. But with a new generation protesting its way into a cleaner, brighter future for our planet, brands have to work harder, as loyalty is no longer earned by provenance and artisanal skill alone. Companies are all too aware of this, as the new consumers, armed with the “truth” and global communication in their hands, vote with their wallets, expressing allegiance to movements of social and environmental change. This allegiance will determine what they choose to wear on their wrists.
From the innovative newcomers to heritage brands, more companies are making a concerted effort. However, even commitments to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and with sustainability managers filling new posts, it is near impossible to be 100% sustainable. As IWC shows in its recent sustainability report, picking realistic targets is key in providing a traceable, measurable roadmap of action over two-year cycles.
Positive social and environmental impact is a long-term commitment, which starts with designing to keep resources in use for longer and to reduce waste, creating transparent supply chains, ensuring ethical labour practices and diversity in the workplace. Bringing it home, Jackie May of local not-for-profit Twyg — whose work is in line with the SDG Goal 12, which aims to ensure sustainable consumption and production, particularly in the fashion space — explains that Goal 8 is a huge priority for SA in promoting sustained economic growth, higher levels of productivity, and technological innovation. At the same time, brands can make big financial contributions to environmental agencies.
When we speak of sustainability, our thoughts naturally go to the great outdoors, where we find use for more practical, sporty tool watches, especially from brands with historic links to adventurous pursuits and conservation initiatives. The very rare Golden Eagle is a magnificent ambassador for touching hearts and selling watches, but Chopard’s commitment to protect and preserve the natural environment, from which it sources raw materials, goes way deeper than feathers and feel-good factor. The sports-luxe Alpine Eagle collection pays homage to the golden eagle, and Chopard works closely with the Eagle Wings Foundation to re-introduce the bird to its natural alpine habitat and promotes a more sustainable way of life.
A pioneer of sustainable luxury, Caroline Scheufele, Chopard co-president and artistic director, has championed strict internal governance structures and a centralised raw material procurement team in Geneva that works with a dedicated sustainability manager. “The certification process in our workshops is done by external moderators, and we acquire fair-mined gold from the banks. Good to know the banks are also doing their part,” she says.
Since July 2018, Chopard has used only 100% ethical gold in its jewellery and watches. As of May this year, it is working in conjunction with the Swiss Better Gold Association to source gold from the Barequeros miners in El Chocó in Colombia. This artisanal gold miner — 46% of the workforce comprises women — uses methods that ensure the protection of the region’s unique biodiversity. Chopard has maintained Responsible Jewellery Council Code of Practices certification since 2012, ensuring respect for human rights, labour rights, environmental protection, and full product disclosure.
Despite its efforts, Chopard gets a “Not good enough” score from Good on You, a world-leading luxury-industry watchdog and source of trusted brand sustainability ratings. “Sustainability is a moving target,” said Scheufele when I spoke with her last year during Baselworld, “but we have come a long way already, and it’s a journey that never ends.” Good on You is a group of campaigners, fashion professionals, scientists, writers, and developers who, together, drive change. Through the app you find ethical brands and see how your favourites measure up. For example, Girard-Perregaux and Ulysse Nardin get an encouraging “It’s a start” for “good policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions” but lose points for the use of exotic animal skin.
Sustainability is a buzzword, so greenwashing monitors have to help consumers cut through marketing nonsense. Receiving a Butterfly Mark is the ethical equivalent of a royal seal, and this third-party accreditation from the team of investigators at the Positive Luxury company is “awarded to luxury brands that meet the highest standards of verified innovation and environmental performance”. Involving thorough scrutiny, the mark guarantees full transparency to empower consumers to make more informed choices. TAG Heuer, IWC Schaffhausen, Louis Vuitton and Baume (recently incorporated into the Baume & Mercier portfolio) are among the few watch brands to be recognised as a “Luxury Brand to Trust” for successfully managing their “triple bottom line” involving profit, people, and planet.
Sustainability extends to culture, heritage, and society, and this is where Rolex shines, with one of our favourite projects. The 17-year-old Rolex Mentorship & Protégé Arts Initiative is a creative exchange programme that helps to ensure the world’s artistic heritage is passed on to future generations. In the same spirit, the Rolex Awards for Enterprise has been in existence since 1976, dedicated to projects in the fields of science and technology, and endangered ecosystems and species. It also preserves culture and improves the living standards in developing countries. Similarly, IWC has been a partner of the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation since 2005, using sport to promote social change. Last year, approximately 300,000 young people around the world benefitted from more than 200 projects supported by the foundation in 40 countries.
The Blancpain Ocean Commitment has, for several years, devoted substantial resources to oceanographic initiatives and partnerships with leading organisations, such as the Pristine Seas expeditions, Laurent Ballesta’s Gombessa project, the World Ocean Initiative organised by The Economist, and the World Oceans Day, celebrated every year at the United Nations headquarters in New York. To date, the 19 expeditions have led to tangible results, notably contributing to doubling the surface of 11 marine protected areas around the world, with an addition of over 4-million square kilometres.
In line with Omega’s pledge to “make time for the planet”, the brand continues its support for conservation projects, including award-winning documentary films done in partnership with the GoodPlanet Foundation and its founder Yann Arthus- Bertrand, and the vital work of Nekton, a UK-registered not-for-profit research foundation that works in collaboration with the University of Oxford on the protection and management of the world’s oceans.
With the support of its “Surfers Squad” led by world champ surfer Kelly Slater, Breitling has an ongoing partnership with Ocean Conservancy, an organisation dedicated to maintaining healthy oceans and clean beaches in over 150 countries. In partnership with the surf legend’s sustainable clothing brand Outerknown, Breitling’s SuperOcean watches feature colourful satin Nato straps woven from Econyl yarn used in the manufacture of Outerknown apparel. Econyl is virgin-quality nylon yarn made from waste such as fishing nets. It has the same quality as the regular nylon made from crude oil but is 100% made from waste, and therefore reduces the global warming impact of nylon by up to 80%.
IWC is also working with award-winning surfboard designer Hayden Cox of Haydenshapes Surfboards, the inventor of patented upcycled, parabolic carbon-fibre frame surfboard technology FutureFlex, which will no doubt find its way into watch cases in the near future.
• From the 2020/2021 edition of Wanted Watches, Jewellery and Luxury.