The watch industry is arguably late to the sustainability game compared to its fashion counterparts, but better late than never. The subject first really rose to prominence in the industry around 2018, when Chopard declared that it had committed to a 100 percent ethical gold supply chain. Last year, brands such as Panerai, Girard-Perregaux, and Ulysse Nardin started using recycled materials to construct their watches, and independent brand H. Moser & Cie. debuted its grass-adorned Nature Watch to draw attention to the issue of climate change.
This year, the developments in the realm of sustainability come from IWC and Chopard, who have chosen to partner with two different organisations to back up their sustainability chops.
IWC announced that it became the first luxury watch brand to meet the new 2019 Code of Practices (COP) set by the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC), a respected organization that sets standards on business practices involving the sourcing of gemstones and precious metals, as well as on mining practices as it relates to human and labour rights.
“IWC is honoured to become the first Swiss luxury watch brand to receive this more stringent level of certification,” explains IWC’s chief marketing officer and sustainability committee chair Franziska Gsell.
“Being a member of the RJC allows us to examine every aspect of our business through their well-respected lens to ensure we are meeting the rising ethical demands of our consumers and employees. Our product is designed to last for generations, and becomes truly sustainable when it is made responsibly.”
While it is not without its criticisms, the RJC (whose members also include the likes of Harry Winston, Piaget, Vacheron Constantin, and Van Cleef & Arpels) is also regarded as one of the largest and most respected auditors as far as sustainability, ethics, and traceability are concerned. Last year, the RJC revised its COP standards, making them more stringent with regards to the scope of materials covered, the standards for responsible supply chains, and the detection of lab-grown diamonds.
IWC was allowed to choose between the old 2013 standards and the new 2019 standards when its certification was up for renewal, and its choice to adhere to the more stringent certification is commendable. Its practices were apparently also recognised by the RJC auditors as going beyond the legal requirements for the certification in terms of sourcing, employer responsibility, and investment in local communities.
Speaking of investment in local communities, no watch brand has been more specific and transparent about its gold supply chain than Chopard. On top of its commitment in 2018 to using 100 percent ethical gold, it has now partnered with the Swiss Better Gold Association (SBGA), a non-profit that advocates for the improvement in living and working conditions for small-scale mining communities.
“Sustainability is a moving target, it’s a Journey which never ends,” said Caroline Scheufele, Chopard co-president and artistic director. “Today, more than ever, it has to be our priority to protect the people on the ground who make our business possible. I am honoured to have been able to partner with the SBGA on this extraordinary project and I look forward to seeing it grow over the years”.
This partnership will see Chopard being able to source gold directly from the Barequeros in the El Chocó region of Colombia. The Barequeros, or artisanal gold miners, use traditional alluvial mining techniques that use no mercury, thereby protecting the region’s biodiversity. Plus, 46 percent of all Barequeros miners are women. According to Chopard, it is one of the most unique mining operations in the world.
Being a part of the programme means that Chopard can guarantee a sustainable and transparent source gold for its watches and support the low-income El Chocó community at the same time.
The SBGA partner programme ensures that the Barequeros will receive a fair price for their gold, and also gives them a special SBGA Better Gold Incentive of US$0.70 per gram to reinvest into better living and working conditions. To date, the programme has rendered support to some 500 Barequeros.
Paola Córdoba, a Barequera from Istmina, Chocó, said of the programme: “In my town, the majority of inhabitants are artisanal miners, and most of us are women. My whole family works in gold mining, including my mother and my four sisters. Mining in El Chocó is the biggest source of work. It serves for our daily subsistence, for the education of our children, buys our clothes and, above all, it allows us to be free. It is the freedom that is the most important. I am so proud to be part of this responsible gold project that recognizes the work of artisanal mining, and I thank those buying our gold. Because it is the fruit of the work of our hands, each grain of gold is the result of a lot of effort and helps to support our families.”