We outline the corporate social responsibility initiatives by the makers of luxury watches over the spectrum from environmental best practices to supporting health workers fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.
Luxury watch manufacturers may be fiercely competitive in their efforts to convince the public that theirs are the most reliable, accurate, well-made, beautiful and desirable timepieces in the world. But when it comes to spreading love throughout the community, adopting sustainable best practices and showing how deeply they care for our planet, wildlife and the environment, there’s a remarkable degree of unity.
Perhaps that’s unsurprising, because whether it’s been fashioned from base or precious metals, is studded with gems, or has been painstakingly created by hand by a craftsman or woman whose skills may have been honed over several decades, once it’s left the factory a mechanical watch leaves negligible environmental footprint on the planet and should or at least so the theory goes last a lifetime or more. Indeed, most luxury mechanical timepieces are the antithesis of the throwaway and ephemeral, unlike the average mass-produced fashion watch, which is likely to give up the ghost after a few years of use. As the famous advertising tagline for one of Switzerland’s most prestigious horological houses goes, You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely take care of it for the next generation. Socially responsible activities by the big names in watchmaking take numerous forms, from the broad range of long-term initiatives that are undertaken by industry giants such as olex, to small-scale programmes linked to the sale of a specific model perhaps a limited-edition dive watch with numbers in the thousands and even humble but nonetheless worthwhile exercises like beach-cleaning, which from time to time are initiated by number of manufacturers.
Only last month, for example, Breitling kicked off a programme to raise funds for frontline health workers in the fight against Covid-19 through the introduction of a special edition of its Superocean Heritage 57 II dive watch, limited to 1,000 examples, with rainbow-coloured hands and hour markers. Having already donated to health-related charities in countries hard hit by the pandemic, Breitling is giving a further 1,000 Swiss francs (almost HK$8,000) for each of the first 100 of the limited-edition watches sold through its website, which will be split between six health charities in France, Italy, Japan, Spain, the UK and the US. The Swiss manufacturer is also encouraging its retailers to join in with the charity effort.
Also based in Switzerland, the jewellery maison and watch manufacture Chopard has become famous for the responsible-sourcing efforts of its ourney to Sustainable Luxury programme, which it introduced in 2013 and is aimed at establishing high ethical standards in the extraction of all the gold and gemstones used in its products. Through the programme, Chopard labels as ethical gold not only the precious metal that it sources through suppliers registered under the Responsible Jewellery Council, a pan-industry body founded in 2005, but the house has also become involved in gold-mining itself through its investments in small operations, many of which are located in South America. Meanwhile, in a somewhat different initiative, Chopard leveraged the recent launch of its stainless-steel Alpine Eagle watch collection to highlight conservation issues in the Alps and, through sales of the timepiece, has pledged to partner with the California-based non-profit organisation, the Eagle Wings Foundation.
As well as instituting corporate codes of practices over ethical sourcing and sustainability, the luxury ichemont Group of companies, which counts several major Swiss and German watch brands in its portfolio, is guided by its own Green Handbook, which lays down a raft of environmental-protection measures. For example, the manufacturing facility of Richemont’s IWC unit in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, not only features climate-efficient architecture and technology in its design, but also relies on electricity produced by 100-percent renewable sources, and has initiated upcycled production processes that are intended to eliminate material waste entirely.
As with many watch brands, IWC’s sustainability efforts also extend to the packaging of its finished products, its target for this year being to reduce the average weight and volume of primary packaging by 30 percent, compared with 2017. It also works closely with the Forestry Stewardship Council in the supply of all paper products used throughout its operations, from product packaging to oce stationery. Along with other Richemont brands, including Jaeger-LeCoultre and A. Lange & Söhne, IWC ensures that all gemstones and precious metals used in the manufacture of its timepieces are sourced through Responsible Jewellery Council-certified suppliers.
Then there’s the rival Swiss-based Swatch Group conglomerate, which embraces famous names such as Blancpain and Omega and, like Richemont, is guided in all of its activities by comprehensive environmental and sustainability guidelines. Arguably the oldest watch brand in the world, with a name that dates back to 1735, Blancpain is more recently known for its Ocean Commitment programme, which is linked to the manufacture’s famous Fifty Fathoms, notably worn by the late French diver, conservationist and documentary filmmaker Jacques Cousteau. Through the programme, which works with noted underwater explorers, environmentalists and photographers, the brand supports initiatives aimed at ocean preservation and building public awareness of the issue, which to date include 19 expeditions and the creation of 11 marine protected areas.
Omega, for its part, groups many of its initiatives in the Planet Omega programme, which embraces such areas as sports timekeeping the brand is the ocial timekeeper of the Olympic Games, as well as major international athletics, swimming, golf and sailing competitions conservation and new technology. For example, the brand made key contributions to the round- the-world ight of the sun-powered aircraft Solar Impulse, helping to create a lightweight landing- light system, an energy dispatcher and an instrument that helps maintain stability on approach and landing. Omega also supported the production of the documentary film Terra, which investigates ways in which mankind and wildlife can coexist, while sales of certain Seamaster models have supported the GoodPlanet Foundation. Moreover, since 2011 the brand has served as a major supporter of the pioneering ying eye hospital Orbis, creating five special watch editions that help fund the operation.
While LVMH’s Hublot offshoot is perhaps best known for its celebrity tie-ups in the world of entertainment, the arts and sport, it, too takes part in activities with a worthy aim. In conjunction with the British rock band Depeche Mode, two recent Hublot Big Bang nico limited-edition watches raised a considerable sum of money for Charity:water, which provides drinking water to communities in underdeveloped areas. During 2017 and 2018, the musicians and the watch manufacturer together helped raise US$1.7 million, in the process bringing clean water to some 130,000 people.
And then there’s Rolex, the watch brand that become almost synonymous with corporate social responsibility. Its various programmes go back years: the Rolex Awards for Enterprise, which supports the development of scientific and technical innovation, as well as conservation and cultural-preservation initiatives, was founded in 1973 and annually honours Laureates whose work collectively benefits millions of people. The brand’s long-term support for exploration includes its involvement in the 16-man British Everest Expedition in 1953, when both Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay wore Rolex timepieces during their ascent to the summit of the world’s highest mountain. Scientific research projects awarded by olex include those devoted to helping people walk again, malaria testing with no blood samples and recycling unrecyclable plastic waste and many more. Meanwhile, there are also the Rolex Mentor and Protégé programmes that help transfer skills, wisdom and experience from generation to generation in areas such as architecture, cinema, dance, literature, music, theatre and the visual arts.
Indeed, so widespread is the urge to do good by the luxury watch manufacturers that it’s hard to think of a brand that doesn’t undertake at least one such programme. And that, at least, is good news for those of us who love to strap a handsome timepiece on to our wrist but would like to feel a tad virtuous about doing so, too.