GOING CLEAR
World of Watches|Autumn 2021
The issue of transparency in watchmaking is moving from the fringes to the mainstream, thanks to a focus by younger collectors on sustainability. Yet the lack of standards is worrying. We look at the issues, and propose a modest compromise WORDS
ASHOK SOMAN

It may be strange to find this written anywhere, but this moment in time is perhaps still too early to ask questions about sustainability in watchmaking. Not premature mind you, just a little too early to get useful answers. It is the useful answers part there that informed the decision to begin this section with caveats. On the face of it, given that climate change is progressing no matter our perspective on it, the discussion on this subject is still at the start line. For example, the industry has just about come around to the idea that the origins of the materials used to make the watches are key. As far as we know, the first public discussion of the realities of the supply chain was at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (now called Watches & Wonders) in 2019.

Unfortunately, this is not an indication that watchmaking is ahead of the game here because public reports, including the World Wildlife Fund had already called for greater transparency in this regard as early as 2018, as we dig into elsewhere in this section. Prior to this, some watchmaking maisons were talking about how their new manufactures were carbon neutral, and of course their support for various causes. These days though, just these steps will fall short of the mark, at best. At worst, they open the industry to accusations of greenwashing. This is really a shame because a lot of good work is being done, or supported by watchmaking brands.

Typically, we avoid watchmaking industry insider stories in favour of those with a stronger relevance to consumers - collectors and enthusiasts like you, in other words. There is a good reason to care about transparency and sustainability for all of us though, and it can summed up in one word: cost. Not only will prices of Swiss watches likely rise as companies add measures and oversight to cope with regulatory pressures, there may be environmental and reputational costs as well. Just think about how you would feel about your watch if the brand that made it was found to be supporting forced labour in gold mines, or contributing to the degradation of the environment thanks to the practices of some random supplier. It happens in fashion all the time, after all.

SUSTAINABILITY WATCH

The Deloitte Swiss Watch Industry Study 2020 notes that more than 50% of consumers surveyed said that sustainability was very important to them, so the cost of not running afoul of this group will certainly be worth it. It seems from the report that the so-called Millenials and Gen Z groups care even more about sustainability than other age groups. We will be referring to this report and its findings quite extensively in this story.

We pause here for a moment to congratulate Chopard on having the foresight and the will to do better, as far as the gold they are using goes. The brand’s Fairmined initiative back in 2013 was the first effort by a major watch and jewellery house to address the impact of the business on the natural world and marginalised communities. We also congratulate Oris on becoming a climate neutral company, certified by ClimatePartner, a leading independent climate action expert.

The company not only makes products that are sustainable, but also calculates the impact of its entire business, right down to workers commuting to the office. It earned climate-neutral status by offsetting more than 2,500 tonnes of CO2 through its sustainability initiatives. We will have a little more to say about this elsewhere in this section, but we wanted to single out Oris here as a way to show how other brands might also be doing the same, yet not communicating it directly enough.

This may lead some to draw links with the fashion industry, which recently received a tongue-lashing from firebrand climate-change activist Greta Thunberg. Bear in mind, the fashion industry actually makes raw data available to a variety of authorities to confirm that their supply chains are not contaminated by any evil practices. Even so - or perhaps because of this - it gets a lot of flak.

CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER

Some may see a certain degree of adjacency in the worlds of watchmaking and fashion (on Luxuo.com, watches used to fall under the Style category - Ed), with the world’s largest luxury conglomerate LVMH running iconic names such as Louis Vuitton and TAG Heuer. Of course, it also runs Moet Chandon and Glenmorangie and no one suggests any adjacency there. For our part, it seems clear that all industries will have to see that they are not causing harm, at the very least, so some standards might apply across the board. Setting such standards is a challenge, of course, and poses all kinds of political risks.

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