UNCERTAINTY RULES
World of Watches|Autumn 2021
The lack of clear guidelines in the sustainability conversation hurts brands and consumers. Fortunately, there is a standard that could work, and it already exists…

The inspiration for this rather conspicuous and hefty section is the WWF Watch and Jewellery Report 2018. It has been long enough since the original publication of the data and recommendations that the shock value has passed, but the import has not. Indeed, the intention of pursuing the stories in this section was to examine, with a degree of uncertainty, the claims in the report, and the implications for watchmaking. First a word about that uncertainty and our interpretation of the WWF report’s (see Part 1) findings. Transparency is the central problem hobbling the report’s conclusions, and casting aspersions on the watch and jewellery trade. The report itself mentions that a lack of transparency in the supply chains of watch and jewellery firms is hurting the trade’s sustainability credentials. This is a longstanding problem, and we agree that the industry has to get ahead of it. We will have more to say about this in a moment.

Unfortunately, a lot has happened since 2018, which will now be known to us as the Before Times. The epoch-defining COVID-19 pandemic will shape generations to come, and potentially shift the course of current ones in unexpected ways. Those who doubt it need only look to past global disruptions and take no comfort from what they find there. Sustainability is no exception, but it will take some years to examine the impact of a crisis that has not yet passed - you will be reading this issue at least a month after it was written but we are confident that COVID-19 will remain a clear and present danger.

Returning to the 2018 report, the main concern for the watch industry comes from the sourcing of raw materials. The watch and jewelry industries use around 50 percent of the world’s gold and 67 percent of its newly-mined rough diamonds, and yet when asked where their raw materials come from, most are incapable of answering, blindly trusting their suppliers to be responsible on their behalf. The WWF says that organisations such as the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC) verifying standards for watch brands is a problem because that organisation itself is not subject to any binding authority. Here is the problem verbatim from the report: “this (RJC) certification does not allow a third party to assess whether a company is sourcing responsibly, and more proactive, transparent communication should therefore be implemented.” So whose authority should everyone accept anyway…

A WORK IN PROGRESS

According to the RJC in 2019, it is indeed third-party audited, and this is noted on the organisation’s website. Perhaps what is disputed is what sort of third-party accountability is needed. An audit requires trust, and someone to make certain that everything is as it should be. Kosher or halal, in other words, which is a system that describes well the authority needed to establish the standard. If, on the other hand, the WWF report recommends real-time access to raw data, to be able to jump in at any time and see what’s happening in any given company, that is a big ask. So what does this all mean?

Well, it depends on whom you ask and when you ask, which is as good as saying the current standards are still not meeting the expectations of sustainability activists. But it is more than that. ESG remains a work in progress, and standards are currently not widely agreed upon. Many of you, dear readers, will be familiar with ESG challenges in your own fields so make of this what you will. Bear in mind also that the Swiss Made statute, which mandates what a threshold percentage the value of any given watch has to reach before it can be called Swiss Made, is not well understood by most people (this is our contention, not a global consensus - Ed). But it goes without saying that when you buy a watch that has the words Swiss Made on the dial, you do not wonder if it really was made in Switzerland. We conclude that the words Swiss Made have a great deal more clout with consumers than any current sustainability conventions. We will return to this subject towards the end of this story, in our inevitable exhortation for the trade - we know you read this magazine.

Some of this boils down to information presentation, the lack of communication on certain standards in watchmaking, and a general reluctance, for undisclosed reasons, to discuss realities behind-the-scenes. For example, typical steel features some percentage of recycled iron - it goes up to 97% in some instances. This is a well-established fact that can be verified easily. Despite this, no one can reliably tell you what the percentages are in Swiss watchmaking. Indeed, some collectors may be surprised to learn that there are recycled raw materials in use in the world of fine watchmaking.

GETTING COMPLICATED

This brings us to why this subject is complicated, because when it comes to gold, there is such a thing as recycled gold, but it is a dicey subject. This is mainly because industry experts do not agree if recycled gold can be fairly branded as ethical. Again, this has to do with standards, or the lack thereof. The RJC does have standards, to be sure, but these are sometimes at odds with Fairmined and Fairtrade gold supporters, and those campaigning for a better deal for artisanal miners. This is a little beyond the scope of this article, but we suggest you look into this and be ready to go down a rabbit hole.

Speaking of which, we must also briefly address organic matters. Of course, the leather straps the watch industry uses also comes in for some scrutiny, as we indicated in issue #60. We will revisit the relevant portions of that discussion in another sidebar, adjacent to this story.

Zeroing on why sustainability is relevant in watch and jewellery, accountability standards aside, the WWF report notes that approximately half of the largest luxury watch brands are Swiss, and that between 60% and 70% of globally mined gold passes through Switzerland to be refined (2,400 tonnes in 2017). Of this amount, more than 2,000 tonnes are used in the global watch and jewellery industrial complex - the report itself contradicts this figure more than once, by not identifying sources properly, or just poor information management and presentation. Once again, do recall what our own position is on this.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM WORLD OF WATCHESView All

GOOD TIMES

The following five watches have their hearts in the right place, and represent steps in the right direction

5 mins read
World of Watches
Autumn 2021

THE CONVERSATION: CAUSE CELEBRE

WOW Singapore and Thailand editors voice their thoughts on the long-running biennial charity watch auction programme known as Only Watch

10+ mins read
World of Watches
Autumn 2021

HAUTE AMBITIONS

CHANEL’s introduction of its latest watch collection reflects the coming of age for the brand

10+ mins read
World of Watches
Autumn 2021

GOING CLEAR

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

10+ mins read
World of Watches
Autumn 2021

NEW HORIZONS

Interview with recently appointed President of Seiko Watch Corporation, Akio Naito WORDS

7 mins read
World of Watches
Autumn 2021

ROOT OF EXCELLENCE

Micro Artist Studio, home of the Grand Seiko Spring Drive watches

2 mins read
World of Watches
Autumn 2021

GOING FORWARD

Christie’s Asia Pacific Vice President and Head of Watches gives us a hint of what to expect in the auction scenes

3 mins read
World of Watches
Autumn 2021

OCEAN DEEP

There are lots of ways watch firms are doing their part for the world, even if these are often not quantifiable. Blancpain takes the lead with its Ocean Commitment initiatives '

7 mins read
World of Watches
Autumn 2021

THE PERSISTENCE OF MEMORY

This online exhibition is a rare treat for anyone who loves beautiful watch macro photography

2 mins read
World of Watches
Autumn 2021

UNCERTAINTY RULES

The lack of clear guidelines in the sustainability conversation hurts brands and consumers. Fortunately, there is a standard that could work, and it already exists…

10+ mins read
World of Watches
Autumn 2021
RELATED STORIES

BILLIE EILISH, UNFILTERED, IN NEW DOCUMENTARY

If you’re coming to “ Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry ” hoping for a primer on the music sensation, you’ve come to the wrong place. Filmmaker R.J. Cutler’s two hour and 20-minute documentary about the “Ocean Eyes” singer and songwriter is not biography or reportage. It’s a verite-style plunge into her life, her home, her concerts, her process, her Tourette’s, her brother’s bedroom where they famously write all their songs and even her diary in the year in which she became a star.

3 mins read
Techlife News
Techlife News #488

NSE blockchain platform for gold a game changer

Platform to be extended to spot gold exchange

3 mins read
Business Standard
October 18, 2021

A New Frontier

WATCHMAKING HAS always BEEN ABOUT THE SUPERLATIVES — FROM THE HIGHEST GRADE of MATERIALS to THE MOST ELEGANT of PRESENTATIONS. AMIDST THE GROWING CONCERNS over THE ENVIRONMENTAL COST OF SUCH PURSUITS, IWC HAS EMERGED as A DRIVING FORCE BEHIND A NEW APPROACH to FINE WATCHMAKING

7 mins read
ELLE Singapore
September 2021

Finding Her Own Path

Jewellery brand co-founder Hanya Seah believes that style is a personal journey of discovering what works and feels right.

3 mins read
Her World Singapore
September 2021

Nurturing nature

How Afrofuturist strategy game We Are The Caretakers is helping to tackle real-world rhino poaching

4 mins read
Edge
July 2021

2020 Year In Review

Tenacity and hope in the face of seismic changes

6 mins read
CROWN Singapore
December 2020

Sustainable seafood

Global seafood consumption has quadrupled over the past 50 years and interest in environmentally conscious fish choices has grown. But which types of seafood are sustainable and how can you be certain? We take a look.

9 mins read
WellBeing
Issue190

The ‘Green' Children

Meghaa Gupta reflects on the environmentalism of urban children in the midst of the pandemic.

5 mins read
TerraGreen
December 2020

Snow Leopards and People's Livelihoods Are their Fates Intertwined?

Traditionally, the local communities of Ladakh keep their livestock in conventional corral pens, which are simple enclosures of stone-walls open from the top. WWF-India identified the ineffectiveness of conventional corral pens, and the development of a predator-proof corral design was initiated as a part of the conflict mitigation strategy. The weak wooden doors, open rooftop, and weak walls were identified as major gaps that made these corrals vulnerable. It was identified that simple modifications in the conventional corral design could help to make it predator-proof.

3 mins read
TerraGreen
December 2020

Conserving Biodiversity under the UN Framework

AT the beginning of this year, people around the globe had a multitude of reasons to expect 2020 to be a super year for biodiversity and action on climate change emergencies.

6 mins read
China Today (English)
November 2020