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Chopard - Ethical gambit

Chopard Ethical gambit

Watches made of ethically sourced gold are not yet widely available, but we now know that, thanks to Chopard, they soon will be. We take a closer look at a pioneering approach that is sure to mark a turning point for the luxury industry.

Just one or two generations ago, the industrialised countries didn’t give a second thought to their consumption of water, gas or electricity, or to the prospect of global warming. Now, in the 21st century, these issues are a concern for the modern western population, and indeed for the entire world, and represent a key factor in practically every political, economic and societal agenda. 

On the microcosmic scale of the luxury business, the same will be true of ethically sourced gold. To say that this is currently a marginal issue within the sector is a very mild euphemism. For things to change, we generally have to wait for public opinion to shift substantially, and then the industry falls into line. This time, however, that won’t be necessary. Chopard has already stepped up to the plate.

Tic tac éthique

Chopard's press conference at Baselworld 2018 © Chopard

Visionary approach

The announcement made by Chopard during Baselworld caused scarcely a ripple, proving, alas, that the issue has not yet become a widespread concern. Beginning this year, all Chopard jewellery and watches will use 100% ethically sourced gold – gold that comes with traceability and guarantees of decent working conditions and remuneration. 

There was no big bang, but there was at least a spark. It may make less noise, but it’s more useful for kindling a flame, enlightening clouded consciences, and tracing a path through the darkness. Is Chopard ahead of its time? There’s no doubt about it. The luxury business has not yet had a major ethical awakening. But why not?

Tic tac éthique

Miners from Macdesa mines, in Peru © Chopard

Pretexts

First, because the luxury industry sells dreams, and ethical consumption is not the stuff that dreams are made of. What it comes down to is outlawing questionable practices that most people would prefer to believe don’t exist. And yet, they do exist. Gold and silver extraction pollute the soil with mercury, miners work in appallingly dangerous conditions for pitiful wages and the natural environment is pillaged. And that’s without factoring in the “blood diamonds” that have contributed to horrific bloodshed in Sierra Leone. 

And second, because the luxury business has always been quick to defend its “sustainability”. If a mechanical gold watch can keep ticking for several centuries, doesn’t that make it sustainable by its very nature? But it’s a specious argument. Sustainable doesn’t mean long-lasting. It implies ethical extraction, remuneration and processing.

First steps

But the picture is not all bad. Organisations such as the RJC (Responsible Jewellery Council) are now working in concert with the biggest watch and jewellery companies to supply gems with guaranteed designation of origin. Chopard’s initiative is a logical extension of this approach. But what is completely unique about it is its scope and breadth.

Chopard introduced its ethical gold programme, called “Fairmined”, to its jewellery ranges in 2013, and followed through with watches the following year. Since 2014, 533 Fairmined watches have been produced, out of an annual production of almost 80,000 pieces. In other words, barely 0.2% of Chopard’s annual watch production was made from ethically sourced gold – an utterly insignificant proportion. And yet it is vastly more than the rest of the industry, which has achieved a total of 0%. Virtually no companies today use ethical gold, or even recycled gold.

Tic tac éthique

L.U.C XPS Fairmined © Chopard

Quantum leap

Today, Chopard has made a quantum leap: as from July 2018, 100% of its production will be made of ethically sourced gold. That means the remaining 99.8% of its watches, plus 100% of Chopard’s jewellery. It’s a giant step forward for an industry that has taken an extraordinarily long time to even begin considering the subject.

Jean-Claude Biver, president of LVMH’s watch division, said this was “an excellent initiative which we obviously support wholeheartedly.” He added mischievously that he was “happy that we are not always the first ones, or the only ones, with good initiatives!” Nevertheless, he doesn’t think it will change much as far as his own businesses are concerned. “We use very little gold, because we are first and foremost a disruptive, avant-garde, technical brand, and gold does not play the same central role for us that it does for the more traditional jewellery brands.” 

Two key issues remain: timing and supply. Why now? “Because we calculated that in 2018 we could move over to 100% ethical gold, even on a technical level, which demands that the ethically sourced gold is never mixed with the regular kind,” explains Chopard’s co-President Karl-Friedrich Scheufele. As far as supply is concerned, Chopard joined the SBGA (Swiss Better Gold Association) in 2017 in order to increase the quantity of gold extracted ethically. Now it’s up to the clients to follow.

Tic tac éthique

Earrings from the Green Carpet collection © Chopard

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