As an industry intrinsically tied to tradition and locality, luxury watchmaking can often appear insular in the way it operates. However, like many other businesses in a similar sphere, brands are increasingly recognising the importance of their global reach and wider social impact.
Today, there is an expectation for companies to engage with world issues, particularly if they want to keep pace with customer demands. A report released earlier this year* found that 47 per cent of consumers believed brands should be involved in social issues, and supporting causes that benefit everyone has a strong impact when making purchasing decisions. Authenticity also ranks highly, meaning brands shouldn’t merely pay lip service with their philanthropic activities, but entrench themselves in causes that resonate with their product and wider aims.
This year saw the launch of Rolex’s Perpetual Planet campaign, crystallising its commitment to safeguarding the future of Earth by bringing together a number of its initiatives. It currently has a partnership with the National Geographic Society to study the impacts of climate change, supporting the Mission Blue initiative, which raises public awareness of marine protected areas, and the Rolex Awards for Enterprise, highlighting innovators in social and environment issues. In line with Rolex’s mission to make the planet perpetual, it is not intended to recognise past achievements, but instead to award vital grants to new and ongoing initiatives, many of which would not have access to traditional funding routes. Among this year’s five recipients was Grégoire Courtine, a scientist developing a revolutionary approach to helping people with paralysis walk again, and molecular biologist Miranda Wang, who is turning unrecyclable plastic waste into chemicals for use in consumer products such as cars and electronics.
Since 2017, luxury Swiss watchmakers Certina has teamed up with the Florida-based Sea Turtle Conservancy and its Tour de Turtles, an event that tracks and studies sea turtle migration using satellite telemetry. Since the 1960s, Certina has used the turtle shell as a motif to symbolise the strength and durability of its watches. The creature features on the case back of a special edition of the DS Action Diver Powermatic 80, released this year to mark the 60th anniversary of the charity.
Many watchmakers have a natural affinity with the ocean, which provides a focus for their charitable efforts, and few are more intimately connected than Blancpain. Since the launch of its iconic Fifty Fathoms diver’s watch in 1953, the company has been involved in the exploration and preservation of the underwater world. This has seen it work with environmental organisations, scientists and explorers as part of its Blancpain Ocean Commitment.
In addition, Blancpain has supported marine naturalist and underwater photographer Laurent Ballesta on his Gombessa Expeditions project since 2012, with the goal of promoting a better understanding of deep ecosystems. This year, his latest venture, the Gombessa V Expedition, saw him undertake cutting-edge scientific research in the Mediterranean Sea. Supporting the expedition, a feature-length documentary, exhibition and book will follow in 2020, further raising public awareness of the findings.
Another brand proving that actions speak louder than words is Breitling. It recently partnered with Ocean Conservancy, a non-profit environmental advocacy group that champions science-based solutions tackling the threat to our oceans. With the help of the star power of its ‘Surfer Squad’ – a group of ambassadors made up of champion surfers Kelly Slater, Sally Fitzgibbons and Stephanie Gilmore – Breitling organises beach clean-ups, raising awareness of the rising problem of plastic waste.
The watchmaker not only focuses on sustainability in its charitable ventures, but in its timepieces as well, teaming up with Slater’s eco-friendly clothing company Outerknown to create a collection of Nato watch straps made from Econyl® yarn, an innovative fabric constructed from recycled nylon waste, such as discarded fishing nets. The material is also used on the Superocean Heritage Ocean Conservancy Limited Edition timepiece, which is packaged in 100 per cent recycled material.
Omega has a similarly far-reaching view, supporting a number of projects that aim to improve conditions for people around the world and ensure a sustainable future for generations to come. It supports Orbis International by assisting the charity in operating its Flying Eye Hospital, a state-of-the-art mobile teaching facility that enables a team of eye-care specialists to share their skills with local medical teams in developing countries. Meanwhile, since 2011, the watchmaker has partnered with the GoodPlanet Foundation, created by renowned photojournalist Yann Arthus-Bertrand to encourage people to take positive action to protect the earth and its inhabitants. In recent years, it has helped raise awareness through the documentary Terra (available on Netflix), which studies humans’ changing relationship with nature, as well as launching special watches with proceeds going towards social and environmental projects in Botswana that encourage co-existence between humans and wildlife.
Chopard is one of a select handful of companies acknowledging the complexities involved in the production of its jewellery and watches. As well as financially supporting a number of charities, it leverages its position to raise awareness of sustainability issues in its sector. In recent years, the company has achieved its aim of sourcing 100 per cent ethical gold, meaning that the refined gold it purchases meets the rigorous social and environmental codes of the Fairmined Standard. Chopard has hosted panel discussions addressing driving sustainability goals within business practices, raising awareness and achieving sustainable mining practices.
Graff ’s philanthropic activities are also making a meaningful difference close to home. The jeweller and watchmaker established the Facet (For Africa’s Children Every Time) Foundation in 2008 with the aim of making a difference within the African communities in areas where Graff discovers and processes its precious stones.
It works with partner charities on the ground across three locations to tackle social issues. In Lesotho, home to the Letseng mine from which Graff sources many of its notable diamonds, Facet funds the Graff Leadership Centre, which provides life-changing services including HIV testing and education initiatives. A similar centre is based in Botswana – where Graff polishes more than 20,000 carats of diamonds each month – and supports 70 orphaned or vulnerable youngsters each year. In South Africa, where the combined issues of poverty and alcoholism are rife among the farming communities, the foundation provides funding to mobile after-school clubs that offer vital literacy and life-skills programmes.
IWC is similarly heading to the depths of the oceans to help spearhead research into the effects of climate change. This year, it announced its support for an environmental project led by Cousteau Divers that, using simple methods and technology, enables scientists to collate and measure data recorded by a community of recreational divers. It marks the watchmaker’s ongoing support of the Cousteau Society; continuing the legacy of legendary explorer and conservationist Jacques-Yves Cousteau, the non-profit has been dedicated to protecting marine life since 1973.