Of all the industries in the world, watchmaking isn’t exactly the most harmful to the environment. Sure, there’s plenty of industrialisation involved, a lot of cutting-edge materials ranging from gold to silicon that are a long way from natural, but I can pretty much guarantee that you didn’t think about the carbon footprint last time you bought a watch. And I’m not saying you should. I didn’t, and I wouldn’t expect anyone to.
Perhaps though we might be doing so a lot more in the future. Sustainability is becoming as big a buzzword as in-house in the current climate, with many a horologist showing off their green credentials. Even then though, most are a long, long way behind IWC Schaffhausen – who happened to have a pretty substantial head start.
“IWC was founded by an American watchmaker, Florentine Ariosto Jones, back in 1868,” says Franziska Gsell, Chief Marketing Officer for the watchmaker. “The reason that he picked Schaffhausen was for the hydro power meaning that sustainability and the environment have been at our core since day one.”
Indeed, where most watchmakers have had to find ways to shift towards sustainability, IWC never really left it. Which is a good thing too; if there’s one thing the Swiss watch world knows about, it’s longevity. A fine timepiece is meant to last a lifetime and as Franziska says, “Some of our watches are still keeping time after 150 years!” That’s sure to give you a unique perspective on building for the future.
It’s not always been easy, of course. “An early and persistent misconception has been that pursuing sustainability must mean a compromise in quality and luxury,” recalls Franziska. “We’re happy to demonstrate that this isn’t true – for example, our recycled gold is indistinguishable from mined gold, except for the story behind it.”
Indeed, gold and jewels are often under fire for the way they’re mined and where. Ensuring that all precious metals are vetted by the Responsible Jewellery Council should be a prerequisite for any watchmaker. Unfortunately, it’s not, and IWC are amongst a worryingly small number that make it a priority – and not just precious materials either.
“Our supplier of steel has been instrumental in creating Responsible Steel, which functions in a similar way to the RJC.” If this all sounds too good to be true, it really shouldn’t. Whether you recycle every scrap of waste you produce or enjoy burning bags for life, the simple fact is that there is no good reason watchmaking can’t be more sustainable. The failure is all a brand’s own.
“These are choices all businesses can make. Dialogue and engagement ensure we stay aware of sustainable options and can work with suppliers to find good solutions. The biggest downfall is a hesitation to communicate – which is why we commit to transparency with our annual Sustainability Report.”
If you really want to trawl through the report yourself, it’s substantial. It outlines pretty much everything IWC does every step of the way to ensure the longevity and lessen the environmental impact of its own brand of haute horology. Still, if there’s one thing that comes across, it’s that there’s still room for improvement – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“It’s important that people understand that we don’t claim to be perfect,” explains Franziska. “Sustainability is a journey, and with new technologies developing all the time we look forward to even more options for managing our impacts responsibly.”
It’s this outlook that’s led to IWC being lauded by sustainability advocates like Positive Luxury, which has awarded the watchmaker its Luxury Brand to Trust Butterfly Mark every year since 2014. It’s in good company, alongside the likes of Ruinart, Louis Vuitton and likeminded watchmaker Baume, giants of luxury that are known for their emphasis on sustainability. All this brings me back to my opening point, the fact that most of us don’t really think about the sustainable impact of watchmaking. Yet as Franziska says, keeping green is part and parcel of what makes a watch… well, a watch.
“A mechanical watch is an emotional purchase. They’re made with skills that are part of the cultural heritage of Switzerland, and are intended to last for generations. We want everything that goes into our watches, and the conditions in which they are made, to honour this. Environmental sustainability is part of this.” That’s worth thinking about.
More details at IWC Watches.