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Despite the fact that US debt statistics shows that in early 2019, consumer debt has already reached $13.67 trillion, Millennials are still more concerned about living the high life and continue to have immense spending power. Since around 2013, luxury consumers’ purchasing decisions have dramatically changed because of growing concerns about sustainability and social responsibility – and the luxury watch market is no exception. A study produced by Altagamma in partnership with Boston Consulting Group found earlier this year that the personal luxury market is changing – and fast – with millenials largely driving the change. 

They want luxury, prestige and power, but at as little a cost to the environment as possible. Today, 56 percent of true-luxury consumers are aware of and interested in luxury brands’ stance on social responsibility, compared with just 45 percent in 2013. Of the survey’s respondents, 62 percent said they would choose a brand that supports sustainability over a brand that does not, compared with 50 percent saying this in 2013.

This puts Swiss luxury watchmaker Chopard – one of the last family-run watchmaking and jewelry companies in the world – in very good stead.  Since 2010, it has been a member of the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC), and since 2013 has truly established itself as the leader in sustainable luxury jewellery. Through ethical and responsible sourcing, environmental management, and philanthropic ventures, sustainability is at the heart of all things Chopard. Earlier this year, its luxury timepiece the L.U.C Flying T Twin made headlines because of it being Chopard’s first calibre equipped with a flying tourbillon, but perhaps more emphasis should be laid on its use of ethically certified Fairmined rose gold. Limited to a collection of just 50 pieces, its hand-guilloché dial and ultra-thin case is made from 18-karat ethically certified Fairmined rose gold and is further certified by the “Poinçon de Genève” quality hallmark. This means the gold is responsibly sourced from one of two traceable routes: artisanal freshly mined gold from small-scale mines participating in the Swiss Better Gold Association (SBGA), Fairmined and Fairtrade schemes; or sourced through the RJC Chain of Custody gold, through a partnership with RJC-certified refineries. Apparently, Chopard remains the only brand using this specific type of ethically sourced gold. As part of the arrangement, Chopard provides training to those involved in the mining, and has delivered a new processing plant and social and environmental support for the betterment of communities where the gold is sourced. 

Even more satisfying for ethical millennials, Chopard is able to provide full traceability of the watch’s gold supply chain, in addition to the company boasting a model based on a closed-loop system, meaning that up to 70% of its pre-consumer gold scraps or ‘production waste’ is ultimately recycled. 

Luxury house H. Moser & Cie similarly unveiled a sustainable but luxury timepiece earlier this year – albeit not one available commercially. The truly spectacular one-of-a-kind model, named The Moser Nature Watch, was moreover created as a gimmick; a means of reminding its customers of the importance of sustainable operations in the 21st century. The watch is made entirely of Swiss plants grown in the gardens of H. Moser’s Schaffhausen-based manufacture, an incredibly ornate labor of love that acted as an awareness-raising stunt for the company’s PR image. It worked. 

It sought to remind consumers of three key sustainability principles: those imposed by the Responsible Jewellery Council; use of Fair Trade materials wherever possible; and use of efficient methods of watchmaking to work towards a zero carbon footprint.

Luxury watchmaker Richemont last year unveiled its new approach to luxury watches: no luxury materials. Instead, the brand aims to reach a new audience by offering greater customisation options and watches created through sustainable manufacturing processes, using upcycled, recycled, and natural materials wherever possible. By committing to not using any precious metals, precious stones, or animal materials in its watches; leather, gold and crocodile skin straps are materials that are no longer synonymous with a Baume timepiece. Recently, it announced it would partner with concept store Nous Paris to develop its newest luxury watch offering – limited edition designer watches made from recycled materials. In avoiding materials of an animal or unethical origin, these watches will be made of sustainable materials such as cork or linen, with packaging made from FSC certified paper. Then there is luxury watchmaker Breitling, which partners with non-governmental organisation Ocean Conservancy and supports the agency’s coastal-cleanup operations in over 153 countries. It recently launched a new Superocean watch collection designed specifically “for people who want to explore the oceans, whether they are active in water sports or in clean-up initiatives”.

The global luxury market is predicted to top $1.5 trillion by 2025, and of luxury consumers, millennials will make up an estimated 50 percent of the total market. For luxury companies  to not only survive but thrive in the forthcoming era of heightened accountability and preference for sustainable luxury, it will be important to adapt to millennial demands and change existing sourcing and production habits to reflect sustainability values.

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