Has Chopard been true to its word? At Baselworld, the brand promised that from this summer, it would use nothing but sustainably produced gold. “Our priority is to use Fairmined gold, through partnerships with mines in Colombia and Bolivia,” says Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, co-president of Chopard. “We buy 85% of annual Fairmined gold production but this isn’t enough, hence we’ve developed other solutions, such as gold sourced through the Swiss Better Gold Association or from PX Group, a Swiss refiner which has its own label. For the rest, we buy only RJC-certified gold [Responsible Jewellery Council]. I think we’ve got enough people thinking to really make a change across the supply chain, and especially at source. I’ll be happy when ethical gold is as commonplace as organic in the food industry.”
Karl-Friedrich Scheufele together with sister and co-president Caroline Scheufele set Chopard on a Journey to Sustainable Luxury in 2013. Speaking in an interview with Hong Kong Tatler last month, she talked about the difficulties they have faced: “Five years might seem short but getting to where we are now was no easy feat. There’ll always be a moment when you are presented with a choice between keeping the status quo—the easy way out—or taking a more difficult but necessary route. We as a company could do something about it and it’s my hope that others in the industry will too.” During these past five years, Chopard has published regular updates of its progress towards increasing the amount of ethical gold in its watch and jewellery collections, while fully aware that sustainable gold supply is necessarily limited. Hence the surprise when, at Baselworld, the brand pledged that as from July 2018 its watches and jewellery would use nothing but gold from responsible sources – which at the time of the announcement covered just 5% of the four metric tons of gold which the firm needs each year.
The customer has the final say
Chopard has succeeded in its mission, but on a global scale much remains to be done: barely 5% of watch and jewellery production worldwide qualifies as sustainable gold. This rare and necessarily precious metal arrives via artisanal and small-scale mines spread across 80 countries. The mines, which can be informal, extract around 400 metric tons of gold a year (around a fifth of total world production) and employ a workforce of 15 million miners. Over the past decade and a half, a supply chain has been put into place, along similar lines to systems introduced for bananas and cocoa, with the aim of eliminating mercury from the extraction process and guaranteeing decent working conditions for miners. But it is slow-going, as illustrated by the pilot project which the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation set up in Mongolia in the early 2000s. At a press conference this summer in Geneva, reported in Swiss daily Le Temps, the Agency noted that while progress has been encouraging, there is no guarantee that the same model can be applied in Africa or in South America.
Without shared international standards, sustainable gold could struggle to become the norm. The real change could come from end customers, and demand to know that the gold in the watches and jewellery they are buying has been ethically sourced. Actress and Chopard brand ambassador Julianne Moore joined Caroline Scheufele to give her point of view: “I’ve met some of my biggest heroes in the last couple of years. Incredible people like Caroline Scheufele and Livia Firth [founder of Eco-Age consultancy] have showed and mentored me about what this world can be, what it needs to be, and, more importantly, what we can do to achieve it. Chopard, with its decision to use only ethically sourced gold, is paving the way for a new, more responsible take on luxury. It’s inspiring.” Inspiration we hope will spread. And fast.