Anyone with even a passing interest in watches will, eventually, come across the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry (FH). With around 500 members or more than 90% of Swiss firms involved in the production and sale of watches, clocks or components, this umbrella organisation, in its own words, “represents the culmination of nearly 150 years of associative activity within the Swiss watch industry.” Its Revue FH magazine is well worth the detour for its fortnightly round-up of news from the brands and their products. This makes it an ideal place to seek information on sustainability, one of today’s burning issues, and specifically how watch brands are (or aren’t) taking action to contribute to a more sustainable world.
To do so, take the last four issues of Revue FH, covering March to May 2022, and see how they compare with issues for the same period a year earlier. The results are edifying. Sustainability-related themes were mentioned or developed four times in the four issues from 2021 and 14 times in this year’s publications. While you might argue that, at the height of the Covid pandemic, brands had more pressing concerns than the state of the planet (really?), this in no way diminishes how important these questions are. On the menu in 2022: vegan watch straps (Mondaine), recycled metals (Panatere), nature conservancy (Certina), sustainable development reports (Swatch Group), carbon neutrality (Oris), ocean protection (Blancpain), scientific research (Hublot), an initiative based around United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (Cartier/Kering), a mission to clear up space debris (Omega), corporate social responsibility (Bulgari), and more.
Wrinkle, wrinkle, the new stars
Interestingly, whereas these projects used to be the preserve of the industry’s major players, whether listed or family-owned, many of today’s initiatives are by smaller brands across the watchmaking spectrum. The “little guys” are scaling Kilimanjaro to raise funds for children living in extreme poverty (Georges Gay); supporting the Ice Stupa project to store glacier water for use by populations in the Himalaya (Emile Chouriet); supporting the families of sherpas who lost their lives in the Himalayan mountains (Norqain) or helping clean up the plastic that is choking the oceans (Maurice Lacroix). And these are just some examples.
What about the faces brands choose to represent them? Chiselled guys or women in barely-there gowns haven’t entirely disappeared from marketing — sport and the arts still sell — but the weatherworn features of a seventy-something scientist just back from an expedition to the ends of the Earth are an increasingly attractive fit. We can but applaud, given the urgent need to put words into action if we are to still have a planet whose beauty, natural or human, we can admire. In this respect, the growing number of projects and initiatives intended to add grist to the sustainability mill could well be the best news to come out of the watch industry of late, ex aequo with the rapid post-Covid recovery. That sustainable development has infiltrated marketing is proof that the consumer voice is being heard. We can only hope the number of articles published in Revue FH will continue to multiply by the same factor in the future. Because there is still a long way to go…