We all want luxury products that tick the sustainability box in terms of attaining the highest standards of ethical and environmental responsibility. Thanks to the complexity of global supply chains however, it is an imperfect, and often opaque, business even for those brands and consumers who have the best of intentions.
Breitling addresses this paradox with its new Super Chronomat Origins that uses fully traceable gold and diamonds. “We are the first in the watch industry to demand single-mine-origin gold, and the first to request lab-grown diamonds at scale,” says Aurelia Figueroa, Breitling’s head of sustainability.
The Origins watch marks a milestone in the watchmaker’s commitment, as it puts it, “to do better” across its entire supply chain. Two years ago it introduced its first watch box made entirely of upcycled plastic waste. By 2024 it will use climate-neutral lab-grown diamonds across its entire collection. The same commitment exists for using gold only from accredited artisanal mines by 2025.
Since Figueroa arrived at Breitling two years ago, she has zeroed in on whether a supplier is really putting its money where its sustainable mouth is. All gold in the Origins watch comes from Colombia’s Touchstone mine, an artisanal mine accredited by Swiss Better Gold, a non-profit association that improves working, living and environmental conditions in small-scale mining communities. About 150km north east of Medellín, the Touchstone mine is in a region that for many years was a no-go area due to FARC and drug violence. Figueroa visited the mine to see for herself the environmental and social supports put in place to ensure as sustainable a mining environment as possible. Areas where open-pit mining has taken place, for example, are rehabilitated using top soil that was removed and preserved at the beginning of the mining process, and which contains essential nutrients needed for the successful replanting of native species.
Mine workers are paid fairly and provided with proper health and safety provisions, while the entire community is served by better access to education and wellbeing support.
When it came to melée diamonds, the teeny tiny stones that bring sparkle to the edge of a watch or jewel, the question for Breitling was whether to use mined or lab-grown. Since fully traceable mined melée diamonds are still not available – at least at the scale required here – it chose lab-grown diamonds instead, sourcing them from a supplier which has received SCS-007 sustainability-rated accreditation. This independently verified award measures a lab (or mine’s) employment and environmental practices as well as its low-carbon energy usage.
Every Origins watch will come with its own NFT that contains independently verified, tamper-proof blockchain information about the responsible path of its precious materials all the way from their origins to the wearer’s wrist. Breitling, Figueroa says, is committed to reviewing the supply chain for all the materials it uses in its watches. Steel for instance is the most widely used material in watchmaking but it has a bafflingly complex route to market. “Not everything is easy in sustainability,” she admits. “But this is just the beginning.”