June 6, 2014 12:10 am

Ethical gold: Chopard wants to start a ‘Fairmined’ revolution

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Livia Firth©David M. Benett

Eco ager: Livia Firth

Thanks to new watches by Chopard and Zeitwinkel, ethical gold was on the agenda at Baselworld this year.

The LUC Tourbillon QF Fairmined from Chopard – limited to 25 pieces – and Zeitwinkel’s 273º are the first watches to be made with “Fairmined” gold, a certification that aims to guarantee the metal was mined in a responsible manner and that its miners have received fair payment and an overall premium.

The standard was defined in 2011 by the Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM), a not-for-profit organisation that supports artisanal and small-scale mining communities in Latin America.

Chopard has worked with ARM on a line of Fairmined high jewellery through a partnership with the London-based consultancy Eco-Age, which helps brands develop sustainable strategies.

The Fairmined standard is aimed at highlighting everyday risks to miners while ensuring that producers in Peru, Bolivia, Colombia and Ecuador are offered a price of 95 per cent of the London Bullion Market Association’s fix for gold.

Small-scale Latin American mining communities are often at the mercy of middle men, who offer anything from 35 per cent to 85 per cent of the LBMA fix.

Since 2013, Chopard has supported the development of the Coodmilla co-operative, in the Nariño region of Colombia. The company has set targets to buy a significant percentage of gold from Fairmined stocks and to support other co-operatives in South America.

The move by Chopard reflects a broader trend in the luxury industry to offer ethical and sustainable products. For example, De Beers, the jeweller, has offered “responsibly sourced” diamonds through its Forevermark brand since 2011.

Caroline Scheufele, co-president and artistic director of Chopard, says: “As a century-old, family run business, we are very aware of our responsibilities. It is not an easy journey, but it is the right one.”

The Eco-Age consultancy and Livia Firth, its creative director, are brokering Chopard’s relationship with NGOs and facilitating what Ms Firth calls “sustainable style”, particularly through supply chains.

“It has taken so long for the industry to see its first Fairmined watch, because it takes so long to join the dots. But that’s what Eco-Age does,” she says.

However, some worry about how effective the strategy can really be. Greg Valerio, co-founder of Fair Jewelry Action and an initiator of the Association of Goldsmiths’ ethics working group, says: “Chopard’s move is principally a corporate social responsibility (CSR) claim and I don’t see consumers responding to it.

“Fairmined has no consumer traction, no visibility and no way of monitoring and managing the consumer narrative.”

Mr Valerio argues that luxury brands are not accessible to most consumers, and that change must happen on the high street before initiatives such as Fairmined can succeed.

But Ms Firth disagrees: “All the ethical revolutions started from the top. Just look at the food market. Organic products were originally so expensive. But now?”

Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, who leads the watch side of Chopard, says the market is still relatively uninformed about ethical gold. “Having just returned from a trip to Asia, [I have found that] Chinese customers are less concerned about these issues than those in Europe. So we have to consider our bigger markets’ expectations and demands.

Chopard’s LUC Toubillon QF Fairmined

Chopard’s LUC Toubillon QF Fairmined

“For now, the [Fairmined] tourbillon is a great communication tool to increase awareness. It is very much a long-term goal for Chopard to create a significant amount of our production from Fairmined gold. This is why we are investing directly in supporting mines and communities, to ensure a robust and growing supply.”

Mr Scheufele says Eco-Age experts are arranging final due diligence visits to other co-operatives to check whether they are suitable for investment. “We are here for the long run and we truly believe in it.”

Chopard is in the early stages of developing a business case for Fairmined gold. Francesca Di Pasquantonio, a Deutsche Bank analyst in Milan, shares Mr Valerio’s views on the CSR benefits but also believes Mr Scheufele’s claim that his business is committed.

“For me, it is more of a marketing decision,” she says, “a strong angle to position the brand as one that cares”.

Mr Scheufele adds: “It does make business sense. There has been a clear change in what the international customer wants to know – not only about the quality and beauty of a piece, but also where it came from and how it was created.”

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