Sustainability is a big buzz word in the fashion industry, but few luxury brands have been able to truly embrace it. For Caroline Scheufele, however, it is not only an extremely important attribute, but a necessity.

“Whenever we choose to invest in fine jewellery, a timepiece or fashion, we must ensure it comes from a place of ethical sourcing and sustainable practices,” states Caroline Scheufele, Co-President and Creative Director of Chopard.

Chopard strides in sustainability and their commitment to it is visible in the exquisite pieces that grace their collections. A bold endeavour that they began in 2013 is now a beacon for the industry. As the first brand in the business to use 100 percent ethically sourced gold, their goal is to not only be kind to mother nature but also the hands, on-ground in Columbian mines, helping them do so. Their use of Fairmined gold opened doors to a new dimension of ethical luxury. At present, Fairmined gold and diamond procured exclusively from suppliers are certified by the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC).

To further understand their unique path of sustainable luxe, we spoke with the lady at the helm herself, Caroline Schefele.

[All images: Courtesy brand]

Chopard is currently an industry icon when it comes to sustainable luxury, tell us about how this emotion first emerged at the brand.

As a family run business, ethics and responsibility have been at the heart of Chopard. Chopard’s journey to sustainability began when I first met Livia Firth, Founder and Creative Director of Eco Age, at the 2012 Oscars. She asked me where our gold comes from. It was this initial conversation that further started innumerable conversations at Chopard regarding the procuring of gold from sustainable and ethical sources, which had a positive impact on the environment and that believed in fair treatment of their workers.

Thus began Chopard’s ‘Journey to Sustainability’ in 2013, and its first stride was Fairmined gold and working closely with the Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM). We wanted to ensure that these mining communities receive Fairmined certification through adequate training, social welfare, and environmental support.

What does ‘sustainable luxury’ mean to you?

In a world where everything happens rapidly, the customer doesn’t always realise what they’re buying and its real story. I believe it’s imperative to respect the planet and humankind while being responsible for the products we make and the way we use them. True luxury comes from knowing the handprint of your supply chain and being transparent about it.

At Chopard, we commit to purchasing diamonds and gemstones exclusively through supplies that comply with a rigorous set of guidelines on environmental, employment, and human rights factors. It has been a challenging journey but also an incredible one. Each creation at Chopard has a story behind it that’s relayed from source to designers and employees to clients. As the Artistic Director and Co-President of Chopard, I am always proud to share these stories and sustainable strides with our customers, knowing that they too will wear these ethical creations with pride.

What is the socio-economic and environmental impact of large-scale diamond and gold mining? And what effort is Chopard making to change that?

As a family Maison, we’re aware of the importance of passing down values through generations when it comes to being humble in the face of sustainability. To tackle the crucial challenges of climate change, the protection of the environment and social responsibility, we need to first understand the impact of our activity throughout the entire life cycle of our creations. At Chopard, the way source our raw materials is crucial. We’ve been working for many years on the traceability of our raw materials, which is why there has been significant improvement in tracking our footprints.

As we celebrated our 150th anniversary in 2010, we also supported the WWF that marked the beginning of a one-of-a-kind, internal think-tank focusing on responsible sourcing, environmental protection, and sustainability. A significant action was to join the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC). Fast-forward eight years, we confirmed that 100 percent of our gold supply is ethical. More so, we’ve also been extremely transparent when it comes to responsible sourcing of artisanal gold and recycled gold.

40 years ago, my father had the vision to develop a vertically integrated in-house production to master the craft, and I’m glad to say that we succeeded in this. In 1978, we invested in a rare in-house gold foundry. Today, thanks to our state-of-the-art gold foundry and the experience of our artisans, we’re able to increase the control and traceability of our recycled gold. Working on initiatives such as Fairmined gold gave us a much clearer perspective of different actors in the supply chain, furthermore improving communication and transparency.

We also recently embarked on a ground-breaking program with the Swiss Better Gold Association to source gold from the Barequeros, a community of artisanal gold miners in El Chocó – Colombia’s second-largest gold producing region. This is rewarding as almost half of the miners are women, so we are not only supporting sustainable artisanal mining practices but also women.

Furthermore, using traditional alluvial mining techniques and hand equipment that don’t require mercury; it provides medically safer ways of working. These women workers also receive incentives to better their work and living conditions. 

Are lab-grown diamonds eco-friendly? Do you see a changing market trend towards it?

There is certainly lots of talk about synthetic diamonds, but I cannot be certain that they’re as eco-friendly as proclaimed. It takes massive amounts of energy to produce them, leaving back a significant carbon footprint. I believe that natural diamonds are true miracles that emerge from the depths of the Earth, sometimes billions of years in the making. It has magic and elegance of its own, I don’t think anything man-made can ever replace that.

Could you give us an insight into how Chopard works with ethical gold and its early challenges?

Chopard became the first name in the business to use 100% ethical gold. As an independent family business, we’ve had the advantage to vertically integrate our entire production process. Right from the watch’s design to its final product, we control it all. We constantly seek out and work with innovative new materials that make these watches more sustainable.

To give you a better insight into this process, I’d like to tell you about the very first ethical gold product we created. It was certainly a challenge at the time. We had to separate the manufacturing processes to ensure that this gold was not smelted with traditional gold and maintained its distinctiveness. I still remember the excitement when we received the first 60 kilos of ethical gold from the mine in Columbia!

When we first announced this initiative, there were several questions about the feasibility of the project. However, we had our principles rooted in place, and at the time, many of the big banks that work with mines focused on ESG (Environment, Social and Governance) investments since a lot of people want to go in the same direction. This put to rest the scepticism, and it’s an achievement that we’re extremely proud of.

How does Chopard plan on carrying the torch of sustainability in the coming years?

Sustainability is truly eternal; it’s a journey that never ends. Today, more than ever, it has to be our priority to protect the people and the hands that make our business possible. My goal is to show the world that luxury can come from sustainable sources, too. Whenever we choose to invest in jewellery, a timepiece or fashion, it must come from a place of ethical sourcing and sustainable practices.

We’ve association with luxury Maisons such as Kering, LVMH, Richemont, Swarovski, and Tiffany & Co. and gemstone mining companies Gemfields and Muzo (which form the Coloured Gemstones Working Group or CGWG). And we are joining forces to launch the Gemstones and Jewellery Community Platform. Through this initiative, Chopard has successfully sourced responsibly mined, coloured gemstones for various designs.

However, there is still a long way to go to improve sustainable practices in coloured stones, but we’re certain that someday this will be possible.

This article first appeared on Lifestyle Asia India.

Mikhail Gomes
Senior Features Writer
A watch aficionado, Gomes also enjoys learning about fine whiskies, and one day hopes to establish his own menswear label. At Lifestyle Asia India, he writes on watches, menswear, auto and tech.