It’s on the rooftop of the Martinez Hotel during the Cannes Festival, that we were privileged enough to interview Caroline Scheufele in regards to her latest High Jewelry collection unveiled on the opening night and hear more insights about their big announcement during Baselworld and their involvement in fairmined trading. Exclusive interview with the co-founder and creative director of Chopard.
How does it feel to be the first brand in the industry to have been involved in a sustainable journey as much as you have?
It’s a journey that started 7 years ago. I met Livia Firth in LA when her husband got an Oscar for the King’s Speech. He was wearing a beautiful L.U.C timepiece. Over coffee she was very excited to tell me about her involvement in Eco-Age – a company very active in sustainable fashion. In the same conversation, she asked me “Caroline, where does your gold come from?” I supposed UBS or Credit Suisse but I actually have no clue. And before I finished my answer I sort of knew where she was going to take me. “I am also working in other industries such as gold mining certifications.” She asked me if I was interested and I immediately said yes. At this moment I even felt bad that I did not think about it before.
That’s how you started the Fairmind gold collection… Yet at the time, there was not enough supply to transform all of your pieces?
Most of them are very small artisans they have to go through a lot of due diligence in order to get the certifications. First you have to educate the miners. Why should they change if they have always done it the same way? But they were not aware for example that mercury would go into the rivers and poison the fishes and communities that rely on them for food. It takes some time – you cannot do it in a day! In Basel this year we were able to announce that we are going to be work with only ethical gold which does not mean that it’s only fairmined – we are also using recycled gold.
How do you think it’s going to change the client’s perspective? How interested will they get in terms of mining, sourcing, environmental impact?
We are in the luxury business – and luxury should be transparent! If you are getting married and somebody is giving you an engagement ring everything should be as transparent! So it should also be in all transparence to know how your piece was made with what materials. You want to make sure that no kids were involved in the process. It’s a very deep subject but I think little by little we’ll get that. That’s why it’s called a journey – it’s a long way and it takes us across the world. The governments have to participate too! The watch and jewelry industry is behind! The fashion industry is more forefront with it. Food, automobiles… You build transparency in every way! Maybe in a few years governments will regulate that that’s the way to do it or don’t do it. So maybe we have a head-start.
In changing your supply policy, what are the practical differences encountered between watches and jewelry?
It’s harder for the jewelry. The diamond industry is pretty much controlled. We only work with RJC. In the case of Khalahari, it was the first to be certified fairmined for diamonds. For the colored stones it’s a whole other world. We are adding one more stone every year. This year it’s the Paraiba – as seen on Julianne Moore. There are not much left. They are rare, beautiful and amazing! For making watches we need the raw material: gold, platinum or steel. All of the watch parts are made in Switzerland and in-house therefore very easy to control. We have less things coming in from the outside. When it’s with us within the company, it’s easy. It’s the supply chain before hand that’s complicated.
What was the biggest challenge that you faced in jumping onto this journey?
The most complicated step was the first step: the actual change. We had to tell all of our employees that we were going to change. Imagine the first 2kgs that we got. Marion Cottillard is the one who wore the bracelet on the red carpet six years ago. This gold was handled in a special way!! It went into production like a VIP customer visiting the factory! If it’s a High Jewelry piece it’s also easier because only one person works on the piece with the gold from A to Z. But when it comes to watch cases, we have to separate. And since we take these things very seriously each piece gets a certificate that’s why now things will be easier. We had to convince our ateliers and production teams that it’s the future. And they wondered, “why do we have to change, we’ve always done it that way” Well… sometimes you wake up and you change – and that was the hardest part! We did the change everywhere (in Fleurier and in Germany) and we were able to do so because we are a family-owned company and my brother also loves nature and stands behind this. Swiss are very conscious about sustainability.
How realistically do you think that other brands can join such a program?
I think there is a lot of movement going on now. Maybe thanks to what we have been doing showing that it can actually be done. Now, banks who buy the gold even have programs on philanthropic investments for sustainability and a lot of people are going that way. It’s a society problem. And if the banks get involved they have maybe even more power. It will go faster. When you have a big ship it takes a long way to stop and turn around but once it does – it goes the complete other way!
You started before everybody else. What’s the ultimate quest?
It’s like talking about medicine – they are working on discovering how to cure. The quest is to cure. It’s done !
And you will be at the beginning of this industry change.
Luxury is about a nice piece or watch you buy or fall in love with. But on top of that, if you know that the piece has been produced in a way that you can really trace to the very beginning, then it should be produced in a way that is ethical. I think that there is much more value. When Livia asked me the question I said yes, I did not even think a second. I usually go and discuss in the management with my family. Of course my brother but I knew I would go for it immediately. There was not going to be a discussion about it. I sleep better!
Did you know then that you were going to go that far in the process?
No! Absolutely not. We have come a long way but there is a long way to go! We can be proud and the whole team can be proud now that people are spreading the word. And the clients when you explain them, they don’t know. It takes an investment but in the long run it’s going to pay off. No doubt.
If we move to the high jewelry collection – based on your travels and dreams? How is it related to the dream you were able to achieve?
It’s a combination of everything. Inspiration by nature or by the ocean.
I can see a lot of beads, briolettes, natural and organic shapes, and combination of titanium and gold.
I think there are a lot of colors! I think there is not one color you don’t find in this collection! It’s also a combination of exotic countries that I love to discover new countries and take one hour if I am allowed to sniff around…
What was the biggest surprise or the most extraordinary stones that you found and put in this collection?
Hmm… it’s like asking out of my nine dogs which one is my favorite. Well I would say – there is this Paraiba – deep green that I have never seen. I see a lot of stones everyday but sometimes you come across one and you’re like …”that’s a Paraiba too?” It could be an emerald. So that one for sure is one of my favorites. All of the colored stones have a story to tell! If you think about how long they have been under the earth for over one billion years it makes dinosaurs look young!
Where do you set your boundaries? How do you come with such designs?
Its on-going! Even as I am here, I am having some ideas for the next collections. And you cannot sit and push a button and it just comes. Even a word can give you an inspiration, a music, a food or anything. You cannot say, today you have to be creative. It does not work like that. It would be great!
Do you believe in the meaning of stones?
I do! They do have energy it was formed and shaped by energy with extreme heat, extreme pressure, kilometers down the Earth. They have energy. I also believe that some stones have a benefit energy when I buy the rough – some I don’t feel – they don’t talk to me.
Don’t you feel that watch brands should start talking about the energy that a stone used can bring?
Some people put watches on and the watch goes off. It stops. There is a problem between the person and the time, the watch itself. It happens! We don’t undersdand… It does not happen a lot but it does.
For the High Jewelry and Jewelry timepieces – are they mostly made with quartz, and rarely with mechanical movements?
In all the new Happy Sports have automatic movements – There was a big change, because our Asian clients much prefer the mechanical movements. In the case of the Kalahari secret watch it has a L.U.C Lady mechanical movement because a piece like this should work forever.
What made you decide to incorporate men’s pieces in your HJ collection that you presented in Cannes during the festival?
They go on the red carpet wearing a black tie and they are supposed to wear a nice timepiece!
But you’ve waited 21 years to do it …
Ha… no … we started to have a men’s lounge here 2 years ago … but it is the first time that I was thinking about what we should have for the men. And they always pay for the beautiful diamonds for their wives so they might as well give themselves a nice present!
This year, you have introduced seven feminine HJ timepieces and how many masculine?
Seven and seven!
It’s my number!
You did it on purpose?
A little bit!
What’s your favorite from this collection?
I like the opal, the secret with the jade. I could have made a piece of jewelry out of it, but once I had it in my hand, it was very flat on the other side and since this year the theme was secret I said that this one was going to be a secret watch.
Having achieved all of this: HJ, timepieces, ethical journey…. What’s missing?
I still have a long way to go – one thing for sure, I would like to bring this journey as far as possible as much as I can. And this is still a big project because it encompasses a lot of things.
You have to be coherent in what you want to do in order to be trusted to avoid the image that you are doing it halfway for the image and halfway for the marketing.
But that never was my first thought – it never crossed my mind. It’s not that we stand out vs our colleagues. It’s for us, for the next generation, for the change of the planet and everything that it costs has been absorbed by us not affecting the price being higher for a sustainable watch for example or engagement ring.
How do you do with titanium or other kind of materials that are not that mainstream like gold?
It’s another subject that we are looking into. Titanium or silver, it’s pretty much mined properly. That’s why I say it’s a long way to go!