Chiming with the times

IWC looks to the future with its social and environmental practices

Sustainable elements are incorporated into the construction of IWC's state-of-the-art Manufakturzentrum.

It was a striking moment for Franziska Gsell when one evening, her 10-year old son asked: "Mummy, will I have a future, will the Earth still be here?"

That naive question further spurs her pledge in saving the planet, personally in being a consumer and global citizen, and professionally in being the chief marketing officer (CMO) of IWC Schaffhausen.

"We better change now because we only have this one planet," Gsell said. "As a consumer, we can very much influence the behaviour of companies by asking questions about and understanding what we buy. We can force companies to make sustainable changes and become transparent."

Her multiple responsibilities include being the chair of IWC's Sustainability Committee, which encourages incorporating sustainability into everyday decision-making and managing the company's social and environmental impacts.

The charming CMO recently exchanged views with IWC brand ambassadors, Australian actress Cate Blanchett and Chinese supermodel Lu Yan, in two sessions of a webinar titled "Watchmaking And Sustainability", which was a part of WWD China's 2021 Global Fashion Sustainability Summit.

"Our products are sustainable in themselves and they can be passed on to the next generation. The long life of our mechanical watches is matched by our long-term thinking," she said. "From the supply chain and production to marketing and retail, we think about the small and big things we can do, so that everything is done with care and responsible choices are made."

IWC Schaffhausen chief marketing officer Franziska Gsell.

In the webinar, Gsell spoke from IWC's historic headquarters, sandwiched between Schaffhausen Old Town and the Rhine river.

The company was founded in 1868 by Florentine Ariosto Jones, who travelled from Boston to northern Switzerland and founded the International Watch Company in the German-speaking canton.

The American entrepreneur combined advanced manufacturing methods with Swiss craftsmanship to make the best pocket watches of his time and established centralised production.

In 2018, IWC celebrated its 150th anniversary along with the opening of the state-of-the-art Manufakturzentrum, located at its second site in Merishausen.

Besides the roof's solar panels, the production plant features other sustainable elements that for instance allow reusing waste heat from equipment, drawing water for cooling and heating from groundwater sources, and reducing energy consumption through automatic lighting control coupled with LED lights.

Supple yet durable and water-resistant TimberTex paper-based watch straps.

In the same year, IWC became the first watchmaking brand to release a Sustainability Report in line with the best-practice standards of the Global Reporting Initiative.

The packaging redesign included changing the logo from silver to black, so that its shopping bags could be recycled by customers after use. The bags are also made from Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified post-consumer waste.

The size of watch boxes and their plastic element have also been reduced. In 2019, IWC signed the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, undertaking to ensure that by 2025, all plastic in packaging is 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable, and to also take steps to eliminate all single-use plastic throughout its business.

"We changed our entire packaging system to meet our sustainable goals," she said. "Not just to protect the watch but to make it a product in its own right, the new packaging is also a travel pouch, which can be used for years rather than thrown away."

The development of cutting-edge materials include TimberTex used for making watch straps. The eco-friendly material is composed of 80% natural plant fibres, and the cellulose used comes from FSC-certified and responsibly managed European forests.

The TimberTex watch strap matched with a Portugieser Automatic 40.

The manufacturing process in Italy involves traditional papermaking techniques and colouring with natural plant-based dyes, with the resulting irregular grain making every strap unique.

Craftsmanship plays a key role in the creation of TimberTex straps, which requires over 60 different stages. Padded with recycled microfibre for extra comfort and expertly finished with recycled thread, they are supple yet durable and water-resistant vegan options for wearing on the wrist.

"Throughout our history, IWC has led the way in product design, material invention and manufacturing methods. From our formative years, using hydropower provided by the River Rhine, to our early adoption of titanium, ceramics and the creation of Ceratanium, our pursuit of innovation has yielded remarkable advances. Naturally, we wanted to apply this same pioneering spirit to finding high-quality alternatives for our clients who don't wear animal leather," Gsell explained.

Its attainment of the Chain-of-Custody certification from the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC) is another significant step towards offering watches made from fully traceable precious metal components.

IWC previously led its sector by becoming the first luxury watch brand to meet the more stringent code of practices set by the RJC in 2019, to promote the best environmental, social and ethical practices.

The Chain-of-Custody certification of watch components is one of nine goals outlined in the second edition of IWC's Sustainability Report released in July last year.

The other targets to be achieved by next year include developing and implementing a Green IT strategy as well as a blueprint for sustainable marketing and events. For instance, the upcycling of materials include those used in boutique displays and events, to give them a second life.

"It's an ongoing journey that we have embarked on and achieved from milestone to milestone. Every day, we progress with little and big steps in making a difference," Gsell said.