Do You Know Where Your Watch’s Gold Came From? – by Victoria Gomelsky (New York Times – November 19, 2020)

A mechanical timepiece is powered by clean kinetic energy and can run, at least theoretically, forever and a day. To support that image of inherent sustainability, many Swiss watchmakers over the past decade have partnered with conservation groups, implemented energy-saving measures at their at their factories and, more recently, experimented with recycled materials for things like packaging and straps.

When it comes to the gold and gemstones used to make watches, however, the industry lags behind other sectors such as electronics in understanding and communicating how its materials are obtained and ensuring their extraction has not harmed people and the environment.

“We always compare the watch industry here in Switzerland to the textile industry 20 years ago,” said Dario Grünenfelder, a consultant to WWF Switzerland and lead author of the WWF Watch and Jewellery Report 2018. “They’re not really tackling the big issues: the raw materials that go into their products.”

In the two years since WWF published its report — which ranked 15 Swiss watch companies, including Audemars Piguet, TAG Heuer and Piaget, on an environmental scorecard and found that most were “unable to demonstrate where their raw materials come from, or that they are unwilling to communicate on the matter” — it’s unclear if anything has changed, especially with regard to the complicated topic of gold sourcing.

Gold mining practices have been linked to child labor, mercury pollution and other human rights and environmental abuses, but tracking the raw mineral through the supply chain can be difficult. Most gold is refined at large plants (60 percent to 70 percent of the total supply passes through Switzerland for refining, according to WWF).

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