The high-art watchmaking world is founded on pioneers and innovators prepared to push boundaries to bring us new discoveries. It’s an industry associated with expense, luxury and extravagance. Less known are the exceptional environmental and humanitarian causes many of these brands sponsor and support.
It’s not that surprising though. Many of these companies were founded, with their headquarters remaining in Switzerland, a country of breath-taking natural beauty. The many grand lakes, forests and mountain ranges have provided minerals, materials and limitless inspiration for many of the timeless and ground-breaking timepieces they have produced.
For these companies, funding projects that advance human knowledge and safeguard the planet actually makes a lot of sense.
We take a look at two iconic brands and some of the humanitarian and ecological projects they’re involved in across the globe…
The Rolex Awards for Enterprise was designed in the 1970’s to provide funding for individuals and enterprises running projects that advance human knowledge and well-being. These Awards were introduced to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Rolex Oyster, the first waterproof watch and an important milestone in watchmaking.
More than 34,000 people have applied to be a Rolex Laureate, with 150 chosen. Each one receives a substantial financial grant to support their project, as they’ve ventured into the world's most forbidding places to acquire new knowledge and find solutions to great challenges.
Italian geologist Francesco Sauro is one such Laureate. He and his team abseiled into the subterranean caves in the Amazon’s table-top mountains where no human had ever set foot. They have established that some of the unique life forms, such as the bacterial colonies that inhabit the deepest caves, are different from much of life on Earth. Sauro said analysis of these bacteria gives a window into the evolution of life on the planet.
He also offered invaluable advice for expeditions to other planets. As a leading instructor of astronauts by the European Space Agency, Sauro used his geological knowledge to help pinpoint where suitable caves may have formed on the Moon and Mars.
DEEPSEA CHALLENGE 3D Trailer | National Geographic
Film-maker and explorer James Cameron made a record-breaking solo dive, of 35,787 feet, to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the world’s deepest frontier. This Deepsea Challenge expedition below the surface of the Pacific Ocean paved the way for a new era in scientific exploration of the least known area of the planet. National Geographic collaborated on this expedition.
This was the second dive to such depths. Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh piloted the Trieste on the first in 1960, plunging into a 35,800 feet depression called the Challenger Deep. On both of these historic dives, Rolex was present.
And the timepiece, the Rolex Deep Sea Special, attached to the outside of the vessel, didn’t fail.
Piccard telegraphed the Rolex headquarters in Geneva with the message:
“Happy to announce that your watch works as well at 11,000 metres as it does on the surface.”.
The Atlantic puffins from Maine's offshore islands were almost hunted to extinction but Ornithologist, Stephen Kress, has brought them back. His imaginative techniques include his social attraction strategy - involving mirrors, decoys resembling adult birds, counterfeit eggs and more. Stephen’s Seabird Restoration Program has re-established their colonies in the bay and have inspired rescue projects for 48 other bird species in 14 countries.
The Audemars Piguet Foundation was initiated in 1992. It contributes to the cause of worldwide forest conservation through environmental protection and youth awareness-raising endeavours.
One of their partners in these projects is the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The organisation is responsible for conservation issues and comprises almost 1,000 governmental and non-governmental members.
The Foundation, along with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Indonesian and Malaysian governments came together for the ‘Heart of Borneo’ project in Indonesia. Working with FORMADAT, the ‘forum of the indigenous peoples of the highlands of Borneo’, they’re supporting the indeginous people, the Dayaks, to reinstate traditional farming practices.
The project also aims to help them remain as custodians of the biodiversity of their homeland and gain the organic status that will enable them to sell their products at a fair price.
Madagascar is home to remarkable, unique biodiversity but the island’s flora and fauna is severely threatened. Without action, several species could be lost for good. This project in Ranobe aims to empower the rural community to fight to prevent this potential disaster.
The program saw the replanting of traditional varieties across ten sites identified as high priority. The crops from this rehabilitated land, an ecotourism initiative, and the creation of commercial outlets for the crops, has enabled the local inhabitants concerned to increase their income. The unique landscape and the people benefit from this initiative.
Portugal’s historic royal game park, the Tapada de Mafra, was almost entirely devastated by fire in 2004. The Tapada’s managers planted mainly cork oaks everywhere where natural reforestation did not apply. They are all protected from the game that inhabits the park. An ‘Audemars Piguet educational trail’ today serves as a reminder of the Foundation’s participation in the recreation of this natural environment.
The Swiss haute horlogerie companies have left people marvelling at their creations for over a century. Their continued support for ecological and humanitarian projects is helping to preserve the planet’s natural beauty spots and cultures so they flourish forever.