Hollywood actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio will today be announced as an investor in ID Genève, Switzerland’s first luxury watch company to be awarded “B Corp” certification. DiCaprio’s investment is part of a $2mn seed round for the brand, which rose to prominence by only using recycled as well as reused parts and materials in its watches, including steel melted using the sun’s rays and watch straps made from green waste.

DiCaprio’s investment in the brand goes against the grain. It is common practice for luxury Swiss watch companies to pay A-listers to wear their watches as “ambassadors”; but rarely do celebrities invest in watch brands. Among the closest exceptions are seven-time Grammy winner guitarist John Mayer, who has invested in the watch media company and retailer Hodinkee, and footballer Cristiano Ronaldo, who recently became a shareholder in Chrono24, a pre-owned watch marketplace. Bezel, another US-based online watch reseller, lists actor Kevin Hart and musician John Legend among its investors.

DiCaprio told the Financial Times he had invested in ID Genève because it was “disrupting the luxury watch industry” and “championing ethically sourced and recycled materials and low-carbon footprint processes in a circular economy”. While the exact value of the actor’s investment has not been declared, “several Swiss family offices” participated in ID Genève’s first round of financing, according to the company.

Earlier this month, ID Genève achieved its B Corp status — an independent certification awarded to companies demonstrating enhanced commitments to environmental and social goals.

The watch industry overall has been slow to adapt to growing consumer appetite for sustainable luxury goods. Nicolas Freudiger, who co-founded ID Genève in late 2020 and is the company’s chief executive, said he expected the mix of his brand’s approach, the market’s receptiveness to products with a low environmental impact and DiCaprio’s advocacy to catapult his business forward. “In every industry, at some point, there are inflection points where a new technology or new brand becomes more interesting than others,” he said.

Freudiger, 34, said the investment will be made through convertible notes — a form of debt that can be converted into equity at a later date. He said this would happen automatically in two years’ time and would be based on the company’s market valuation at that date.

Cédric Mulhauser (left), Singal Moesch (centre) and Nicolas Freudiger (right) started ID Genève in late 2020

He added the conversion to equity would coincide with a Series A investment round that would fund the “ID Lab”: an innovation hub where the company plans to develop circular material and manufacturing technologies. Freudiger said he wanted the lab to “mutualise resources and encourage collaboration within the industry to accelerate the transition [to circularity in watchmaking]”.

Damian Oettli, head of markets at WWF Switzerland and co-author of a 2018 report that was critical of the watch industry’s poor environmental standards, is supportive of ID Genève’s model. “We like ID Genève very much,” he said. “They’re doing a great job and have a holistic perspective on sustainability. They also have B Corp certification, a framework that’s quite progressive.”

ID Genève watches are currently available in Switzerland, the US and the UK, including in Watches of Switzerland stores, where they retail from £3,700. Freudiger said 80 per cent of the company’s sales were through its ecommerce site and he expected to end the year having sold about 600 watches. The company has six employees — including the other two co-founders, Cédric Mulhauser and Singal Moesch — and is in profit, according to Freudiger, who previously worked for Coca-Cola in Zurich.

He admitted that “$2mn is a small amount in the luxury watch industry”, but that, together with DiCaprio’s name, would provide his company with “the opportunity to build partnerships and to connect with like-minded people with impact in mind to disrupt an industry”.

Watches of Switzerland Group said it would welcome the imminent announcement. “As a primary retail partner of ID Genève, we’re delighted to hear of Leonardo DiCaprio’s ringing endorsement of this eco-innovative brand,” said Kesah Trowell, the group’s head of sustainability. “We’re confident his involvement and personal investment will shine a bright light on sustainable innovation within the watchmaking world and contribute to ID Genève’s long-term success.”

ID Genève’s low-carbon production initiatives include steel cases made from waste material collected from the watch industry that is melted in a solar furnace, using the sun’s rays. The company claims the carbon footprint of its “solar steel” is 165 times lower than in standard steel.

The Mont-Louis solar furnace in southern France, used to melt steel

Its watch straps are made from green waste gathered in London’s parks, and it works with the UK-based companies Magical Mushroom and Notpla to produce compostable packaging derived from seaweed and mycelium, the material structure found in fungi. It also uses refurbished mechanical movements, sourced from unsold stock made available by undisclosed Swiss watchmakers.

ID Genève is not the only Swiss watch company pursuing sustainability strategies in some form. Breitling has pledged to replace its gold with fully traceable ethical gold by March 2025, while Panerai is one of a number of brands to replace heavy watch boxes with lower-impact packaging, and Oris has announced a programme of carbon reduction.

Meanwhile, members of the Watch & Jewellery Initiative 2030, co-founded by Cartier and luxury group Kering last year, have signed up to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, a set of 17 targets for 2030. Adopted in 2015, these range from eliminating hunger to achieving universal access to water and education. Chanel, Montblanc and Gucci Watches are among the initiative’s 53 member brands.

But DiCaprio said the industry should do more. “Sustainability should be a core value at any company,” he said. “ID Genève’s pioneering efforts in this space are something I hope other companies take note of and continue to grow over time.”

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