Swiss secrecy can be quite intriguing. Be it private banking or watchmaking, transparency isn’t always a given. And in some cases, the secrecy may very well be hiding something unexpectedly positive and sometimes, downright philanthropic.
Here’s a look at two watch brands that are all about giving back in very different ways.
As for as secrecy goes, no watch brand is as shrouded in mystery as Rolex. When you think of Rolex, a charitable organization is most likely not the first thing that springs to mind. Even when more seasoned watch aficionados hear of this, their first reaction is “Impossible!”
So, is this actually true?
The short answer is an astounding YES. While Rolex is technically a for-profit company, it is owned and held by a non-profit charitable foundation, the Wilsdorf Foundation. As such, any profit Rolex makes is first reinvested in the brand, as evident from Rolex’s unrivaled manufacturing and research facilities that verge more on science fiction than traditional watchmaking.
Any skepticism towards Rolex being a charitable organization is understandable. After all, we are talking about one of the most globally recognizable brands across all sectors here! But this is in fact how the heirless Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf saw as the most logical and sure way that the Rolex brand and legacy would continue to flourish long after his passing, effectively ridding his company of potential problems with shareholders and ownership.
So how exactly does the Wilsdorf Foundation “give back”? It’s hard to pinpoint exactly, as the Wilsdorf Foundation isn’t exactly open about its activities (would you expect any different from Rolex’s mother company?), but with a bit of research you can find the Wilsdorf Foundation involved in a variety of organizations such as art institutions, scholarship and apprenticeship programs, sports associations, entrepreneurial programs in the developing world, watchmaking schools, orphanages in and out of Switzerland, and the list goes on.
Rolex World Headquarters in Geneva
The second brand worth mentioning is Parmigiani Fleurier.
Working on entirely different scale than Rolex, Parmigiani Fleurier is inherently more artisanal than industrial. But behind it is a foundation that plays a crucial role in watchmaking and Switzerland as a whole: the Sandoz Family Foundation.
It all goes back to the brand’s origins. Its founder Michel Parmigiani built his reputation as one of the best watchmakers and restorers of our times, working on exceptional pieces of horological history. One of his clients for restoration work was the Sandoz Family Foundation, who saw so much talent and potential in Michel Parmigiani that they decided they would help him build and establish his own contemporary watchmaking brand.
But it’s not just watchmaking. The Sandoz Family Foundation is on a mission to preserve and promote traditional savoir-faire unique to Switzerland, spanning several fields including hospitality, printing, pharmaceuticals, agro-industry and of course, watchmaking.
As a foundation, Sandoz reinvests its earnings, creating countless jobs and opportunities in Switzerland while perpetuating the traditional arts, crafts and knowledge of its people. In the watch industry alone, they own movement manufacturer Vaucher, as well as case, dial and other component manufacturing companies.
While this isn’t exactly charity, it is in every sense “giving back”, as Parmigiani Fleurier and the Sandoz Family Foundation continue to create opportunities within the world of watchmaking and keep the art alive.
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