“Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.” – Confucius

Interview with Franziska Gsell, CMO & Sustainability Committee Chair of IWC Schaffhausen

I met Franziska Gsell, CMO & Sustainability Committee Chair, Executive Board Member at the stylish and minimalist IWC Schaffhausen booth during Watches and Wonders. We discussed how the pandemic has changed the way IWC interacts with customers and what sustainability means for the brand.

UPDATE – 26 July, 2022: IWC Schaffhausen releases the fourth edition of its Sustainability Report. The Report features a foreword by environmentalist and supermodel Gisele Bündchen, IWC’s newly appointed Environmental & Community Projects Advisor.

Some of these massive booths at Palexpo in Geneva (previously SIHH, now Watches and Wonders) are the same more or less every year. Not IWC Schaffhausen’s, who are always keen to show a new facet of the ‘IWC World’ to the audience: an Italian palazzo in 2017, a deep-brown toned 150th anniversary booth in 2018, or the hangar-inspired setting with a Spitfire in the middle of it just before the pandemic. In 2022, IWC is back to the in-person watch fair with a tall white booth hosting black shipping containers stacked on top of each other. The containers will reappear in other IWC events across the globe this year.

In this minimalist setting, I talked to Franziska Gsell (CMO & Sustainability Committee Chair, Executive Board Member of IWC), equipped with a hazelnut and Irish syrup blended IWC Jet Black Coffee – a nice change from my usual espresso. 

The pandemic required businesses to quickly react to the repeated lockdowns and supply chain difficulties. It drove companies to the digital space with accelerated speed so that they could maintain contact with their customers. How did IWC Schaffhausen connect with clients during this period?

We at IWC have always wanted to stay true to the pioneering spirit of our founder Florentine Ariosto Jones, which in times like these is extremely important. Sometimes it means we take risks and use, for example, the latest digital platforms to connect with our audiences. The previous two Watches and Wonders were held online and our CEO Christoph Grainger-Herr presented our novelties via a web stream. At other times, he has participated in casual discussions in online spaces like Clubhouse. We have held interesting interviews with our brand ambassadors like Cate Blanchett, Eileen Gu and other inspiring people in our ‘Partners in Time’ podcasts or the ‘IWC Signature Talks’, which we have three sessions of at this Watches and Wonders show too. IWC is an early adopter by nature and our goal is to translate purpose-driven messages through different platforms.

Following the first shock waves of the pandemic we are gradually back to the in-person events. Have the past two years changed the way brands go to market after the pandemic?

The IWC Signature Talks area is a good example. We have three in-person sessions at the Watches and Wonders and all are broadcasted online. We used one to distribute 1,868 NFT tokens that give access to our fresh digital space in the metaverse – everyone who scanned the QR code on the screen online or in the Auditorium could secure one. This metaverse space, called the IWC Diamond Hand Club, is on Spatial.io, where our booth can be walked around, novelties viewed and visitors can meet our colleagues. Soon we will be offering events exclusive to this virtual space.

We started combining the digital and real life experiences in our new IWC boutique concept too. All the latest boutiques can broadcast live studio sessions and offer interactive experiences in order to connect with a wider audience at any time. For instance, bystanders can take control of the shop window displays outside our flagship store in Zurich by scanning a QR code and select the watch to display very easily. They can get further info on the timepiece immediately. 

Early March I participated in a webinar by ZHAW School of Management and Law, entitled ‘Successfully Selling Luxury in a Post-Pandemic World’ with Christian Bülte (IWC Schaffhausen’s Zurich Boutique Director). He shared some experiences from the Zurich boutique being the ‘test lab’ of the new omni-channel concept.

Yes, indeed, we try many things out in the Zurich boutique. We capture data about these customer experiences as well as on various digital platforms of course, and use these to plan our marketing campaigns, interact and service our clients better and more naturally.

The new stores have also been themed in order to show a different facet of the IWC brand. The Zurich boutique was the first and has been styled as the ‘IWC Racing Works’ to become the global home of the brand’s classic racing team. The beautiful IWC Racing Mercedes 300 SL ‘Gullwing’ is the right centrepiece, isn’t it? Visitors can actually sit in it and have a true VR experience. The new boutique in Dubai Mall has just opened, which is more edgy and is dedicated to showcasing our connection to the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team, which we have been the ‘Official Engineering Partner’ of since 2013.

You’re not only the CMO, but also the chair of IWCs sustainability committee. What does sustainability mean for you?

Hard luxury – which includes timeless items such as jewellery and watches – is already producing less waste due to the products’ lasting nature. In fine watchmaking the pieces are often inherited through generations. But of course, this is very far from enough. 

IWC was the first Swiss luxury watch company to publish a sustainability report using the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) standards in 2018. The biennial report illustrates IWC’s progress in integrating sustainability into everyday decision-making and managing its social and environmental impact responsibly. Transparency includes the responsible sourcing of raw materials. Interestingly enough, we experience the shift in priorities of the younger generation. They care greatly about the environment and our actions in its protection both as a customer and also as an applicant to our job openings. They are very much aware of the sustainability report, for example. They would like to work for a company (or buy from a company) whose values are aligned with theirs. 

We also aim to use renewable energy globally (IWC’s manufacturing sites, already use 100% renewable energy with 7% provided by solar panels and 93% provided by hydropower) and reduce the waste throughout our processes end-to-end. Additionally, small things, like the packaging of watches are now a travel pouch instead of a big gift box so it could be used for years. IWC aspires to reduce the usage of plastic and focus on using recyclable materials. This is a continuous effort and we will be sharing more as we go.

It is important to mention that we have been partnering with emerging and sometimes futuristic enterprises to exchange best practices on sustainable engineering excellence and processes. We dedicated one of ‘IWC Signature Talk’ sessions at the Watches and Wonders to introduce these companies, Airspeeder and Boom Supersonic, both aiming to contribute to the sustainable mobility of the future.

At Loupiosity, we focus on women’s choices in fine watchmaking. Being ‘Engineered for Men’ in advertisements years ago, I wonder what’s your view on women picking IWC timepieces? 

In certain regions like China, these ads were not published, so women and men have always been equally attracted to IWC timepieces there. And I agree, in the last years women are much more interested in mechanical timepieces, different calibres and understanding and appreciating the technical features. Many of them like even the more edgy and ‘sturdy’ tool watch aesthetics, especially since sizes have been reduced. For many women, IWC Schaffhausen has become a natural choice. 

Do you have a personal favourite timepiece from IWC Schaffhausen? 

It is not an easy question, I like so many. I have a sweet spot for the Portugieser chronograph with different dial colours, but I also wear more dressy watches for different occasions. From the current collection I love the white-black Pilot’s Watch Chronograph TOP GUN Edition ‘Lake Tahoe’.

Photo credits: IWC Schaffhausen. Loupiosity.com
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