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Clock ticking on Swiss watches’ raw materials from Russia

Diamonds shine brightly at this year's Geneva watch fair but the sanctions slapped on Russia could soon force the Swiss watch industry to produce more subdued designs.

A diamond watch
A diamond watch "Egerie Moon Phase" is displayed in a window of Swiss luxury watch and clock manufacturer Vacheron Constantin, owned by Richemont group, on the opening day of the Watches and Wonders Geneva show, in Geneva on March 30, 2022. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

Russia is a major supplier of diamonds, gold and other precious metals to the luxury watchmakers exhibiting at Watches and Wonders, one of the world’s top salons for the prestige industry.

The Russian group Alrosa — the world’s largest diamond mining company — was hit by US sanctions within hours of the Kremlin-ordered invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

According to US Treasury figures, it accounts for 90 percent of Russia’s diamond mining capacity, and 28 percent globally.

And while trade between Switzerland and Russia is modest, gold is the chief import, ahead of precious metals such as platinum followed by diamonds not mounted or set, according to the Swiss customs office.

Compared to other sectors of the Swiss economy, “watchmaking was a branch that was less affected than others by supply problems in 2021”, Jean-Daniel Pasche, president of the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry, told AFP.

But that may no longer be the case, he acknowledged, adding that it was hard to assess the repercussions for the watch industry at this stage.

“There are obviously reserves. Afterwards, we will have to see, depending on how long the conflict lasts,” Pasche said.

The booth of Swiss luxury watchmaker and jeweller Piaget at Watches and Wonder

The booth of Swiss luxury watchmaker and jeweller Piaget, owned by Richemont group, photographed on the opening day of the Geneva salon. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

Recycled gold and palladium
The Swiss luxury giant Richemont owns the Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels jewellery firms, plus eight prestigious watch brands, including Piaget and IWC.

The group took the lead on Wednesday, saying all its brands have stopped sourcing diamonds from Russia.

The move will create a lot of work on the supply chain to find responsibly sourced, quality diamonds from elsewhere, Richemont chief executive Jerome Lambert told a press conference.

Gold supply is of less concern. For a decade or so, Richemont has been sourcing recycled gold for watchmaking, bought from industry and the electronics sector.

For palladium, used for instance for wedding and engagement rings, the group decided “ahead of the sanctions” to switch to suppliers specialising in recycled palladium, Lambert said.

Draining the stocks
At Patek Philippe, one of the most prestigious Swiss brands, the firm’s president is counting on his stockpile to ride out the storm.

“Luckily I produce in small quantities,” said Thierry Stern, who represents the fourth generation of his family at the company helm.

Watches made with titanium and ceramics are displayed at the booth of luxury Swiss watch manufacturer IWC,

Watches made with titanium and ceramics are displayed at the booth of luxury Swiss watch manufacturer IWC, on the opening day of the Watches and Wonders Geneva show. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

“So I don’t feel any difference yet,” he told AFP. For 2022, Patek Philippe plans to manufacture 66,000 timepieces.

“And if I can’t find certain stones, I can always do engraving,” said the head of the  brand, which relies on a wide range of disciplines including ceramics, marquetry and enamel.

H. Moser, a niche brand producing 2,000 watches a year for wealthy collectors, struck much the same tone.

“Purchases are made in advance. For example, for the casings that I want to make in 2023, I have already bought all the gold I need,” said boss Edouard Meylan.

“But maybe in six months’ time some of our suppliers will call to push back the deadlines because they haven’t received the materials,” he admitted.

Concerns over raw materials “will drive up prices, of course”, said Jon Cox, an industry analyst with the Kepler Cheuvreux financial services company.

However, compared to other sectors, luxury firms have more leeway to pass on costs to customers, he added.

At the Watches and Wonders salon in Geneva, where 38 brands are exhibiting until Tuesday, the displays are brimming with diamonds, reflecting the “generally upbeat mood” of the industry this year after a prosperous 2021.

However, given the war and its repercussions, “I imagine product development will move to more subdued luxury goods”, Cox said.

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UKRAINE

Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Ukraine won the Eurovision Song Contest Sunday with an infectious hip-hop folk melody, boosting spirits in the embattled nation fighting off a Russian invasion that has killed thousands and displaced millions of people.

Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Riding a huge wave of public support, Kalush Orchestra beat 24 competitors in the finale of the world’s biggest live music event with “Stefania”, a rap lullaby combining Ukrainian folk and modern hip-hop rhythms.

“Please help Ukraine and Mariupol! Help Azovstal right now,” implored frontman Oleh Psiuk in English from the stage after their performance was met by a cheering audience.

In the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, the triumph was met with smiles and visible relief.

“It’s a small ray of happiness. It’s very important now for us,” said Iryna Vorobey, a 35-year-old businesswoman, adding that the support from Europe was “incredible”.

Following the win, Psiuk — whose bubblegum-pink bucket hat has made him instantly recognisable — thanked everyone who voted for his country in the contest, which is watched by millions of viewers.

“The victory is very important for Ukraine, especially this year. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Glory to Ukraine,” Psiuk told journalists.

Music conquers Europe

The win provided a much-needed morale boost for the embattled nation in its third month of battling much-larger Russian forces.

Mahmood & BLANCO  performing for Italy at Eurovision 2022

Mahmood & BLANCO perform on behalf of Italy during the final of the Eurovision Song contest 2022 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP)

“Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe!” he wrote on Facebook.

“This win is so very good for our mood,” Andriy Nemkovych, a 28 year-old project manager, told AFP in Kyiv.

The victory drew praise in unlikely corners, as the deputy chief of the NATO military alliance said it showed just how much public support ex-Soviet Ukraine has in fighting off Moscow.

“I would like to congratulate Ukraine for winning the Eurovision contest,” Mircea Geoana said as he arrived in Berlin for talks that will tackle the alliance’s expansion in the wake of the Kremlin’s war.

“And this is not something I’m making in a light way because we have seen yesterday the immense public support all over Europe and Australia for the bravery of” Ukraine, Geoana said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the win “a clear reflection of not just your talent, but of the unwavering support for your fight for freedom”.

And European Council President Charles Michel said he hoped next year’s contest “can be hosted in Kyiv in a free and united Ukraine”.

‘Ready to fight’
Despite the joyous theatrics that are a hallmark of the song contest, the war in Ukraine hung heavily over the festivities this year.
 
The European Broadcasting Union, which organises the event, banned Russia on February 25, the day after Moscow invaded its neighbour.
 
“Stefania”, written by Psiuk as a tribute to his mother before the war, mixes traditional Ukrainian folk music played on flute-like instruments with an invigorating hip-hop beat. The band donned richly embroidered ethnic garb
to perform their act.
 
 
Nostalgic lyrics such as “I’ll always find my way home even if all the roads are destroyed” resonated all the more as millions of Ukrainians have been displaced by war.

Kalush Orchestra received special authorisation from Ukraine’s government to attend Eurovision, since men of fighting age are prohibited from leaving the country, but that permit expires in two days.

Psiuk said he was not sure what awaited the band as war rages back home.

“Like every Ukrainian, we are ready to fight as much as we can and go until the end.

Britain’s ‘Space Man’

Ukraine beat a host of over-the-top acts at the kitschy, quirky annual musical event, including Norway’s Subwoolfer, who sang about bananas while dressed in yellow wolf masks, and Serbia’s Konstrakta, who questioned national healthcare while meticulously scrubbing her hands onstage.

Coming in second place was Britain with Sam Ryder’s “Space Man” and its stratospheric notes, followed by Spain with the reggaeton “SloMo” from Chanel.

After a quarter-century of being shut out from the top spot, Britain had hoped to have a winner in “Space Man” and its high notes belted by the affable, long-haired Ryder.

Britain had been ahead after votes were counted from the national juries, but a jaw-dropping 439 points awarded to Ukraine from the public pushed it to the top spot.

Eurovision’s winner is chosen by a cast of music industry professionals — and members of the public — from each country, with votes for one’s home nation not allowed.

Eurovision is a hit among fans not only for the music, but for the looks on display and this year was no exception. Lithuania’s Monika Liu generated as much social media buzz for her bowl cut hairdo as her sensual and elegant
“Sentimentai”.

Other offerings included Greece’s “Die Together” by Amanda Georgiadi Tenfjord and “Brividi” (Shivers), a duet from Italy’s Mahmood and Blanco.

Italy had hoped the gay-themed love song would bring it a second consecutive Eurovision win after last year’s “Zitti e Buoni” (Shut up and Behave) from high-octane glam rockers Maneskin.

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