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Swarovski: A Brilliant Future Born from an Innovative Past

BoF meets Nadja Swarovski to hear how the company’s innovation in crystal cutting technology and the production of lab-grown diamonds continues to drive its aesthetic capabilities and cultural values.
Swarovski factory in Wattens, Austria | Source: Courtesy
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WATTENS, Austria — Originality and inventiveness have always played a fundamental part in the success of the Swarovski business. In 1895, its founder Daniel Swarovski perfected the hydro-powered crystal cutting techniques that enabled him to "create a stone for every woman, that every woman can afford." Today, his company, which remains in the sole control of his descendants, currently led by family members from the fourth and fifth generations, employs over 32,000 people and reported revenues in excess of €3.5 billion in 2018.

Indeed, the role Swarovski's proprietary cutting techniques and technologies have played in the company's success cannot be overstated. Constantly evolving thanks to consistent investment over its 125-year history, Swarovski has established itself as the preeminent global expert. In 2007, Nadja Swarovski, who is an executive board member of the company, launched Atelier Swarovski — described as the "ultimate expression" of the brand, conveyed through products showcasing the aesthetic possibilities uniquely available at Swarovski. The creative capabilities that derive from its technological prowess in cutting stones have already led to fashion-focused collaborations between Atelier Swarovski and Maison Margiela, Jean Paul Gaultier, Viktor & Rolf, Jason Wu, Christopher Kane and Mary Katrantzou.

Ten years later, in 2017, reflecting the wider commitment to sustainability at a group level and seeking to tap growing consumer sentiment towards “conscious luxury,” Atelier Swarovski introduced its first fine jewellery collections made with Swarovski Created Diamonds — stones that are identical to mined diamonds to both human and mechanical eye, and in their physical and elemental composition, created in laboratory conditions that mimic the natural process. Today, all products made by Atelier Swarovski are made with entirely responsibly sourced materials, following Atelier Swarovski newly formed partnership with Fairtrade Gold in 2018.

Nadja Swarovski, Swarovski executive board member and creative director
of Atelier Swarovski | Source: Courtesy

Now, on the occasion of the launch of Atelier Swarovski’s new Fine Jewellery concession at London department store Harvey Nichols, BoF sits down with Nadja Swarovski to hear how Atelier Swarovski's investment in innovation continues to drive its creativity and empower its increasingly environmentally conscious company values.

How is the Swarovski company evolving?

The younger generation, the millennials, are so much more informed and concerned about the environment, so they ask the big questions. We can definitely feel that already with our younger employees and increasingly all of our employees — they want to know what our culture of giving back is and they want to see our sustainability report. As a company, we are all very much aligned behind our goals: to protect the people and the natural environment; to inspire and enable designers, collaborators and customers to become more sustainable; and to work towards sustainable production and consumption.

Engineering, which has always been one of our great strengths, has a lot of the answers to a lot of the issues and dilemmas we and the planet are facing. The energy and positive sentiment is palpable in the teams. Yes, we did make significant financial investments to operate in this way, and yes, we did invest a lot in terms of time, but it is worth it.

I hope that Swarovski can act as a good example for fashion manufacturers and jewellery manufacturers to also step it up and make that effort to have greener manufacturing on the environmental front — but also on the human front. We are beginning by focusing on five of the seventeen UN Sustainable Development Goals, covering gender equality, clean water and sanitation, decent work and economic growth.

What are the key milestones in Atelier Swarovski’s technological innovation?

It’s really our engineering abilities and our cutting technology. The cutting technology is crucial but also the technology of making crystal, which is something that we have perfected over the years. We have a very strict quality control. We don’t let a crystal leave the factory with a scratch on it or a bubble in it. That is a part of who we are — that’s our DNA. These brilliant engineers are very much a part of our culture. I believe our quality control is extremely strict compared to many of our competitors, but for us it reflects our values and pays respect towards our end consumers.

We have the freedom to buy our product from anywhere — we're choosing to buy it from the right, sustainable source.

One element we are also extremely pleased about was our ability to remove all lead from our products in 2012. Lead is used in crystal production in order to make the stones more brilliant. Most of the crystal manufacturers still use lead to make crystal, but lead is a highly toxic material for the factory workers. We are striving to be as compliant towards the [UN] Global Compact as we can be.

Why did Swarovski choose to enter the fine jewellery market?

In 2017, we started to work with lab-grown diamonds and subsequently developed our first fine jewellery lines using our Swarovski Created Diamonds. Of course, people ask, "Why are you going into the fine jewellery market?" Well, my answer is: "Because we can." We're master cutters. We cut the gemstones, we cut the crystals, and we work with the best ateliers for our fine jewellery. In this case, I really appreciate the Coco Chanel attitude: keep your clientele guessing as to what you will create next, but never compromise the design.

Penélope Cruz wearing Atelier Swarovski by Penélope Cruz Fine Jewellery,
Lola collection | Source: Courtesy

We had the honour to dress Penélope Cruz on the red carpet at the Venice Film Festival two years ago. When we showed her our jewellery collection, we also shared a copy of our sustainability report. This was how our conversation got going and she’s now our brand ambassador. She has designed a fine jewellery line with us using created diamonds and responsibly sourced gemstones, but she’s also created a more accessible fashion collection because she wants all her fans to be able to afford the jewellery. Recently, we were excited to launch our Conscious Luxury collection with designs from Penélope Cruz, as well as Stephen Webster and Paige Novick, exclusively at our new Fine Jewellery concession at Harvey Nichols in London.

What opportunities do lab-grown diamonds offer that traditionally mined stones cannot?

A major consideration is the environmental impact of the creation process, as opposed to that of mined diamonds. In terms of our fine jewellery designs, we’re using responsibly sourced gemstones and created diamonds, and we’re also using recycled gold and Fairtrade Gold. We located a mine in Peru where the miners are also Alpaca farmers, which means everything that they make from their gold mine goes back into their communities. For Swarovski, we have the freedom to buy our product from anywhere really — therefore, we’re choosing to buy it from the right, sustainable source.

We have to buy the gold anyway, but our decision is to make it sustainable. This is the impact that Swarovski can have. We are certified by the Responsible Jewellery Council for both our fine jewellery and the crystal jewellery, and we’re very proud of that. We’ve been audited and again, we keep to the highest standards. The impact of our industry is big. Responsibly sourced materials are not requirements — these are our cultural values that we’re following.

Using Created Diamonds does not mean that we’re dismissing naturally grown, responsibly sourced stones. We embrace all stones, so long as there is a sustainable track record behind them, and the method of their extraction cares for the people involved and the planet itself.

What new forms of innovation are you exploring at Swarovski?

AI is a big, big topic: how will the machines take over from the hands, so to speak? I believe we will always need humans to oversee the machines, but I think embracing artificial intelligence could increase the efficiency of our manufacturing. Our issue is that we want to keep our manufacturing in Austria because we are employing our local community. Of course, if we moved our manufacturing to China, it would be a fraction of the cost, but our product is very personal to Austria, and we do not want to compromise quality — maybe AI can help here. Perhaps that can allow us to grow our manufacturing while also maintaining our employee base. That is the next generation of innovation we are currently exploring.

This is a sponsored feature paid for by Atelier Swarovski as part of a BoF Careers partnership. To discover more about Swarovski, click here.

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The Business of Fashion

Agenda-setting intelligence, analysis and advice for the global fashion community.
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The BoF Sustainability Masterclass Series