'A growing number of brands are talking about ethical business practices'
Can luxury be sustainable? The industry is certainly making all the right noises. A growing number of brands are talking about ethical and responsible business practices, and there is more and more focus on CSR.
In this issue, we speak to Dr Kate Evans, founder of Elephants for Africa, a charity dedicated to the conservation of the world’s largest land mammal. To mark the launch of its latest capsule collection, which is themed around Africa’s big five, Hugo Boss has committed to supporting the work of Elephants for Africa. It’s a sign of the times.
Earlier this year, the Fashion Pact was launched, becoming the most high-profile, industry-wide initiative aimed at combating some of the most pressing environmental issues of our time. It was first announced at the G7 summit in Biarritz, France, in August, with 32 signatories from the fashion and textile industry pledging to work together to clean up their act, with a focus on three key areas: stopping global warming, restoring biodiversity and protecting the oceans.
When the Fashion Pact met for the first time on October 25, a further 24 signatories were added to the list – a veritable who’s who of the fashion industry representing about 250 brands, from Adidas to Armani, Carrefour to Chanel, and Promod to Prada.
But this is, ultimately, a non-legally binding coalition that depends on good will and honourable intentions. It remains to be seen whether the Pact’s lofty goals can be achieved, or whether this is a convenient way for fashion brands to look like they are acting responsibly, just so they can go on behaving exactly as they have been behaving all along. As sustainability becomes more and more fashionable, it will become increasingly difficult to know who is greenwashing and who is not – who is doing it because it’s the done thing, and who is doing it because it’s the right thing.
In many ways, luxury is already sustainable. It promotes more conscious consumerism, it encourages us to acquire fewer things, of a higher quality, and to treasure them for longer, meaning that less gets sent to landfill. But it still demands that consumers ask questions. We all need to be more aware of where the things we buy are coming from, what conditions they were made under, and the damage done to the environment in the process. Brands will always have to balance sustainability with the demands of business growth – so it is up to us as consumers to ensure that those two things are one and the same.
It is also up to us to redefine what luxury actually means – something covetable, beautifully crafted (preferably by an actual human being), creatively superior, customised, even – but also created with minimal harm to the planet, and with respect and dignity afforded to any and all human beings involved in every stage of the process. Once those parametres have been set in stone, the industry will have no choice but to truly change.
Selina Denman, editor
Proceeds from Hugo Boss’s latest capsule collection will go towards supporting conservation efforts in Botswana. Kate Evans, founder of Elephants for Africa, tells Selina Denman why tie-ups between luxury brands and charities are a win-win for all
Kate Evans was one of those “precocious” children who knew from a young age what she wanted to do with her life, she tells me as we sit on the terrace of the Address Downtown, looking out over Dubai’s famed dancing fountains. By her own admission, the founder and director of Elephants for Africa, a charity dedicated to the conservation of the world’s largest land mammal, is a long way from her natural habitat.
“I lived all over the world and I got to meet Asian elephants up close and personal,” she tells me of her childhood. “I became fascinated by elephants, but also interested in their journey and how they were often in human care because of a lack of resources or competition for resources, and also the ivory trade.”
Evans did a PhD in the “behavioural ecology and movements” of adolescent male African elephants in Botswana, and went on to found Elephants for Africa. The charity’s primary focus is on partnering with rural communities in Botswana’s Makgadikgadi Pans, to facilitate conflict-free human-elephant coexistence.
After the poaching crisis, competition with humans for natural resources is one of the greatest threats to elephant populations, Evans explains. “As soon as we stop the poaching crisis, which I have to believe we can, then the biggest threat is competition for resources. And that threat is only going to increase as we face global warming, increased human populations, and a lack of shared resources between humans and wildlife.
“If you engage with communities and enable them to benefit from their wildlife, and they are able to take ownership and benefit from it, then you’ve got the first barrier of defence against the illegal wildlife trade. Because these communities can choose whether to turn a blind eye, or indeed get involved, or they can choose to speak up and say: ‘Not on our land; this is our wildlife.’ And that’s what we are trying to build, this ownership of and pride in wildlife.”
The organisation holds workshops with local farmers, to teach them how to deter elephants from their land (one simple solution is burning chilli, Evans reveals). It also provides the necessary materials to help implement these measures, while advising on agricultural methods that will help farmers improve the yields of their crops.
Meanwhile, “living with” workshops provide schoolchildren and the wider community with essential information about elephant behaviour, offering potentially life-saving answers to fundamental questions such as: when is it safest to fetch water from the river?; how do I know if an elephant is angry; and what should I do if I come across an elephant when walking? By partnering with Environmental Clubs in local primary schools, Elephants for Africa is able to further educate young people about the wildlife around them.
“We have designated protected areas for wildlife and now, the wildlife, particularly in Botswana, is saying: ‘Actually, this doesn’t meet our needs. We need to use your land, as was historic.’ So we need to be thinking about wildlife corridors, protected areas, and we need to understand what elephants might need in the future, and what humans might need,” says Evans.
“It’s building that landscape and system where elephants have a space, humans have a space and humans also have the necessary knowledge to communicate to elephants that this is not where you want to be, in non-aggressive means.”
It was the educational element of Elephants for Africa’s mandate that caught the attention of German fashion brand Hugo Boss. The company’s CSR efforts focus on supporting educational initiatives around the world, in alignment with the fourth United Nations Sustainable Development Goal.
For its latest capsule collection, Hugo Boss collaborated with the historic porcelain manufacturer Meissen, which has been mastering its craft since 1710. One of Meissen’s most recent (and most eye-catching) collections, Big Five, features the African elephant, lion, leopard, rhinoceros and buffalo, rendered in stark white porcelain with a distinctive tribal-style monochrome pattern highlighting the animals’ most defining characteristics – the lion’s mane, the buffalo’s horns, the elephant’s ears and face, and so on.
These figurines acted as the inspiration for the Boss x Meissen capsule collection, which made its global debut in Dubai and is available now in-store. The animal motifs are reproduced in embroidered, jacquard and printed form, set on cashmere, silk and leather, on T-shirts, ties, shirts, shoes and bags.
To celebrate the theme of the collaboration, Hugo Boss has committed to supporting Elephants for Africa, although it has not disclosed details about the size or terms of its contribution. “Hugo Boss is a huge brand, with a huge market that I think is becoming increasingly interested in where their high-brand clothing is coming from,” notes Evans.
“There is a huge opportunity for us, as a small charity, to really speak to the international community. The solution for elephant conservation is a global solution – we need global buy-in; we need people to step up and make everyday changes, so that the world is still going to be a nice place to inhabit in 50 or 100 years.”
To support Elephants for Africa, visit www.globalgiving.org/projects/empowering-communities-to-coexist-with-wildlife-in or www.elephantsforafrica.org
My luxury life: Hrithik Roshan
Bollywood superstar Hrithik Roshan is a man in demand. With two films out this year, he has been busy on set with ‘War’ and ‘Super 30’. An ambassador for Rado watches, the father-of-two was in the UAE last month for the opening of the brand’s new boutique at The Dubai Mall, and spoke to us about making time to travel, the most stylish person he knows and his definition of luxury
If you could wake up anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you be?
The Maldives, because I think a vacation is due … I have been working too hard. My last trip was in June last year. I went to Gstaad, Switzerland and Rome, Italy. I travel a lot when I go on vacation. I want to travel across the globe, me and my two boys. We want to travel to a lot of cities, see a lot of places and do crazy stuff.
You are sitting down to the perfect meal. Where are you, what are you eating and who are you with?
A perfect meal would be anything that tastes good, shared with my sons. Right now, I would go with any really well-made Indian cuisine. I haven’t had that in a long time, because I was doing War, so everything I was eating was grilled or boiled, and Indian food has all the masalas and stuff. It’s really, really heavy, which wasn’t allowed for the kind of character I was playing. So today, I would love to binge on that.
How would you describe your personal style?
I don’t really think I have a style, but being comfortable in what you’re wearing is what I try to achieve.
Who is the best dressed person you know?
Kunal Kapoor, who is a good friend of mine. He just knows what to wear and when to wear it; his Instagram posts are absolutely spot on. I am learning from him now.
What’s one thing that people would be surprised to know about you
My memory is very bad, with people and names. I don’t know if people know that.
What was your first luxury purchase?
I think that would have been my Rolls-Royce.
Are you a collector?
I collect experiences, but nothing material.
What’s your favourite watch?
I only own Rado watches, so that goes to show that I am very much at home endorsing the brand, because that is what I wear. The Hyperchrome is my favourite.
What is your favourite film?
My favourite film is War, because it is my most recent. My future favourite film will be the one I do next … I don’t know what it is right now.
If you had a superpower, what would it be?
I would make all the cigarettes in this world disappear. I think it is the worst disease to be a smoker.
What’s the one film character that you wish you could have played? None. I like being surprised by my scripts. I am not into doing remakes and stories of historical people.
What’s your favourite city in the world?
I have many, but I think Mumbai, because I live there. Dubai comes a very close second; then London or LA.
What is life’s greatest luxury?
The ability to change your mind and perspective whenever you want.
Fans of Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bündchen may already be familiar with the inside of her five-bedroom Massachusetts home. The property, which she shares with her husband, New England Patriots quarterback and six-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady, and their children, formed an inviting backdrop when Bündchen was featured on Vogue’s “73 Questions”.
The property was custom-built in 2015 by architect Richard Landry, in collaboration with interior designer Joan Behnke & Associates. Dubbed “the billionaire whisperer” by Forbes, Behnke has also designed homes for the Saudi royal family, Hollywood A-listers such as Sylvester Stallone and business leaders including Alec Gores. She says sustainability was at the forefront of Bündchen and Brady’s decision-making when designing this interior.
The property is set in Brookline, Greater Boston, on 2.1 hectares of land adjacent to the 9th hole of The Country Club, the oldest country club in America and one of the five charter clubs that founded the United States Golf Association. Rumour has it that members of the notoriously discreet, 137-year-old club were initially hesitant about letting Bündchen and Brady join their ranks, on account of all the attention that the high-profile duo were likely to attract, but they eventually relented and the keen golfers have been spotted on the club’s greens on various occasions.
This setting means the property on 112 Woodland Road is surrounded by mature trees and green-covered expanses, creating a strong sense of privacy. A 12,112-square-foot interior includes a dining room, living rooms and a grand staircase c leading up to the five bedrooms. A recreation room, children’s play room and gym offer plenty of entertainment options in the family-centric home. Floor-to-ceiling glass windows flood the space with natural light and combine with wooden floors and ceiling beams to create a warm interior. A large, open, farmhouse-style kitchen with a central white marble-topped island and white-wood cabinetry is the hub of the home. There is a three-car garage and stoned car park, in addition to a circular driveway with space for a further 20 vehicles, making it ideal for big get-togethers.
An organic herb and vegetable garden, infinity pool, spa and barn-inspired guest house fitted with a yoga studio may help you to get Bündchen’s famous glow. The 2,400-square-foot standalone guest house, which has an open fireplace at its heart, also doubles as a home office. Gisele describes it as her “sanctuary”.
“Home is where your heart is,” says Bündchen in one of her answers to Vogue’s 73 questions – but her heart is now looking for a new abode. The Brookline property is listed with a guide price of $33.9 million through Gibson Sotheby’s International Realty – down from $39.5m, the asking price when the property was first put on the market in August. With an estimated net worth of $400m, Bündchen, who has previously held the title of highest-paid model in the world, is unlikely to feel the difference.
Trend: Blue is the season’s most regal hue
Steel blue silk is cut on the bias, but left loose and roomy, and edged in black. In an icy hue infused with lilac, this piece is rich and sophisticated.
Saab has carved out a one-shouldered gown from glistening sequins – with one side covered from collar to ankle, and the other baring a flash of skin.
Midnight blue has rarely looked so chic, with Maria Grazia Chiuri turning it into a strapless full-skirted dress topped with simple Breton-inspired stripes.
Oscar De La Renta
Prussian blue is transformed into intricate fan pleats in this gown. Dramatic and glamorous, the play of light over the shifting fabric is stunning.
All hail the age of health
From Roman baths to tropical retreats, Adriaane Pielou charts the evolution of the spa
“We’re witnessing a shift. We’re moving from the information age to the health age,” Italian hotelier Aldo Melpignano told journalists recently. The owner of the Borgo Egnazia hotel and spa in Puglia, southern Italy, was introducing a five-day retreat based on the habits of the world’s longest-living people.
As part of the experience, guests start the morning with yoga, go for a fast walk, work on their real-life, non-digital social network, do nothing for a bit, have a massage, then walk barefoot around the hotel’s organic farm to pick vegetables – for meals to be eaten only until they’re 80 per cent full.
If Melpignano’s “health age” comment is right, it’s a testimony to how much spas have evolved in the past 20 years – not to mention the past 2,000. Tap “spa” into Google and you get 3.9 billion search results. Slightly overwhelming if you’re just idly browsing for somewhere to spend a relaxing weekend. But it’s evidence of how the word spa now embraces much more than its traditional meaning. That is: an aesthetically uplifting public space devoted to health and relaxation, built around a supply of naturally hot or heated mineral-rich spring water.
Spa is now the catch-all word embracing all manner of new wellness and self-care obsessions. These run the gamut from – deep breath – mindfulness, meditation, DNA testing, good sleep, gut bacteria, clean eating, colonics, boot camps, laughter therapy, crystal use, being wrapped in seaweed or mud, vitamin IV drips, Traditional Chinese Medicine (barely known these days in China, it is worth noting), Ayurveda, tai chi, qigong, alternative medicine, tree houses, Tibetan singing bowls, bioenergetics, transformational breathwork, essential oils, mala beads, reverence for plants, chakra-cleaning, aura-clearing, shamanism, chi nei tsang abdominal massage, fasting, vegetarianism, veganism and all kinds of yoga and Pilates and gym workouts, to – another deep breath – the widespread craving to disconnect, be outside and get back to nature.
From Antigua to Zanzibar, we now have an astounding selection of spas to choose from. And the next time we lie down on a massage bed, we might send a mental message of thanks across the centuries to the people to whom we most owe this great choice. The Romans.
Two thousand years ago, it was the Romans (and in particular the Roman soldiers) who, as they conquered and colonised their way around Europe, North Africa and the Mediterranean, spread the idea of the spa as an essential part of everyday life. No doubt, the soldiers were eager to have somewhere to heal their wounds, recover from their exertions and simply get warm and clean. Emulating the grand marble baths in Rome – improved versions of baths the ancient Greeks had erected, so sincere thanks to them, too – Roman soldiers built baths (and encampments) around natural hot springs wherever they came across them.
The ruins of many still exist today. So, of course, do many of the towns their encampments grew into. In some, such as Bath, England, you can still relax in the (now renovated) baths they dug, and enjoy the series of variously heated rooms – the tepidarium, caldarium and frigidarium – at the heart of every Roman spa.
No one is sure where the word spa comes from. Some think it an acronym for the Latin phrase Salus Per Aquam, health from water. But it was certainly the Romans who named a Belgian village Spa, after building baths around its hot springs. Over the centuries, Spa became so noted for the healing effects of this water – mineral-rich thanks to the rock it passed through before gushing from the ground – that from the 1300s, the name Spa began to be added to any place where people found bathing in or drinking the local spring waters beneficial.
Spas as we know them today, however – lavish, luxurious, with an ever-expanding menu of treatments, therapies and experiences – took off only in the 1980s. Until then, those spas that had survived the growing influence of the post-Second World War pharmaceutical industry (with its pill for every ill, obviating many people’s instinct to seek a traditional spa cure) had become seen as the province of cranks. Sanatorium-type spas had thrived in Communist Eastern Europe, free for the workers sent there for a week each year to keep them factory-fit, but the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1989 brought an end to many of them. In Britain, the 1970s “health farms” that spas had turned into catered mostly to women and the odd male actor who wanted to slim down. They involved diets of lettuce and cottage cheese, and days enlivened by a massage and a manicure.
The era of wild prosperity that the 1980s ushered in, thanks to banking deregulation and the booming oil industry, heralded a new generation of ultra-high-earning, super-stressed individuals desperate to escape and recharge somewhere smart. Suddenly, a spa was the answer to a lot of new problems.
A massive spate of hotel building was initiated, each with a now obligatory, better-than-the-rest spa. Older hotels quickly converted their disco or storage space into treatment rooms. Chiva Som opened in Thailand, showing the world what a detox destination spa could be – inspiring. Since 2000, it has been unthinkable for any five-star hotel not to have a spa.
Today, of course, a massage and manicure are the least of it. As spas have hired or been launched by alternative practitioners, treatments have become evermore esoteric. At the fashionable MasQi, the remote 19th-century restored farmhouse in a national park in Spain, for instance, days start with yoga in the geodesic dome at 8.30am and end with meditation at 6pm, with sessions with the owner – a believer of reincarnation – and a therapist, who can sense what guests’ organs are communicating, in between.
Since an increasing number of people have realised that ailments once seen as the preserve of mainstream medicine – and thus medication – are more effectively treated by diet, medical spas and spas focused on the gut have gained a devoted following.
In Germany, Buchinger, the fasting spa run by the grandson of the founder, who started it after a two-week fast cured his rheumatoid arthritis, has such spectacular curative and weight-loss results, you’re lucky if you can book a room within the next six months. Focused on the importance of a properly functioning digestive system, meanwhile, the Mayr clinics in Austria and Germany have seen thousands of guests cured of complaints ranging from IBS to infertility to back pain.
“Numerous orthopaedic conditions originate in the gastrointestinal tract,” says Dr Peter Gartner of the Mayr-focused ParkHotel Igls. “Time and again, too, we have seen women who want to have a baby fall pregnant after a Mayr treatment.”
On a grander scale, the deeply luxurious Villa Stéphanie in Germany, Clinique La Prairie and Bad Ragaz spas in Switzerland, and Amanpuri in Thailand are all naturopathically inclined, and have allied themselves with top local mainstream-medical practices. That way, clients can benefit from the best of both worlds. They have a range of specialists and mainstream diagnostic equipment on hand, as well as alternative practitioners.
Hoteliers, once spa sceptics, have realised the money to be made in responding to guests’ keenness to maintain their zeitgeisty healthy lifestyles while travelling. Yoga mats in rooms, minibar chocolates replaced with nuts and dried fruit, and scales in the bathroom, have joined the old jogging maps. It’s become perilous to ignore the statistics.
“Tourism worldwide is growing at 3 per cent to 3.2 per cent. Wellness travel is growing at twice that,” says Mia Kyricos of Hyatt’s Wellbeing Ideation Lab. “People are taking more trips to enhance or maintain personal well-being. And wellness spans all generations now.” According to the Global Wellness Institute, wellness is worth $4.2 trillion (Dh15.4tn), of which wellness tourism accounts for $639.4 billion, with the global medi-spa industry valued at $12bn.
In New York, the Moxy East Village hotel offers morning rooftop meditation, as well as meditation videos on the in-room TVs. Gym group Equinox’s first hotel, launched this summer at Hudson Yards, has cryotherapy chambers, sound therapy and soundproof rooms for “peak sleep”. In Hong Kong, the Mandarin Oriental has introduced visiting specialists offering breathwork, lymphatic health workshops and Dao Liao knife massages. Four Seasons Hong Kong’s Masters of Wellness programme has practitioners in aura reading and astrology, and monthly full Moon meditations – until recently the preserve of backpacker beach spas in Thailand.
Meanwhile, both spas and hotels are responding to a craving to get outside and into nature. At Austria’s 400-year-old Forsthofgut Naturhotel, guests can hike into the forest for a massage on a table set up under the trees. In Gstaad, the non-profit Friends of Saanenwald is a new forest-bathing retreat, with campfires, saunas and swimming in mountain lakes. Sweden’s remote Arctic Bath, unveiled last winter, has been entrancing guests with its ring of floating cabins. In Bali, guests at Amandari can sample sessions with a shaman and at Amankila, trek into the forest to pick medicinal herbs. Next year, Belmond’s Good Living programme will have Self-Care for the Real World author and yoga teacher Nadia Narain at its Cap Juluca Caribbean resort, who will host sessions on the beach and by moonlight.
Simultaneously, there’s been the arrival of sophisticated new city spas, set up for day-to-day maintenance. London’s new Urban Retreat day spa – out of Harrods, now, and around the corner in Hans Crescent – has evolved into a holistic house of health focused on cleansing, inside and out. There are colonics, infrared saunas, nurse-administered IV infusions, a Japanese specialist in lymphatic drainage and cupping, and a top dermatologist. Mental cleansing, too, via one-on-one meditation (aka the new yoga) with soft-spoken yogi Catherine Turner.
Does all this sound new? Actually, as spas evolve, the circle is turning. What gets forgotten is how Roman spas also had gyms, libraries, concert spaces and, at the centre, the idea that these were public forums where one could socialise while relaxing and deep-cleaning oneself. They were also much larger than our spas. Some accommodated up to 1,600.
And when you consider the influence that health is having on big-scale developments such as the WorldCare Wellness village in Dubai, retirement communities in Florida built around a spa to prolong active existence, and new apartment blocks in cities from Paris and Madrid to Los Angeles and New York, where the lure is a spa, gym, pool, yoga room and green roof for growing herbs and vegetables, it’s clear that Signor Melpignano is correct.
All hail the age of health. And, thanks again to those Roman soldiers.
In a verdant hideaway in the heart of Dubai, fashion worthy of a modern-day Titania
Photography: Angelo Formato
Fashion director: Sarah Maisey
Model: Eline at Milk
Hair and make-up: Sharon Drugan
With thanks to Nature Escapes, Al Barari
Tinkering with time
Two decades ago, when Jacques Helleu, the then artistic director of Chanel, decided to design a watch, he created the timepiece that he himself wanted to wear. He imagined it as timeless, sporty and all black – and he drew inspiration from his two greatest passions, cars and sailing boats. He used, as reference points, the sleek chassis lines of racing cars and the striking silhouettes of the boats in The America’s Cup racing class, J12. This also supplied the name for what is now one of Chanel’s most recognisable creations.
Released in 2000, the black ceramic J12 became an instant classic. And ahead of the watch’s 20th anniversary next year, Arnaud Chastaingt, director of Chanel’s watch creation studio, has given it a subtle makeover – just enough to keep it fresh, but not too much that its identity is altered. The bezel was refined to increase the dial opening: the number of notches was increased from 30 to 40, and the typeface of its numerals and indexes was redesigned.
The width of the crown was reduced by a third and the thickness of the case was increased ever so slightly, to soften the watch’s profile. Indicators have been added to the inner railway, which has also been reworked, and the hour and minute hands are now the same width, with an increased area of luminescence. Available in black or white versions, the J12’s one-piece ceramic case is equipped with a sapphire crystal, allowing the watch’s all-new 12.1 calibre automatic movement, specially developed by the Swiss company Kenissi Manufacture, to be seen. Certified by the COSC – Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres – the calibre 12.1 offers a 70-hour power reserve and the watch is water resistant to 200 metres.
To mark the launch of this new version of the J12 (and its strapline: “It’s all about seconds”), Chanel invited nine well-known women to share personal stories about “the seconds” that changed their lives, their favourite times of days, their feelings about the passing of time and their first memories of Chanel.
“I’m not one of those people who wants time to stop,” says Naomi Campbell, who goes on to talk about her favourite part of the day, sunset. “Everything’s so beautiful in that golden light. Everyone looks so beautiful in that light, no one can look bad.”
Claudia Schiffer, meanwhile, highlights her Germanic approach to time management, adding: “I don’t have time to do everything I want to do. I keep trying, but I think that’s called living.”
Selina Denman goes hunting for emeralds in Zambia’s Kagem mine
A glint of green in a jagged sea of grey. I bend down to take a closer look. Embedded in a chunk of silvery rock is the telltale hexagonal outline and vivid hue of one of the rarest minerals on the planet. “I think I’ve found one,” I call over to the security guard standing a few metres away.
I am in Chama, the world’s largest producing emerald pit. This is the beating heart of Zambia’s 41-square-kilometre Kagem mine, a joint venture between Gemfields, a leading supplier of responsibly sourced coloured gemstones, and the government of Zambia. About 25 per cent of the world’s emeralds originate here.
A few minutes earlier, I had watched as a high-pressure water jet was used to spray the ground at one end of the 160-metre-deep pit. Now the rock bed sparkles in the Sun, pieces of mica and quartz catching the light and giving the sludge beneath our feet an otherworldly glow. I step gingerly through puddles, balancing on shards of rock, my eyes peeled to the ground. I am on the hunt for emeralds.
Half a billion years ago, in the ground beneath me, an incomprehensibly rare occurrence unfolded. Two very different types of rock came into contact – a 500-million-year-old pegmatite containing elements of beryllium and a 1.6-billion-year-old talc-magnetite schist. And in the reaction zone between the two, one of the most striking substances known to man began to mineralise. Although they are the more recent to be discovered, east African emeralds are known to be much older than emeralds from other parts of the world, and get their pure green hue from the presence of chromium, iron and beryllium.
The accepted consensus is that fine emeralds are 20 times rarer than fine diamonds, and to visit an emerald mine is to appreciate how truly rare that is. The rocks that we are trawling through on the mine floor have been dislodged using a controlled explosion. Gemfields is open and realistic about the impact of a mining operation on the environment – there is no denying the scar that an open pit leaves on a landscape. But as long as there is demand for precious stones, there will be mining, and at least Gemfields is mindful of how it goes about its business. For a start, it does not use any chemical substances that are hazardous to health or that pollute the environment, and it recycles the water utilised in its processes wherever possible.
After a team of miners has collected all the gemstones that are immediately visible in the pit, the remaining rock is transported to Kagem’s wash plant, where it is broken into smaller, more manageable pieces. These pass through the plant on what must be the world’s most valuable conveyor belt. On either side of the belt, workers sift through the stones trying to spot that elusive flash of green. The emerald-bearing rocks are picked out and placed directly into a bright red, double-padlocked box, which is sent on to the mine’s sort house. Here, the priceless gems are gently dislodged from their “host rock” – or, in the fabulously futuristic-sounding phrase used by the sort house’s supervisor, Jackson Mtonga, “liberated from their matrix”.
At Kagem, a mere 50 grams of “emerald and beryl mix” is recovered for every 100 tonnes of earth excavated. And within that mix, only 0.3g is considered premium emerald. That’s an infinitesimally small chance of finding the good stuff. At every stage of the process, in spite of the cutting-edge machinery and technology employed by Kagem, and the stringent security measures put in place at the mine, there is plenty of scope for the emeralds to be damaged or pilfered, or to simply escape unseen. It feels slightly miraculous that they are found at all.
While Gemfields may be in the business of extraction, it is also committed to giving back to the communities where it operates. Its core values of transparency, legitimacy and integrity manifest in a belief that “coloured gemstones should create a positive impact for the country and community from which they originate”.
In tangible terms, this means that about 1 per cent of the company’s revenue is invested in corporate social responsibility initiatives in the areas surrounding its two mines in Zambia and Mozambique. Since it began operations at Kagem in 2008, the company has spent more than $2 million (Dh7.3m) on community projects in the surrounding Lufwanyama district, focusing primarily on the areas of health, education, agriculture and conservation.
In the whitewashed, Gemfields-built Chapula secondary school, smartly uniformed teenage students are waiting to sit their final exams. The school’s deputy headmistress proudly shows us around the school’s science lab, home economics class and computer/music room, where trumpets, xylophones and drums are stacked on desks alongside HP PCs. Students rush to greet us and partake in that most universal, unifying of experiences: the selfie. This is one of three schools that has been restored in the area, offering vital support to an education system plagued with challenges. Although still higher than the country’s average, literacy rates in the Lufwanyama district stand at about 60 per cent.
“It’s very important to have partners like Kagem because, as governments, we cannot be everywhere,” Mambe Hamududu, the district education board secretary of Lufwanyama, explains as we stand on the grounds of the Kapila Primary School, a two-building facility that Gemfields has helped restore. “Without them, this school would not be the way it is. They supported the teachers, they supported the infrastructure and the school is growing.
“Education is accessible to all, but it is a challenge,” Hamududu adds. “It is a requirement in our country that all children go to school, but enforcement can be difficult.” For some children in the area, getting to class means a seven or eight-kilometre, one-and-a-half-hour walk each morning. Isolated schools in rural areas can also struggle to attract teachers because of a lack of accommodation in the area and the distances they are required to travel as a result – so Gemfields built teachers’ accommodation at Kapila.
These educators, in turn, can act as role models, particularly for young female students, encouraging them to stay in school. It was a similar story for nursing staff at the nearby Nkana Health Centre, which has been transformed into a fully fledged medical centre, complete with nurse’s quarters, a maternity ward, dedicated wings for men, women and children, and accommodation for expectant mothers.
At the local Twasanta farming collective, a group of women, resplendent in the brightly coloured chitenge fabrics typical of the region, show off the fruits of their toils. Proud and empowered, they seem happy to be able to share their stories, struggles and successes with us. It is an incredibly humbling experience.
One of a number of collectives supported by Gemfields, the women here grow an assortment of vegetables, which are bought, at above market rate, by Kagem to help feed its 1,153-strong workforce. Local farmers were encouraged to form collectives, so they could strengthen and diversify, rather than compete. The focus is on helping them hone their farming skills, educating them about crop rotation and planting crops that complement each other, as well as providing pesticides when problems have arisen. Gemfields has also helped the collectives acquire treadle pumps, to mitigate the daily challenges of irrigation.
In this carefully tended field in the middle of Zambia, it is not just crops being harvested – there is also a tangible spirit of entrepreneurship being cultivated. The women have independently struck a deal with the local branch of a South African supermarket chain, which means they are now selling their produce through increasingly diversified channels, and are looking for different ways to build their businesses.
In keeping with its commitment to responsible mining practices, Gemfields is also harnessing new technologies to drive transparency and traceability in the coloured gemstone supply chain. It has already established its own proprietary grading system, consisting of 214 grades of emeralds – introducing consistency and standardisation in a marketplace where there has traditionally been none – and has teamed up with Gubelin Gem Lab to offer the Emerald Paternity Test. This involves the introduction of unique DNA nanoparticles into an emerald’s fissures, which can be used to confirm a gemstone’s origin. The two parties have now taken this a step further, with the introduction of a blockchain record process, which provides a detailed account of a gemstone’s complete journey.
“The Provenance Proof Blockchain offers a high degree of security and seamless documentation of the data collected along the journey of a gemstone, contributed by the different stakeholders that were involved in the value chain,” says Raphael Gübelin, president of the House of Gübelin. “The information is encoded and backed up on multiple servers, which helps prevent it being altered, deleted or manipulated. The individual history of each gemstone, from the mine to the final customer, is stored permanently and securely. The advantages over a paper trail is that it is more convenient and less prone to tampering. And finally, it is free of charge and easy to use.”
Back in the mine, I hold that chunk of silvery rock in my hand, marvelling at the gem that sits, semi-exposed, in its middle. Mining is a complex, undeniably controversial, business, but there’s magic in it, too. There is something indescribable about picking up a gemstone that has sat under the Earth’s surface for hundreds of millions of years – and knowing that this is the first time it has ever seen the light. Gems are of the Earth, further evidence of nature’s unending bounty.
And while diamonds may have dominated the gemstone industry for the last century, it seems like coloured stones are finally having their moment. Ahead of the release of the 2019 Knight Frank Luxury Investment Index on June 14, Andrew Shirley, the company’s head of luxury research, commented: “The interesting story here is that coloured gemstones are outperforming the wider jewellery market, with some significant sales taking place already in 2019.”
For independent jewellery specialist Joanna Hardy, author of the books Emerald and Ruby, things are coming full circle. “Diamonds weren’t cut until the 1400s, so up until then, it was all pearls and coloured stones. They were used for their talismanic properties – it wasn’t an intrinsic thing at all, at the time. If you look through history, Catherine the Great and all these people were wearing emeralds and sapphires and rubies and spinels. Historically, there are lots of occasions and situations where you will see coloured stones taking preference, and the reason for that is because if you look at the colour green, what does it make you feel? It’s nature, it’s paradise, it’s rebirth – so there is that association with emeralds. With rubies, red is the colour of blood; it is passion and protection.
“Also, it’s the art of the cutting of a diamond that really releases the properties of a diamond. Whereas, as you’ve seen, coloured gemstones can look pretty impressive without having to be cut.”
Rolls-Royce takes a dark turn
Dubbed the ‘king of the night’, the new Black Badge Cullinan is the most powerful vehicle offered by the British marque,
writes Simon Wilgress-Pipe
Brace yourself for this announcement: the world’s most famous manufacturer of luxury cars doesn’t see itself as a manufacturer of luxury cars. That’s only one element of what it does, it says.
The marque in question is Rolls-Royce, and, in a hotel meeting room on Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah, surrounded by cameras and members of the media, chief executive Torsten Müller-Ötvös’s message is clear – cars are just one part of the Rolls-Royce trademark. In actual fact, he says, the British brand represents the height of luxury in a variety of areas that go way beyond automative manufacturing.
That said, the event in that crowded room marks the start of a Middle East promotional tour for Rolls-Royce’s new Cullinan, the final addition to the Black Badge range. It’s the most powerful vehicle that the marque has produced. Technically speaking, it’s an SUV, but calling it that is a little like calling the Burj Khalifa a tower block.
Rolls-Royce debuted the Black Badge concept with its Wraith and Ghost models in 2016. These were followed by the Dawn a year later, and now the family (as it’s being referred to in company circles) has been completed with the introduction of the Cullinan. This is a vehicle Rolls-Royce describes as “the darkest and most urban statement of Black Badge yet”. It’s also being marketed as the “king of the night”, which might be sufficient to induce inferiority complexes in its siblings, were they humans and not cars.
The Cullinan is a powerful beast. It has a 6.75-litre, twin-turbo V12 engine, producing 592bhp. To control this kind of power, it has been fitted with bright red callipers, which is apparently the first time the company has offered coloured brakes.
Despite these masculine overtones, bear in mind that this is a Rolls-Royce. Over the years, no car from that stable has ever been lacking in the finest touches that were technologically possible at the time of production. The Cullinan conforms to the mores of the whole Rolls-Royce range in that you can customise every aspect of the vehicle – from the door handles to the dashboard dials, the treadplates and pretty much any element inside of the car. Such is the service being offered by the company, that no Cullinan is likely to be identical to any other.
In fact, Rolls-Royce is at pains to stress that it will do whatever it possibly can to create a fully bespoke machine. Mind you, a line had to be drawn at one customer’s request, who wanted to have a cigar humidor set into the dashboard, as, after testing, the designers realised that such an addition would have negated the effect of the airbags.
All the chrome elements on the new Cullinan (and the rest of the Black Badge range) have been darkened, as has the traditionally pristine Spirit of Ecstasy figurine. That last change was the subject of some controversy within the company. One of these figurines has adorned every Rolls-Royce bonnet since 1909, only a few years after the company’s very first car, the 10hp, was unveiled at France’s Paris Salon, an early motor show. As such, the shiny symbol was deemed by many to be sacrosanct. The reformers got their way, though, and the Black Badge range gained its own, night-themed figurine.
Despite its off-road capabilities, the Cullinan drives on the tarmac as smoothly as any of its siblings. They call this dreamy, automotive experience a magic carpet ride. There’s no drama here, and if you feel the need to indulge in a spot of steady-handed macramé in the back seat, it’s likely you’ll be able to do so.
The fact that Rolls-Royce is spreading its delicately gilded wings beyond mere vehicle-making comes from the simple premise that people talk about certain products as being “the Rolls-Royce of …”, meaning they are the best of their kind. As such, you can now also buy a range of high-end goods, including fragrances, luggage, pinic hampers and chests, made by the brand.
Following the hotel event, a group of Cullinans head out in convoy from the Palm, through the streets of Dubai, and on to a series of destinations around the city. It’s the kind of grouping that will turn heads, even in the UAE’s biggest urban sprawl, an area well known for having more than the odd piece of high-end metal on its roads.
And, let’s face it, it’s just that kind of attention that many buyers crave. The new Cullinan is here and people will want to look at it. If passers-by staring in your direction is not to your taste, there are plenty of more mainstream choices of car for you.
The Dh33,750 Gucci guitar case
Here’s what makes it the season’s must-have accessory
When Gucci showed its cruise 2020 collection earlier this year, its chosen venue was the Musei Capitolini in Rome, highlighting the brand’s preference for showing high fashion against rich history. And there were plenty of surprises in store. Rather than using conventional lighting, the fashion house chose to illuminate the runway using only torches, lending a curious Night at the Museum air of adventure to proceedings.
Through the darkness, the crowd caught flashes of colour, dresses covered in sparkles, quirky glasses and a new must-have accessory – the guitar case. Forget the “it” bag, Gucci just made it the season of the guitar hard shell.
Since creative director Alessandro Michele is not one to forgo his maximalist tendencies, the humble guitar case has been elevated to a high fashion statement. It has been given the complete Gucci treatment, complete with vintage fabric and an allover Mickey Mouse print.
Made from decidedly unglamorous polyurethane (yet another example of Gucci making the mundane desirable), this is the latest example of a collaboration with Disney that began in spring/summer 2019. Having already given us a Mickey Mouse head handbag, now Gucci presents the world’s most recognisable mouse emblazoned jauntily across its signature interlocking double-G motif, which was made famous in the 1980s.
The same show yielded other eye-popping versions of the guitar case – with brightly coloured Gs in hot yellows and pinks, or in jet black with the words “Gucci Band” added in appliqué leather. True to Michele’s vision, this case is both retro and new, and will no doubt sell out as soon as it hits the shelves.
This is not the first time Gucci has ventured into the world of guitars, however.
In 2000, the fashion house commissioned the famed luthier Marc Nichol to create a bespoke guitar, of which only 18 were made. Twelve were sold through Gucci stores, with the others given as gifts to musicians such as Madonna, Elton John, The Edge of U2 (who used it in the video for the band’s hit song Elevation) and Sting.
In a case of life imitating art, the Beastie Boys had sung about a mythical Gucci guitar in the 1989 song Johnny Ryall. When it was finally made, it was a seven-string instrument with Gucci branded on the pickguard, nut and tuning keys, and was originally priced at $25,000 (Dh91,812). In comparison, this guitar case from the cruise collection might well be deemed a bargain.