old). I clearly bought a great many as I wrote that ‘my younger son retrieved a carrier bag full of old watches from the shed in the few square feet of open space behind our house that we ironically refer to as the garden. What amazed me was how many of them he coaxed back to life by merely applying thumb and forefinger and winding them up. He was able to enjoy them just as much as I once had.’ I believe that the Swiss mechanical watch is a born out of a ‘sustainable’ culture in which an innate appreciation of quality is expressed not solely in the transgenerational longevity of the product, but also in the far-sighted vi- sion of such men as Hans Wilsdorf, the founder of Rolex and Tudor. Even if he did not use the word, Wilsdorf was clearly a man of a sustainable mindset opposed to built-in obsolescence – that much is suggested by the name of his most famous product, the Oyster Perpetual. Then in 1945, at the age of 64, he wanted to make his entire business perpetual and created a foundation to which he turned over his shares, the dividends to be distribut- ed by the foundation’s board according to spe- cific instruction. ‘Owner of Rolex, the Foundation provides the watch manufacture with structural strength and absolute independence to help perpetuate its success,’ states the company, describing the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation as ‘a leading actor, albeit discreet, in terms of pa- tronage in the fields of education, health and societal matters’.

I do not know if that fits any definition of sustainability doing the rounds right now, but I believe it should, because it demonstrated a benign vision for the future that has proved its worth for more than three quarters of a cen- tury. When talking of luxury watch brands, no one can deny the strength of Rolex or the qual- ity of its products. Maybe this strength and quality are entirely unconnected to its owner- ship structure. Then again, maybe because it is freed from the Sisyphean short-termism of delivering quarterly results to the stock market and the disruption and distraction of owners changing as the business is bought and sold, it can concentrate on making watches. This year Rolex has issued new models of

two of its most famous watches – the Rolex Explorer I and II – obliquely referencing the brand’s environmental credentials. ‘For the founder of Rolex, Hans Wilsdorf, the world was like a living laboratory,’ reads a company statement. ‘He began to use it as a testing ground for his watches from the

1930s, sending them to the most extreme lo- cations, supporting explorers who ventured into the unknown. But the world has changed. As the 21st century unfolds, exploration for pure discovery has given way to exploration as a means to preserve the natural world. Rolex continues the legacy of its founder, sup- porting the explorers of today on their new mission: to make the planet perpetual.’ Rolex has succeeded making its watches perpetual – so why not the planet as well? S



THE REAL DRAMA of the Roman Colosse- um happened beneath the stage. While 50,000-odd spectators settled in their seats, gladiators and wild beasts were waiting in a network of candlelit corridors and subterra- nean chambers known as the hypogeum. Since June, members of the public have been able to wander these cavernous zones in full for the first time and experience perhaps a taste of the nerve-shredding terror their for- mer occupants felt before they were hoisted into the arena by winches and lifts. For this, we have Tod’s to thank. The Italian shoe and leather company contributed €25 million to a decade-long restoration project – especially fitting, I suppose, if you consider that the Colosseum was to sandal-wearing what Wembley is to football, or Wimbledon to tennis. The work has included a thorough clean of the amphitheatre’s façade, as well as measures to prevent the masonry from be- coming saturated with decay-inducing rain- water. A walkway leads visitors to the under- ground areas, which extend to an extraordinary 15,000 square metres. The Flavian Amphitheatre, named the Col- osseum after a colossal 30-metre sculpture of Emperor Nero formerly displayed nearby, is just one of a number of heritage sites to have

benefited from private-sector funding in the past decade. In 2015, the Trevi Fountain was given a new lease of life after Fendi contribut- ed more than €2 million to its repair. The re- stored Spanish Steps reopened a year later after a €1.5 million gift from Bulgari. In Flor- ence, Salvatore Ferragamo has contributed to the refurbishment of eight galleries in the Uffizi, and Gucci to the restoration of ten Renaissance tapestries. And in Venice, OTB Group (which includes the high-street label Diesel) was behind the work done on the Rialto Bridge. The Italian fashion houses are indeed prov- ing to be trailblazers in the marriage between historical monuments and modern corpora- tions. The flurry of contributions to well- known attractions follows the introduction in Italy in 2014 of a 65 per cent tax break – the ‘art bonus’ – for those donating to heritage. As culture minister Dario Franceschini told the New York Times that year, potential donors have a chance to associate themselves with fa- vourite sites: ‘We have a long list, as our herit- age offers endless options, from small coun- tryside churches to the Colosseum. Just pick.’ The decision by Tod’s and others to ‘just pick’ is not, of course, without controversy. Critics blanch at the apparent commercialisa- tion of historic monuments, especially when gifts are followed by the erection of brash company billboards on their façades. I still scowl involuntarily whenever I remember the sight of the Doge’s Palace plastered in posters during the Venice Biennale. There is also a temptation to be cynical, and question where a donor’s true interest lies. When Bernard Arnault, chairman of luxury goods company LVMH, pledged €200 million towards rebuilding Notre Dame in Paris after the fire of 2019, critics in the media and trade unions scoffed, supposing that he was simply in it for the tax break. Charitable donations made in France are eli- gible for a substantial 60 per cent deduction. As Arnault noted, however, his company was at that time ineligible to receive one, having received the maximum allowance through its work on Fondation Louis Vuitton. Self-inter- est and interest in heritage are besides far from incompatible.

Suspicions of motives are understandable, and the banners can be gauche, but the fact is that funding for heritage is scarce and bricks are crumbling. A bit of advertising is a small price to pay for the longevity of a beloved building. Donations from those who feel gen-

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