EVs Are The Future, But Are They Really That Eco-Friendly?

It’s not easy being green, but the EV industry is addressing sustainability issues to further clean up processes.

By Jason H. Harper 25/10/2021

It’s official: The singular reign of the petrol engine has ended, usurped by the electric vehicle (EV). Hundreds of new EVs are coming to market in the next four years courtesy of more than 15 carmakers. And even the likes of Bentley and Rolls-Royce have made grand pronouncements of full electrification of their fleets by 2030.

Just how surprising is this turn of events? Imagine telling yourself a decade ago that GM would bring back the Hummer . . . as an EV. Or that every new hypercar worthy of its specs will be at least partly electrified.

Naysayers, though, may also point to a vehicle like the Hummer and ask: Just how green can a 4000kg SUV be? Its batteries demand hard-to-source materials such as lithium and cobalt. And electricity comes with an environmental price if it is derived from a coal plant.

To get at that answer, we did a deep dive into the many issues that will eventually answer the question of whether EVs will be as green as we hope. Will they be an environmental panacea, or is this just an elaborate game of bait and switch?

2022 GMC Hummer EV Edition 1

The 2022 GMC Hummer EV Edition 1 Courtesy of GMC.

Mining the Raw Materials for Batteries

The major difference between an EV and an internal combustion engine (ICE) is, of course, the battery. So let’s start there. Most of the parts in a petrol power train are easy to source. The opposite is true for lithium-ion battery packs, the common energy source for current EVs. Batteries are comprised of materials such as cobalt, lithium, nickel, manganese and iron, which must be mined. Of those, lithium and cobalt are relatively rare.

Cobalt is primarily mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, followed by China and Australia. The Congo regularly sees serious environmental, human and political rights issues. Processing lithium from brine, meanwhile, can use some 1,900 tons of water to make one ton of lithium, at least according to the science and technology journal Nature. And it’s often sourced from arid locales in Chile and Bolivia, seriously impacting water tables.

The evaporated Lake Poopo in Bolivia.

The evaporation of Bolivia’s Lake Poopó is blamed in part on pollution from mining, at least by many environmentalists. Photo by Juan Karita/AP Photo.

“No reasonable EV advocate would pretend that there aren’t environmental issues—or even human-rights issues,” says Chelsea Sexton, an EV industry expert who has been working in the space for decades. “But let’s not pretend the sourcing of petroleum is without issues either,” she adds. “We must be working better on all sides, but we can’t let the fact that it’s not perfect stop us from moving forward.” Sexton is now assisting with President Biden’s loan and tax credit DOE program to help the US auto industry continue to invest in EVs and infrastructure.

As volumes increase, so does the environmental oversight by the industry in general, according to Eric Bach, chief engineer and senior vice president of product for Lucid Motors. “In the beginning of electrification, there was less emphasis on making sure the supply chain for batteries met ethical standards or about the CO2 and pollution that comes with production,” he says. “As the volumes have gone up, and will continue to go up, the industry of battery manufacturers has acknowledged that it must take dramatic measures to make sure it is a clean industry.”

To carmakers like Lucid—a new OEM that will only produce EVs—the life-to-death cycle of batteries is of great importance, and Lucid’s singular focus allows the company to exert influence on the industry. Bach also notes that LG and Samsung have both taken initiatives to ensure that battery manufacturing becomes carbon neutral, as the industry realizes that it’s in its own best interests to do better. “It’s a big topic on the boards and a focus of the industry to get cleaner and cleaner every single year.”

US President Joe Biden signs an executive order for the increased production of electric vehicles.

US President Joe Biden signs an executive order for the increased production of electric vehicles. Photo by Susan Walsh/AP Photo.

Materials such as cobalt are also incredibly expensive—some approx. $60,250 a ton—and engineers are continuously tweaking battery chemistry to minimise, or even eliminate, certain elements. One possibility is a new, solid-state battery that replaces many of the rarer materials with nontoxic and easily replaceable solid material such as advanced ceramics. BMW has spoken extensively of using the technology. Volkswagen and Tesla, meanwhile, are looking at replacing rare cobalt with manganese in their batteries. New-age battery technology will be iterative, but just as petrol engines have continuously evolved, so too will battery tech.

Analysis: Mining in remote countries around the world has led to serious issues, but as more visibility is oncoming with major involvement by OEMs, expect the standards to get better, and that, hopefully, we’ll see less need of scarce materials as battery chemistry continues to evolve.

Assembling battery packs at a Sunwoda Electric Vehicle Battery factory in China.

Assembling battery packs at a Sunwoda Electric Vehicle Battery factory in China Photo by Xu Congun/FeatureChina/AP Images.

Using Dirty Electricity to Power EVs

When it comes to actual efficiency, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states, “EVs convert over 77 percent of the electrical energy from the grid to power at the wheels. Conventional petrol vehicles only convert about 12-30 per cent of the energy stored in petrol to power at the wheels.” EVs are clearly a more efficient use of stored energy.

“The counterargument to EVs is that if you power an electric car on a coal plant, you’re not doing the world a lot of good,” acknowledges Lucid’s Bach. “The method of power generation is a big factor and a matter of continued discussion.”

However, the striking reality is that America’s energy grid is getting cleaner every year, using less coal than ever before. The Union of Concerned Scientists, a national nonprofit that originated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, found that emissions rates from US power plants fell more than 5 per cent between 2016 and 2018 as a result of natural gas, wind farms and solar. It states that electricity derived from coal plants has dropped from 45 per cent to 28 per cent in the past 10 years.

The Dave Johnson coal-fired power plant in Glenrock, Wyo.

The Dave Johnson coal-fired power plant in Glenrock, Wyo. Photo by J. David Ake/AP Photo.

The organisation offers a chart on its site that shows the relative efficiency of driving an EV versus a regular petrol vehicle by region of the US, comparing factors such as oil extraction, fuel-pipe emissions and emissions from coal plants powering EVs. Looking at the map, some parts of the country, those that use less coal, are clearly more beneficial than others.

For instance, in California, you’d need to drive an ICE that achieves 122 miles per gallon to be as efficient as an EV. However, within one of the dirtiest grids, located in the upper Midwest, you’d only need a petrol vehicle with 39 mpg to equal an EV. Nonetheless, the average petrol car sees only 31 mpg today, and a truck only 21 mpg.

The battery-powered Mercedes-AMG EQS 53 introduced at the 2021 IAA Mobility show in Munich.

The new battery-powered Mercedes-AMG EQS 53 was introduced at the 2021 IAA Mobility show in Munich Photo by Sven Hoppe.

“The dirtiest day of an EV’s life cycle is the day you drive it home,” says Sexton, referencing how the grid gets greener all the time. (For an even deeper dive into analytics, the truly curious can go to Argonne National Laboratory’s GREET system, an analytical tool that simulates emissions from countless scenarios. Playing around with the platforms shows that EVs trump petrol cars environmentally in pretty much all cases.)

“Every time the grid gets cleaner, so does the electric car,” says John Voelcker, the former editor-in-chief of Green Car Reports and a highly regarded industry analyst. “In places like the West Coast, you will see well over 100 miles per gallon equivalency. No petrol-burning car that will ever be built will be as low emission and low carbon as an EV charged on one of those grids.”

Analysis: EVs are clearly cleaner, even when charged via coal-powered plants.

Examples of the ubiquitous Tesla plugging into the EV power grid.

Examples of the ubiquitous Tesla plugging into the EV power grid Photo: Courtesy of Tesla.

What Happens to the Batteries Later?

Some day in the future, we will be facing another issue: an influx of used lithium-ion batteries. Marques such as Lucid are already mulling over what happens to those batteries, and the current consensus is that they will take two approaches.

The first solution will be to simply use the batteries for energy storage—a second life. The other is to recycle them. Both have obvious upsides. The question may be more of economics and sound business. The second-life approach has obvious appeal. A used battery pack is estimated to retain some 70 per cent of its charging capacity. These batteries could be resold to be used in home storage or to maintain a micro-grid system—ever more important in places like California, where wildfires have forced large-scale electrical shutdowns.

The question, says experts like Sexton, is whether it will be cost-effective to sell used batteries as prices for new batteries continue to fall. A homeowner may be less inclined to buy a used battery without being assured of its efficacy.

“Second-life batteries aren’t a technical question but an economic question,” she says. “I love the idea, but whether the economics make sense remains to be seen as battery costs have dropped 90 per cent in the last decade. It may be cheaper to buy new lithium than recycle an old Leaf, or something like that.”

Tesla Powerwall

Not just for cars anymore: Tesla’s lithium-ion battery systems can also help charge your home. Tesla

The second option is a burgeoning new business: recycling battery packs. As of now, it’s limited in scope, as most EVs are still on the road. Voelcker says that the battery packs on initial EVs like the Leaf have lasted longer than expected.

“Clearly, the degree to which dead batteries can be separated out and reused will lessen the amount we have to mine for new materials,” mentions Voelcker. The success of the endeavour may also turn on economics. “Will batteries made out of recycled materials be cheaper than batteries made out of virgin materials?” he asks. Voelcker notes that with volumes of used EV batteries still so low, there is no definitive answer.

Yet, as Ajay Kochhar, president and CEO at Li-Cycle points out, materials like cobalt, nickel and aluminium can be reused repeatedly. Li-Cycle, founded in 2016, is one of the first battery-specific recycling firms, with refining plants based in Canada and the US.

“To our dismay, we were finding that batteries were being handled like waste, and materials like lithium were being lost,” says Kochhar, who adds that the company’s refining process is carbon-neutral, and a vast majority of the materials can be recycled and reused. Kochhar also acknowledges that volumes are still relatively low, and it will be a long-term process.

A recycling system for lithium-ion batteries at Redux Recycling GmbH in Germany.

A recycling system for lithium-ion batteries at Redux Recycling GmbH in Germany. Photo by Carmen Jaspersen/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images.

“Even when it comes to cost, this is a virtuous cycle,” Kochhar says. “The battery is the most expensive part of the vehicle, and within the battery, the raw materials are typically 65 per cent of cost. Battery prices have fallen in magnitude as we experience economies of scale. But at some point, you’re going to reach a limit, and that limit is materials.” In May, the company signed a deal with Ultium Cells, a collaboration between GM and LG Energy Solutions, too, as its official announcement stated, “recover the raw materials contained in the scrap.”

Final analysis (for now): EVs are clearly more efficient. But questions of mining and eventual recycling or secondary use are up in the air. Yet, as Voelcker says: “Yes, mining has environmental concerns we need to be aware of. But in a carbon analysis, mile for mile, EVs always win, even if they are recharged entirely on coal.”

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Watches & Wonders 2024 Showcase: Laurent Ferrier

We head to Geneva for the Watches & Wonders exhibition; a week-long horological blockbuster featuring the hottest new drops, and no shortage of hype.

By Josh Bozin 18/07/2024

With Watches & Wonders 2024 well and truly behind us, this week we look at Laurent Ferrier, a brand hailing from Geneva.

LAURENT FERRIER

Laurent Ferrier Classic Moon

The 63-year-old, third-generation independent watchmaker continues the tradition of his Genevan ancestors. Since 2009, his namesake brand has thrived in an ultra-competitive industry thanks to his dedication to classical timepieces, assembled by hand, using the highest grade materials available.

The Laurent Ferrier Classic Moon builds on this storied heritage. The 40 mm dress watch (the brand’s first moonphase complication) is available in silver with a blue-ish dial, or rose gold with a brushed silver dial. It salutes the vintage dress watches of yesteryear with Roman numerals and baton-shaped indices; vintage-inspired date numbers; Assegai-shaped hour, minute, and date hands; a double moonphase; and a pebble-shaped case reminiscent of 19th-century pocket watches. 

The attention to detail continues with an attractive subdial made of Murano aventurine glass, engraved in moon and star motifs and hand-applied white paint details. The engraving is also hand-filled with Super-LumiNova, while the subdial is covered with a translucent disc in petrol-blue enamel.

At roughly a $116,000 starting price, it may deter those who would rather invest in a dress watch from, say, Patek Philippe. But the Classic Moon certainly captures the charm of this style of timepiece, and those willing to support the self-sustaining Swiss brand won’t be disappointed with the result. This a timepiece made to the highest levels of craftsmanship—and a fitting climax to a week spent in the horological heaven that is Watches & Wonders.

laurentferrier.ch

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Bay Watch 

After losing its lustre for decades, Sydney’s Double Bay is undergoing a renaissance. And with harbour views, lush parks and a friendly village feel, it’s no wonder luxury developments are flourishing.

By Horacio Silva 16/07/2024

The boarded storefronts on the strip of New South Head Road in Double Bay currently under construction near Cross Street are plastered with archival images of the harbourside suburb in its 1960s and 1970s heyday. In the grainy black-and-white images, passers-by dressed in their imported European finery inhabit the bustling streets and fashionable shopping destinations of the time, including Mark Foy’s department store on Knox Street and the chic boutiques of Claire Handler, Maria Finlay and Nellie Vida—three Hungarian expats who sourced the latest trends from the Continent for style-starved locals. 

The images serve as a reminder of an era when European designers dictated the style for modish Australians. They’re also a document of how much this prestigious enclave, located 11 minutes’ drive from the CBD and a snow-cone’s throw from some of Sydney’s best beaches, has changed.

The area’s once-thriving boutiques are a thing of the past, replaced by all manner of beauty-focused establishments. Gone too are the open-air dances in Steyne Park, the old Hoyts Theatre (an Art Deco gem of a building on the main drag that was the nexus of the community) and the illegal casino a few doors down from it called the Double Bay Bridge Club.

Which is not to say that this once-sleepy hollow, whose fortunes have ebbed and flowed in the last 50 years, has become the profligate relic that detractors, who pilloried it as “Double Pay”, predicted it would become after it fell from favour over the past few decades. Far from it. “There’s only one Double Bay,” says Angela Belle McSweeney, director of Australian Turf Club and a former public relations maven whose office was located for years on Knox Street, above the famed 21 restaurant.  “In terms of Australian glamour, it’s always been the benchmark and now more than ever.”

Joseph Hkeik, the owner of All Saint Clinic, which caters to the taut skin of the city’s high society, concurs. “There really is something palpable in the air,” says Hkeik, who is in as good a position as any to talk about the changing face of the place.

“A lot is happening, and everyone wants to be seen in Double Bay. It’s the hotspot of Sydney.”

All Saint Clinic

If Double Bay is once again the talk of the town, it’s in no small part due to chef and restaurateur Neil Perry. After stepping away in early 2020 as founder of the Rockpool Group, through which he created legendary restaurants such as Rockpool and Spice Temple, Perry resurfaced a few months later with plans to start anew on the prized willow-festooned corner of Bay Street and Guilfoyle Avenue. In June 2021, he opened his award-winning seafood restaurant Margaret, and soon after, the adjacent bar Next Door and the Baker Bleu bakery two premises along.

He has not looked back. The fat cats today may be younger than the potentates who used to frequent the area’s old stamping grounds like George’s and the Hunter’s Lodge, and the ladies who lunch are more “wind-swept” than their pre-Botox predecessors, but the Lamborghinis and Ferraris parked nearby suggest that this is once again where the elite meet to eat.

“It is definitely going through a renaissance,” says Perry of his new domain, “but I honestly think it’ll be more than a passing moment. Double Bay has the beautiful parks and waterfront, and for all the glitz it also has that village atmosphere close to the city that everyone wants. And there is so much investment in the place.” That’s somewhat of an understatement.

Originally earmarked to be the site of Sydney’s Botanic Gardens when it was settled in the 1820s, the suburb remains as green as ever, but these days it’s hard to see the trees for all the construction cranes. 

On Bay Street alone, real estate powerhouse Fortis has broken ground on mixed-use properties that are among the city’s most hotly anticipated new addresses. Of the new developments, perhaps the most eagerly awaited is Ruby House, a luxury five-storey strata office block on the corner of New South Head Road and Bay Street, due for completion in early 2025. A collaboration of luminaries, including Lawton Hurley as lead architects and interiors by Woods Bagot, Ruby House will offer a range of sun- dappled office spaces, ranging from 60–550 m², with starting prices around $3 million. The ground floor will feature retail spaces, as well as three best-in-class restaurants, adding more culinary heft to a street that already includes Bibo, Matteo and Tanuki.

Ruby House

“Our vision for Double Bay is to bring life back into this once-great suburb,” says Charles Mellick, director of Fortis, “and to create a vibrant precinct that is seen as the most sought-after neighbourhood in Sydney, if not all of Australia.” Big call, indeed. And yet take a stroll along the suburb’s verdant paths and suddenly Mellick’s words do not feel so hyperbolic. A few doors down from Ruby House, 24 Bay St is slated to open this August in the heritage- listed modernist masterpiece, Gaden House, designed by Neville Gruzman, a former Mayor of Woollahra and one of Sydney’s most influential 20th-century architects. Fortis is also teaming with architects Lawton Hurley on the building, which will house Song Bird, Neil Perry’s (does this man ever sleep?) new three-storey, 230-seat Cantonese restaurant. Underground will be the speakeasy Bobbie’s, helmed by Linden Pride of Caffe Dante in New York, voted best bar in the world in 2019. 

“Double Bay used to have two of the best Chinese restaurants in the city,” says Perry, referring to the defunct Cleveland and Imperial Peking. “We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel with Song Bird so it’s going to be great to continue that tradition.”

Across the street at 19-27 Bay Street, the first flagship RH Gallery, formerly Restoration Hardware, is also under construction. A five-level commercial building, opening in late 2025, it will house bespoke luxury home furnishings and a rooftop restaurant not unlike the company’s jumping location in New York’s Meatpacking District. Meanwhile, a few blocks over on Cross Street, Ode—a luxury tower developed by Top Spring Australia—is slated to open in 2025 next to the InterContinental Hotel (itself recently sold and being reimagined to include top-floor apartments and retail). Designed by Luigi Rosselli Architects, Ode’s 15 spacious residences and penthouses, with shimmering harbour views, are being eagerly contested by the one percent, with two of the three penthouses already being bought off-plan for $21.5 and $24.9 million.

Ode, Double Bay

For all the positivity, and dollars, swirling around the suburb, there is no cast-iron guarantee that these new commercial opportunities will help rekindle the moribund boutique scene and return Double Bay to its former fashionable standing. It’s been a while since Claire Handler and her Hungarian cohorts made cash registers sing.

As such, not everyone is convinced about the suburb’s supposed rebirth. “The rents in this area are astronomical as it is,” says Tony Yeldham, the legendary menswear impresario who opened his Squire Shop for discerning gentlemen as a teenager in 1956. “It’s going to be near impossible for smaller players to stay alive, but I’ve seen this area go through so many ups and downs so I’m hopeful if sceptical.” For the most part, the locals remain sanguine about the area’s potential, with one proviso. As Joseph Hkeik explains, “We just need these lovely builders to finish up so we can all get some peace and quiet.”

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The Finer Things

Shimmering with gold, diamonds and precious stones, these women’s watches represent the pinnacle of haute horology. Just look at them…

By Belinda Aucott-christie And Josh Bozin 16/07/2024

Bulgari, Van Cleef & Arpels, Chanel, Piaget, Chopard and Cartier were among the prestige brands to unveil women’s novelties at this year’s Watches and Wonders fair in Geneva. Here we review some of our favourites, including a new style from Bulgari who impressed via an artistic collaboration with architect Tadao Ando and Chanel whose latest bobbin cuff was inspired by a spool of thread.

BULGARI

Tadao Ando Serpenti

The brand’s collaboration with lauded Japanese architect Tadao Ando artfully remixes the enduring Serpenti Tubogas model. The collection celebrates the four seasons; pictured here is the Summer (natsu) with a two-tone, yellow-gold-and-steel bracelet and a green aventurine dial. $27,600. Availability on request; Bulgari.com

VAN CLEEF AND ARPELS

Lady Arpels Brise d’Été 

The maison’s Poetic Complications novelties ensure that telling the time becomes a spectacle. On this occasion, the flowers on the dial blossom and close in a randomised pattern at the touch of a button. Van Cleef & Arpels’ latest lesson in horological theatre was four years in development, with the dial alone taking 40 hours to master. Price and availability on request; vancleefandarpels.com

CHANEL

Bobbin Cuff Couture

Playing on the vintage “secret” watches of the 1920s, the Bobbin Cuff Couture was inspired aesthetically by a spool of thread. The idiosyncratic jewellery-watch is crafted entirely in 18-karat yellow gold, set with rows of brilliant-cut diamond “threads” and a 17-carat emerald-cut sapphire that hides the watch face. Price and availability on request. Chanel.com

PIAGET 

Limelight Gala Precious 

At 26 mm, a timepiece that captures the poise and elegance that has come to define Piaget’s jewellery watches. Now, with the inclusion of 38 brilliant-cut diamonds, the 18-karat rose gold “Decor Palace” dial and matching bracelet, this Limelight Gala is arguably the best of a collection that interweaves art, design and jewellery, with an emphasis on beauty. Around $118,500. Availability on request; Piaget.com

CHOPARD 

L’Heure  Du Diamant Round 

Chopard showcases its smarts in the art of diamond setting. Here, the maison’s artisans have orchestrated an amalgamation of contemporary design and alluring precious stones. The green malachite dial is a standout feature, as is the Chopard MD29 hand-wound mechanical movement. Price and availability on request; Chopard.com

CARTIER 

La Panthère de Cartier

From one of the brand’s most symbolic collections, this iteration of the Panthère de Cartier watch is designed in a rhodium-finish white gold case set with 136 brilliant-cut diamonds, and a rhodium-finish white gold panther head set with 297 brilliant-cut diamonds. The striking, pear-shaped eyes are crafted from emerald. Price and availability on request; cartier.com

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Marc Newson Has Designed Everything from Pens to Superyachts … Now He Wants to Go to Space

On the heels of a new career-spanning book, the industrial designer and Apple alum shares his ultimate design project.

By Lee Carter 16/07/2024

Sporting shades, Marc Newson reclines on a sunny terrace of his Greek island retreat. If he appears exultant, he has every reason to be. Devoting his life’s work to elevating everyday objects into items we covet, Newson has become one of the most sought-after industrial designers in the world.

Case in point, Newson has just returned from Salone del Mobile, the sprawling design fair in Milan, where he launched a colossal book about his equally colossal career, signing copies for devoted fans barely able to lift it.

Over 400 pages, the monograph chronicles Newson’s nearly four decades in design from his start as a jewelry major at Sydney College of the Arts to producing avant-garde furnishings to now crafting luxury speed boats for Riva and even a concept plane in an art project for the Fondation Cartier. All told, Marc Newson: Works 84–24 (Taschen) is a testament to his tireless pursuit of perfection.

Asked to reflect on 40 years of soaring success, the Australian designer all but blushes—or perhaps it’s the Mediterranean sun. “When I look at my own work,” he says, “particularly in the context of a document that begins and ends, it almost feels like I’m reading about someone else.” After all, he demurs, he’s only doing his job. “The core of my occupation is troubleshooting [and] problem-solving. I apply the same rigor, process, and rules to every project, whether it’s a pen or a mega-yacht.”

Marc Newson’s Horizon luggage, designed for Louis Vuitton, and his Orgone chair demonstrate the importance he puts on curves. Taschen

The Newson look is aesthetically niche, but touches almost every sector, from fashion to household goods. It’s bold yet pragmatic, sumptuous yet futuristic, reverential yet iconoclastic. A transparent timepiece for Jaeger-LeCoultre, a sensuously curved cognac bottle for Hennessy, and a sleek aluminum luggage collaboration with Louis Vuitton (the latest of which just appeared in Pharrell Williams’s spring 2025 collection) all point to a singular, forward-looking vision. Or how about the katana sword he created in 2019 with a ninth-generation master swordsmith in Japan? He calls the tradition and sophistication required to execute that work “unfathomable, almost alchemical, practically spiritual.”

Two decades ago, in 2004, he created the Zvezdochka sneaker for Nike. Modelled entirely on a computer and made from a single piece of injection-molded resin, the footwear—named after the 1961 rocket-riding Russian dog—was intended for astronauts to wear during their daily exercises in zero gravity. As Newson notes, “Where else would you need the perfect sneakers but running on a treadmill in space?”

Newson’s groundbreaking Lockheed Martin Chaise.
Taschen

From the beginning, Newson—who helped lead Apple’s design department, and the development of key products such as the Apple Watch, for five years—has always possessed the unusual ability to bend ideas about design to his will. His Lockheed Lounge, a shapely chaise pieced together from curved aluminum panels, became an instant phenomenon with its 1988 introduction. Named for its resemblance to the early aeronautical stylings of Lockheed Martin, the furniture piece bucked the reductive ethos of modern design at the time. In 2006, it broke the record for the highest price paid at auction for the work of a living designer, topping that price 11 years later in 2015, going for $3.7 million at Phillips London.

Around the turn of the millennium, Newson—a vintage sports car enthusiast who once flew to the U.S. to purchase a 1959 Aston Martin DB4 with the entirety of a paycheck—shifted gears to focus his energies on the transportation sector. Asked by Ford to jot down some concepts, he came up with the 021C in 1999. A radically simplified three-box configuration, the model had a main cabin, hood, and trunk; the latter two sections were mirror images.

The Ford 021C, which Newson claimed caused “a lot of head-scratching” at the American car company.
Taschen

“It was utterly ridiculous and childlike,” Newson says of the design with a laugh. “There was a lot of head-scratching [at Ford], but I reasoned that since I’m not an automotive designer, I don’t want to and can’t play the typical automotive games.” Thanks to the support of Ford’s “brilliantly curious and open” top brass, the cartoon of a car became a drivable reality and a beloved Newson fan favorite. Soon after the release of the 021C, the Australian airline Qantas came knocking, seeking Newson’s design eye for a variety of projects, including the interiors of its airport lounges and, more challengingly, the invention of a fully horizontal bed for its premier passengers on long-haul flights. No small feat of imagination, this triumph led to his appointment as the company’s creative director.

The Qantas Skybed, designed for the Australian airline’s long-haul flights. Qantas

As Newson’s fame ascended, so did the demand for his work—in the design industry and beyond. New York gallerist Larry Gagosian was quick to add the maverick designer to his roster of art stars, such as Jeff Koons, Richard Serra, and Michael Heizer, and in 2007, he mounted Newson’s first solo exhibition in the U.S., featuring a limited-edition, experimental furniture series. “The stuff I do with Gagosian is not exactly mainstream design,” Newson says. “They’re these sort of rarefied follies [or] crazy experiments that I concoct. I don’t have to answer to anyone except myself—and perhaps Larry.” One object in the exhibition was a nickel surfboard with a storied lineage. “I wanted the prototype to be tested by [professional big wave surfer] Garrett McNamara,” Newson recalls. “He took the board to a Pacific island notorious for its huge swells on top of a coral reef. He actually lost the board in the waves and was driving back to his hotel when he saw a local with this tangled mass of metal under his arm. The story goes that the Mir space station had plummeted into the ocean the day before, and this guy thought he had found pieces from the crash. He had no idea it was a crushed surfboard.”

Is there a project he has yet to tackle? “Every time I think I’m at the end of the list,” he says, smiling, “I think of something new.” Space, for instance. “I would love to work more extensively in the area of space exploration. That is something I continue to find compelling and fascinating. It ticks all the boxes for me in terms of engaging with technology, incredible processes, and modern materials. And, of course, I would love to go to space. That’s the end game.”

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Piaget Just Dropped a Colourful High-Jewellery Line with 1970s Style

“Essence of Extraleganza,” a fusion of the words extravagance and elegance, is a tour de force of haute joaillerie that celebrates Piaget’s 150th year.

By Victoria Gomelsky 16/07/2024

Long before Piaget was a jeweller, it was a watchmaker. The luxury brand traces its roots to La Côte-aux-Fées, a village in the Swiss canton of Neuchâtel where Georges-Édouard Piaget founded a movement-making company in 1874.

In 1959, the maison introduced jewellery for the first time, showcasing its creations at the new Salon Piaget in Geneva. Almost immediately, the brand established itself as a trendsetter across both realms.

Piaget

Proof that the watchmaker-turned-jeweller continues to occupy the most rarefied precincts of the luxury trade arrived last month, when Piaget unveiled its “Essence of Extraleganza” high jewellery collection. The third and arguably most spectacular of the brand’s 150th anniversary product introductions (following the reboot in February of its Piaget Polo 79 timepiece and the April unveiling of the thinner-than-thou Altiplano Ultimate Concept Flying Tourbillon), the collection of 96 jewels and bejewelled timepieces is a tour de force of craftsmanship and gem-setting that bears an explicit connection to Piaget’s roots in jewellery.

“Of our three major launches this year to date, none of them have just been a launch — each and every one of them has hinged on a product, a story, a saga bringing the past and present together,” Benjamin Comar, CEO of Piaget, tells Robb Report.

Piaget

“So of course, this high jewellery collection had to bring more density than a regular collection. And this is why it’s called ‘Essence of Extraleganza’ — because through these 96 pieces, Piaget’s artistic director, Stéphanie Sivrière, went back to the Piaget DNA, to the moment when Piaget evolved from watchmaker to jeweller, to the decisive moment where this Swiss maison decided to revolutionise the watch world by imagining a new avant-garde vocabulary, filled with colours, textures and gold: the 21st Century Collection.”

That collection, introduced in 1969, included an array of jewellery watches that reimagined how to wear time. From metal bracelets with a fabric-like texture to swinging sautoirs, the pieces were bold, colourful and utterly of the moment.

Piaget

Three years ago, when Sivrière began working on what would become Essence of Extraleganza, she took her inspiration from those heritage designs of the 1960s and ’70s. The result is a stunning lineup of bold, cheerful and wildly original jewels, including highlights such as a necklace featuring a fiery cascade of trapezoid-cut carnelians set in rose gold and centered on a 21.23-carat cushion-cut spessartite garnet; a cuff watch loaded with 26.11 carats of baguette-cut Colombian emeralds; and a suite of blue-on-blue designs including a V-shaped necklace set with sapphires, tourmalines, and marquise-cut aquamarines surrounded by opals, turquoise and diamonds, along with a matching ring and pair of mismatched earrings.

Piaget

“Stephanie chose to highlight the couture inspiration of Piaget and paid homage to our chainmaker skills as a golden thread throughout the collection,” Comar says. “This was very impressive to witness unravelling in front of our eyes week after week. The carnelian necklace, for instance, was created like a never-ending puzzle: first the mesh structure completely hand-woven, then every hue and piece identified by a number and patiently assembled to create this mix-and-match yet balanced effect.”

The throughline that connects the 2024 collection to the one introduced 55 years earlier is, undoubtedly, Piaget’s willingness to embrace modernity while employing traditional techniques in service of timeless designs.

“Piaget’s jewellery style is still coherent and that’s the beauty of it,” Comar says. “When Valentin Piaget asked his Swiss designers in the early Sixties to go to Paris in order to attend a couture show and get inspired by this fashion revolution (think Cardin, Courrèges, Twiggy) this was so incredibly new for the time. And today, when we look at their past gouaches where they would create the swinging sautoirs directly on the glossy pages of the fashion magazines to really picture what this woman would be wearing today, it’s so modern. And still has the same effect today: timeless yet modern. That is the Piaget paradox.”

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