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.”


Subscribe to the Newsletter

Stay Connected

You may also like.

Escape from the Ordinary

Ponant, the luxury cruise line known for its meticulously planned itineraries and high-end service, ups the ante on their upcoming European Journeys that promise an unrivalled exploration of the Mediterranean.

By Robb Report Team 19/02/2024

Not all cruises are created equally. Ponant, the luxury cruise line known for its meticulously planned itineraries and high-end service, ups the ante on their upcoming European Journeys that promise an unrivalled exploration of the Mediterranean. From the stunning Amalfi Coast to the pristine Greek Islands, the narrow Corinth Canal to the picturesque Dalmatian coast, historic Istanbul and beguiling Malaga, each destination is a unique adventure waiting to be unravelled. With Ponant, these aren’t just locations on a map; they’re experiences that come alive with the intimate knowledge and insight that their expert guides provide.

Ponant’s luxury cruises are renowned for their individuality, with no two journeys the same. This is not by chance. Itineraries are scrupulously designed to ensure that each passenger is left with a feeling of having embarked on a journey unlike any other.

Athens-Venise. Photograph by N.Matheus. ©PONANT

In 2025, their fleet will set sail for a combined 56 departures from March to October, exploring the dreamy locales of Greece and the Greek Islands, Malta, Italy (including Venice and Sicily), Croatia, France, Turkey, Spain and Portugal. These European Journeys offer an intimate encounter with the Mediterranean, its people and culture. As you cruise in luxury, you’ll dive deep into the heart of each destination, exploring historic sites, engaging with locals, sampling scrumptious cuisine and soaking in the vibrant atmospheres.

The company’s small, sustainable ships, which can accommodate from as few as 32 to 264 guests, have the exclusive ability to sail into ports inaccessible to larger cruise liners, affording privileged entry into some of the world’s most treasured alcoves. Picture sailing under London’s iconic Tower Bridge, crossing the Corinth Canal, or disembarking directly onto the sidewalk during ports of call in culturally rich cities like Lisbon, Barcelona, Nice and Venice, among others.

Photo by Tamar Sarkissian. ©PONANT

This singular closeness is further enriched by destination experts who unravel the tapestry of each locale’s history and traditions.

Onboard their luxurious ships, every guest is a VIP and treated to refined service and amenities akin to sailing on a private yacht. Whether at sea or ashore, their destination experts guarantee a fascinating experience, immersing you in the rich cultural and historical diversity of each region.

Indulge in the finest gastronomy at sea, inspired by none other than gastronomic virtuoso and Ponant partner, Alain Ducasse. Each voyage offers an expertly crafted dining experience, from a-la-carte meals with perfectly matched wines by the onboard Sommelier at dinner and lunch, to a French-inspired buffet breakfast, featuring all the favourite pastries, fresh bread and quality produce.

Chef Mickael Legrand. Photograph by NickRains. ©PONANT

For a more intimate discovery, consider Le Ponant, with its 16 high-class staterooms and suites—perfect for private charter—sailing eight exclusive routes between Greece and Croatia, offering guests unparalleled experiences both onboard and ashore. Ponant’s commitment to crafting unforgettable experiences extends beyond itineraries. Aboard their ships, the luxury is in every detail. Unwind in opulent cabins and suites, each offering private balconies and breathtaking views of the azure water and destinations beyond.

Ponant’s upcoming European Journeys are more than just cruises—they’re your passport to a world of cultural immersion, historical exploration, and unrivalled luxury. Don’t miss this opportunity to embark on the voyage of a lifetime: the Mediterranean is calling.

To book European 2025 sailings visit au.ponant.com; call 1300 737 178 (AU) or 0800 767 018 (NZ) or contact your preferred travel agent.


Buy the Magazine

Subscribe today

Stay Connected

Saint Laurent Just Opened a New Bookstore in Paris. Here’s a Look Inside.

The chic new outpost is located on the city’s arty Left Bank.

By Rachel Cormack 14/02/2024

Saint Laurent is taking over even more of Paris.

The French fashion house, which only just opened an epic new flagship on Champs-Élysées, has launched a chic new bookstore on the Left Bank. Located in the 7th arrondissement, Saint Laurent Babylone is a mecca of art, music, literature, and, of course, fashion.

The new outpost is a tribute to the connection that Yves Saint Laurent and partner Pierre Bergé had to the Rue Babylone, according to Women’s Wear Daily. (In 1970, the pair moved to a 6,500-square-foot duplex on the street.) It is also inspired by the house’s original ready-to-wear boutique, Saint Laurent Rive Guache, which opened in the 6th arrondissement in 1966.

The exposed concrete in contrasted by sleek marble accents. SAINT LAURENT

With a minimalist, art gallery-like aesthetic, the space is anchored by a hefty marble bench and large black shelves. The raw, textured concrete on the walls is juxtaposed by a soft blue and white rug, a wooden Pierre Jeanneret desk, and sleek Donald Judd stools.

The wares within Saint Laurent Babylone are the most important part, of course. Curated by Saint Laurent’s creative director Anthony Vaccarello, the collection includes everything from photos by British artist Rose Finn-Kelcey to books published by Saint Laurent itself. Some tomes on offer are so rare that white gloves are required for handling.

The store also offers an enviable selection of records that are no longer being pressed. Highlights include Sade’s Promise, Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love, and the debut studio album of electronic band Kraftwerk.

Other notable items on the shelves include Leica cameras, chocolates made in collaboration with pastry chef François Daubinet, prints by Juergen Teller, and brass skull sculptures. You’ll also find an assortment of YSL merch, including pens, lighters, and cups.

To top it off, Saint Laurent Babylone will double as an event space, hosting live music sessions, DJ sets, book readings, and author signings over the coming months.

Saint Laurent’s latest endeavor isn’t exactly surprising. With Vaccarello at the helm, the Kering-owned fashion house has entered new cultural realms. Only last year, the label established a film production company and debuted its first movie at Cannes.

The space is fitted with a Pierre Jeanneret desk and Donald Judd stools.

Perhaps Saint Laurent film reels and movie posters will soon be available at Babylone, too.

Buy the Magazine

Subscribe today

Stay Connected

The Best Watches at the Grammys, From Maluma’s Jacob & Co. to Jon Batiste’s Vacheron Constantin

Music’s biggest names sported some outstanding watches on Sunday evening.

By Rachel Mccormack 08/02/2024

Weird yet wonderful watches punctuated this year’s Grammys.

The woman of the moment, Taylor Swift, who made history by winning Album of the Year for an unprecedented fourth time, wore an unconventional Lorraine Schwartz choker watch to the annual awards ceremony on Sunday night. That was just the tip of the horological iceberg, though.

Colombian singer-songwriter Maluma elevated a classic Dolce & Gabbana suit with a dazzling Jacob & Co. Astronomia Tourbillon and a pair of custom, diamond-encrusted Bose earbuds, while American musician Jon Batiste topped off a stylish Versace ensemble with a sleek Vacheron Constantin Overseas Tourbillon. Not to be outdone, rapper Busta Rhymes busted out a rare Audemars Piguet Royal Oak for the occasion.

There was more understated wrist candy on display, too, such as Jack Antonoff’s Cartier Tank LC and Noah Kahan’s Panerai Luminor Quaranta BiTempo.

For the rest of the best watches we saw on the Grammys 2024 red carpet, read on.

Maluma: Jacob & Co. Astronomia Tourbillon

Maluma busted out some truly spectacular bling for this year’s Grammys. The Colombian singer-songwriter paired a classic Dolce & Gabbana suit with a dazzling Jacob & Co. Astronomia Tourbillon and a pair of custom, diamond-encrusted Bose earbuds. The sculptural wrist candy sees a four-arm movement floating in front of a breathtaking dial adorned with no less than 257 rubies. For added pizzaz, the lugs of the 18-karat rose-gold case are invisibly set with 80 baguette-cut white diamonds. Limited to just nine examples, the rarity is priced at $1.5 million.

Asake: Hublot Big Bang Essential Grey

Nigerian singer-songwriter Asake may not have won the Grammy for Best African Music Performance for “Amapiano,” but did wear a winning Hublot Big Bang at Sunday’s proceedings. Released in 2023, the Essential Grey model is made purely of titanium for a sleek, uniform feel. The 42 mm timepiece was limited to just 100 pieces and cost $37,000 a pop.

John Legend: Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Selfwinding

Multihyphenate John Legend wore a legendary Audemars Piguet with silky Saint Laurent on Sunday evening. The self-winding Royal Oak in question features a 34 mm black ceramic case, a black grande tapisserie dial, and striking pink gold accents. The watchmaker’s signature is also displayed in gold under the sapphire crystal. The piece will set you back $81,000.

Jon Batiste: Vacheron Constantin Overseas Tourbillon

American musician Jon Batiste received four nominations but no wins at this year’s Grammys. The “Butterfly” singer can take solace in the fact that he looked ultra-sharp in Versace and Vacheron Constantin. A tribute to the spirit of travel, the Overseas Tourbillon features a 42.5 mm white-gold case, a bezel set with 60 baguette-cut diamonds, and a blue dial featuring a dazzling tourbillon cage inspired by the Maltese cross. Price upon request, naturally.

Fireboy DML: Cartier Santos

Fireboy DML’s outfit was straight fire on Sunday night. The Nigerian singer paired an MCM wool jacket with a Van Cleef & Arpels bracelet, several iced-out rings, and a sleek Cartier Santos. The timepiece features a steel case, a graduated blue dial with steel sword-shaped hands, and a seven-sided crown with synthetic faceted blue spinel.

Noah Kahan: Panerai Luminor Quaranta BiTempo

Best New Artist nominee Noah Kahan wore one of Panerai’s best new watches to Sunday’s festivities. The Luminor Quaranta BiTempo features a 40 mm polished steel case and a black dial with luminous numerals and hour markers, a date display at 3 o’clock, and a small seconds subdial at 9 o’clock. The timepiece can be yours for $14,000.

Busta Rhymes: Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore

Legendary rapper Busta Rhymes busted out a chic Audemars Piguet for this year’s Grammys. The Royal Oak Offshore Chronograph in question is distinguished by a 42 mm rose-gold case and a matching pink méga tapisserie dial with an outer flange for the tachymeter scale. The face is fitted with three black subdials, large black numerals, and a black date display at 3 o’clock. You can expect to pay around $61,200 for the chronograph on the secondary market.

Jack Antonoff: Cartier Tank Louis Cartier

Producer of the year Jack Antonoff took to the red carpet with a stylish Cartier on his wrist. The Tank Louis Cartier in question appears to be a large 33.7 mm example that features an 18-carat rose-gold case, a silvered dial with black Roman numerals and blued steel hands, a beaded crown set with a sapphire cabochon, and a brown alligator strap. It’ll set you back $19,900.

Buy the Magazine

Subscribe today

Stay Connected

This 44-Foot Carbon-Fiber Speedboat Can Rocket to 177 KMPH

The new Mayla GT is available with a range of different powertrains, too.

By Rachel Cormack 03/02/2024

We knew the Mayla GT would be one of the most exciting boats at Boot Düsseldorf, but a deep dive into the specs shows it could be downright revolutionary.

The brainchild of German start-up Mayla, the 44-footer brings you the blistering performance of a speedboat and the luxe amenities of a motor yacht in one neat carbon-fiber package.

Inspired by the go-fast boats of the 1970s and ‘80s, the GT sports an angular, retro-futuristic body and the sleek lines of a rocket ship. Tipping the scales at just 4500 kilograms, the lightweight design features a deep-V hull with twin transversal steps and patented Petestep deflectors that help it slice through the waves with ease. In fact, Mayla says the deflectors decrease energy usage by up to 35 percent while ensuring a more efficient planing.

The range-topping GT can reach 185 kph. MAYLA

The GT is also capable of soaring at breakneck speeds, with the option of a gas, diesel, electric, or hybrid powertrain. The range-topping GTR-R model packs dual gas-powered engines that can churn out 3,100 hp for a top speed of more than 100 knots (185 kph). At the other, more sustainable end of the spectrum, the E-GT is fitted with an electric powertrain that can produce 2,200 horses for a max speed of 50 knots. The hybrid E-GTR pairs that same electric powertrain with a 294 kilowatt diesel engine for a top speed of 60 knots (111 km/h/69 mph). (The GT in the water at Boot sported two entry-level V8s good for 650 hp and a top speed of over 70 knots.)

The GT is suitable for more than just high-speed jaunts, of course. The multipurpose cockpit, which can accommodate up to eight passengers, features a sundeck with sliding loungers, a wet bar and BBQ, and a foldaway dining table for alfresco entertaining. Further toward the stern, a beach club sits atop a garage with an electric transom door.

The garage has an electric transom door. MAYLA

The GT is even fit for overnight stays. Below deck lies a cabin with a double bed, sofa, wardrobe, vanity, and en suite. You can also expect a high-tech entertainment system with TVs and premium audio.

As for price, the GT with the entry-level powertrain will cost between $2.7 million and $2.9, depending on the final configuration. (You can fine-tune the layout, hull color, and interiors, naturally.) Interested buyers can set up a sea trial with Mayla, with test-drives set to begin this spring in Europe.

Buy the Magazine

Subscribe today

Stay Connected

Red Centre

First Nations artist Shaun Daniel Allen joins forces with Chopard to create a timepiece inspired by the Australian landscape.

By Horacio Silva 29/01/2024

Shaun Daniel Allen does not look like your typical collaborator on a prestige watch. For one, Shal, as he prefers to be known (“There are many Shauns but only one Shal,” he explains), is more heavily tattooed than your average roadie. His youthful appearance, bad-boy ink and all, belies his 38 years and leads to a disconnect. 

He recounts being recognised on the street recently by a journalist, who, unable to remember his name, shouted out, “Chopard!” “I was with a friend,” Shal says, holding court in his apartment in Sydney’s inner city, “and he’s, like, ‘What the hell? Does that happen to you often?’”

Perhaps because of his body art, he reasons, “People don’t put me and Chopard together.” It’s not hard to understand the confusion, Shal adds; even he was taken aback when Chopard reached out to him about a potential collaboration a little more than a year ago. “When I first went in to see them, I was, like, I don’t know if I’m your guy. I’m not used to being in those rooms and having those conversations.”

He’ll have to adapt quickly to his new reality. Last month Chopard released Shal’s interpretation of the Swiss brand’s storied Alpine Eagle model, which in itself was a redo of the St. Moritz, the first watch creation by Karl-Friedrich Scheufele (now Co-President of Chopard) in the late 1970s. 

Previewed at Sydney’s About Time watch fair in September, to not insignificant interest, and officially known as the Alpine Eagle Sunburnt, the exclusive timepiece—issued in a limited edition of 20—arrives as a stainless steel 41 mm with a 60-hour power reserve and a burnt red dial that brings to mind the searing Outback sun. Its see-through caseback features one of Shal’s artworks painted on sapphire glass.

When the reputable Swiss luxury brand approached Shal, they already had the red dial—a nod to the rich ochre hues of the Australian soil at different times of the day and gradated so that the shades become darker around the edges—locked in as a lure for Australian customers.

Shal was charged with designing an artful caseback and collectible hand-painted sustainable wooden case. After presenting a handful of paintings, each with his signature abstract motifs that pertain to indigenous emblems, tattoos and music, both parties landed on a serpentine image that evoked the coursing of rivers. “I have been painting a lot of water in this last body of work and the image we chose refers to the rivers at home,” he says, alluding to formative years spent at his grandfather’s, just outside of Casino.

It says a lot about Chopard, Shal points out, that they wanted to donate to a charity of his choosing. “Like everything else on this project,” he explains, “they were open to listening and taking new ideas on board and it actually felt like a collaboration, like they weren’t steering me into any corner.”

In another nice touch, a portion of the proceeds from sales of the watch will go to funding programs of the Ngunya Jarjum Aboriginal Corporation—an organisation, established in 1995 by Bundjalung elders, whose work Shal saw firsthand after the 2022 eastern Australia flood disasters ravaged their area. “Seeing Ngunya Jarjum suffer from the floods,” he says, “and knowing how much they do for the community on Bundjalung Country was heartbreaking. I want to see Bundjalung families thriving and supported.”

So what’s it been like for this booster of Australian waterways to be swimming in the luxury end of the pool? “I’ve done a few things with brands,” he offers, referring to the Louis Vuitton project earlier this year at an art gallery in Brisbane, “but nothing on this scale. It’s definitely fancier than I’m used to but I’m not complaining.” Neither are watch aficionados.

Buy the Magazine

Subscribe today

Stay Connected