Power Crystal

For crystal heir and power woman Nadja Swarovski, the two issues closest to her heart – sustainability and the empowerment of women – are also her new strategies to move the crystal business forward.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

For crystal heir and power woman Nadja Swarovski, the two issues closest to her heart – sustainability and the empowerment of women – are also her new strategies to move the crystal business forward.

Nadja Swarovski is having a chuckle. The businesswoman does laugh a lot. And easily.

Her personality shines through in all situations – at the recent Oscars, for instance, she threw her PR team into a frenzy when she showed up on the red carpet in the expected gown, but with a very unmatching Apple watch, rubber straps and all, on her wrist.

“People like to pigeonhole you,” says the great-great-granddaughter of the crystal empire’s founder, and a member of the Swarovski executive board. “They expect me to wear the most incredible dress watches, but I was like, no… I want to be unpredictable, do you know what I mean? I care more about the function than the look.”

Which sounds contradictory at first, especially when Swarovski has earned so much of its business from being ornamental and ubiquitous: That raindrop curtain on this year’s Oscar stage? A collaboration with Swarovski since 2007. And the crystals on Emilia Clarke’s dazzling Balmain gown on the red carpet at the same event? Swarovski.

Anything that Rihanna and Beyonce wear to make an impact on stage? Swarovski.

Rami Malek’s bejewelled crown in Bohemian Rhapsody? Swar... okay, you get the point.

Soon, Swarovski might even be designing the Heart of the Ocean necklace for the next Titanic movie, James Cameron’s sequel to the 1997 blockbuster.

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1. Ballet performers at the Vienna Opera Ball. 2. Nadja Swarovski with Tanja Swarovski and Christoph Swarovski. 3. Debutantes dance to classical scores in their debut presentation to society.

If you think that Swarovski seems to be spending a lot on PR and marketing, you would be right, and Nadja admits it. “It definitely has a price tag, but we feel that it’s worth getting the ‘eyeballs’,” she says. “It’s just a creative example of how these crystals can inspire future use.” She affectionately and humbly calls the crystals “ingredients”, as if they exist only to contribute to something larger. Yet, the crystals themselves carry a lot of weight as markers of tradition, culture and significance.

At this year’s Vienna Opera Ball – which Her World attended in March – Swarovski was the proud maker of the tiaras worn by all 144 debutantes at the European society gala, a collaboration with the historic institution since the 1950s: The Vienna Opera Ball reflects the zeitgeist of that moment of tradition, and puts [each debutante] in the spotlight with her tiara. “It makes [the debutante] proud,” Nadja emphasises, as she feels rites of passage such as these mark a debutante’s claim to womanhood as she starts contributing back to society as an adult. “That’s empowerment.”

Empowering women is a big deal in Nadja’s universe. About the company’s corporate social responsibility initiative – the Swarovski Foundation – she says: “We put women in situations where they can create an impact.” The foundation has partnered with Women for Women International (which helps women survivors of war atrocities) for a few years now, to sponsor the living expenses and business skills training of women in Nigeria. So far, 850 Nigerian women have benefited from this programme. “It makes the women feel less alone. The financial and skills support they get allows them to become independent from [having to rely on] their husbands, or to run everything themselves if they are not married. This has had a positive impact on the lives of women worldwide,” Nadja says. It is heartening to know that a corporate giant such as Swarovski gives back to society as much as it spends to promote the brand. 

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4. Each year, Swarovski taps a different designer to create the tiara for the Vienna Opera Ball. This year, it was Donatella Versace.

Besides empowering marginalised women, Nadja also champions sustainability. The company just launched its first fine-jewellery line (not currently available in Singapore). “It’s totally sustainable,” she says. “We are using fair trade gold, conflict-free diamonds and sustainably mined gemstones. This is also the case for our crystals – our manufacturing process is totally clean and green.” Owning all of the brand’s manufacturing plants and the supply chain as well, she says, “really allows us to implement our values”.

She feels this is necessary, as it empowers the woman consumer to make ethical choices. “Any woman who finds out what exactly goes on in the making of her jewellery will never allow herself to wear something that was extracted from a mine by an eight-year-old child,” she says. 

Once upon a time, it seemed to fashion and business journalists that the Swarovski business strategy was simply to be everywhere. Now, it appears that the company has come of age, and it is the brand’s good conscience that is making its mark everywhere. – DB