Johann Rupert, the 66-year-old South African billionaire, chairman and controlling shareholder of the luxury goods group Richemont- owner of brands such as Cartier, Montblanc and Van Cleef & Arpels- quietly and without much fanfare, co-founded the Michelangelo Foundation in October. A Geneva-based nonprofit organization, it aims to champion master craftsmanship- initially focusing on Europe- by building networks of like-minded artisans and their supporting institutions, facilitating apprenticeships and nurturing global recognition for Europe’s applied arts culture, hoping to bolster its future. Over the last 15 years, Rupert repeatedly had discussions on what had been happening to the cultural heritage of Europe, but it had got to a point where he basically realized he had to start this right now or let it go completely. And with the decline and disappearance of a generational handover of precious skills and disciplines, he simply wasn’t about to let that happen. His focus is not art but artisanship, not the already famous, but the little known. With a nickname of “Rupert the Bear” because of his predictions before the 2008 financial collapse, Rupert emphasizes that the most important issue for the luxury industry and global economy is the unemployment that will be caused by the expanded use of robots, artificial intelligence and the new machine age.
Millions of jobs will be lost, he believes, while social inequalities on which the luxury industry thrives will be reinforced. He feels there is rising unemployment across the Western world, and it is going to take a generation to re-skill people. He also adds it’s not fun anymore going to Bond Street or Fifth Avenue where the shops and product all look the same and have done now for the last 30 years because all the smaller, independent artisans have been pushed out by the high-rent retail, and the foundation aims to protect their livelihoods. Rupert insists the foundation will not be a moneymaking thing, rather it is going to be an open platform, a place where people can explore unique products in the one area where Europe is still better than America or Asia. Ultimately, luxury is not something made by a machine in a repetitive fashion, it needs a human element that makes it unique and different. And Rupert wants to protect that talent at its source, while teaching customers that it is always worth paying 20 percent more for something that will last three times as long. Genuine products should be made by genuine people in a little town somewhere that really understands beauty and its own history. Amen to that.Tags: Culture, Design, Fashion, Johann Rupert, Luxury Goods, Michaelangelo Foundation, Nonprofit