Crowdfunding saves crumbling French chateau

An aerial view of the 19th-century chateau de La Mothe-Chandeniers, which is now owned by around 25,000 people from 115 countries through a crowndfunding aimed to buy and restore the structure. (AFP)
Updated 27 December 2017
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Crowdfunding saves crumbling French chateau

POITIERS, France: It’s a modern story of an ancient fairytale castle: a crowdfunding effort online has raised €1.6 million (SR7.12 million) to restore a chateau in western France.
Around 25,000 people from 115 countries have become shareholders in the chateau de La Mothe-Chandeniers which has turrets, a moat and an elderly owner who had not maintained it.
The 19th-century building has fallen into disrepair with trees and vegetation sprouting out of its roof and windows, raising fears that it might be knocked down and redeveloped by property developers.
Thanks to a joint effort by online fundraising site Dartagnans.fr and a local association Adopte un Chateau (Adopt a Chateau), sufficient money has been raised to buy and restore the structure.
“It’s a record in France and probably in Europe in terms of the amount raised and the number of contributors,” the head of Dartagnans, Romain Delaume, said on Tuesday.
The website offered buyers the chance to become shareholders in the castle at the cost of €51: €50 as a donation for the restoration work and one euro to buy a share in a joint company set up to manage the site.
Organizers initially hoped for around 10,000 people, but thanks partly to reports in the French media the final number of donors came in at just under 19,000.
Many of them bought shareholdings for friends and family as presents, meaning that the total number of owners of the chateau will be around 25,000.
Most of them are from France, but people from as far afield as Afghanistan, Burkina Faso and Peru now have a small slice of history in the French countryside near the wine-growing Loire valley.
“Bravo for this initiative both collective and private,” wrote the aristocratic speaker of France’s parliament, Francois de Rugy, on Twitter. “France’s historic buildings need a diverse range of ideas to be saved and developed.”
The current chateau de La Mothe-Chandeniers dates back to the 19th century but the site has been home to a castle since at least the 13th century.
It was pillaged after the French Revolution in 1789 and heavily damaged in a fire in 1932 before being bought by its current owner, an 82-year-old local man, in 1982.
A thorough survey will be undertaken in the next few weeks to check the scale of the damage to the structure and the site will then be secured pending the start of restoration work.
Various ideas have been floated for the future from turning it into a “collaborative and creative laboratory,” somewhere for artists to work, or a bed-and-breakfast holiday destination.
Getting all the shareholders to agree might be a challenge.
They will be invited for a visit “as soon as possible in 2018,” said Delaume, and will be asked to take part in the restoration work.
He also stressed that not all of the building can be returned to its former glory because a complete overhaul has been estimated to cost at least €3 million.
Another round of fundraising in the future has not been excluded.


The ethical gold rush: Gilded age for guilt-free jewelry

Updated 21 April 2019
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The ethical gold rush: Gilded age for guilt-free jewelry

  • Specialized producers now tack a “fairmined” ecologically friendly label on their output
  • Swiss house Chopard last year became the first big name to commit to “100 percent ethical” creations

PARIS: Forget how many carats — how ethical is your gold? As high-end consumers demand to know the origin of their treasures, some jewellers are ensuring they use responsibly sourced, eco-friendly or recycled gold.
Specialized producers now tack a “fairmined” ecologically friendly label on their output, and the Swiss house Chopard last year became the first big name to commit to “100 percent ethical” creations.
The Geneva-based firm, which makes the Palme d’Or trophy for the Cannes Film Festival, says it now uses only verified suppliers of gold that meet strict standards to minimize negative environmental impacts of mining the precious metal.
Among the many certificates and standards claiming to codify “responsible” goldmining, two labels stand out.
They are “fairmined” gold — a label certified by a Colombian NGO — and the more widely known “fairtrade” label launched by Swiss foundation Max Havelaar.
Both support artisanal mines that seek to preserve the environment in terms of extraction methods, along with decent working conditions and wages for the miners.
Such production remains limited — just a few hundred kilograms annually. Global gold output by comparison totals around 3,300 tons.
Concerned jewellers are keen to ensure they can trace the source of their entire supply to an ethical production cycle and to firms certified by the not-for-profit Responsible Jewellery Council, which has developed norms for the entire supply chain.
RJC members must adhere to tough standards governing ethical, human rights, social and environmental practices across the precious metals industry.
The French luxury group Kering, which says it has bought more than 3.5 tons of “responsibly produced” gold since 2015 for its Boucheron, Pomellato, Dodo and Gucci brands, has committed to 100 percent use of “ethical” gold by 2020.
“We are trying to maximize the proportion of Fairmined and Fairtrade gold — but their modest production is in great demand so the bulk of our sourcing remains recycled gold, (which is) certified ‘RJC Chain of Custody’,” says Claire Piroddi, sustainability manager for Kering’s jewelry and watches.
Fairmined or Fairtrade gold is “about 10 to 12 percent more expensive. But recycled gold barely generates any additional cost premium,” Piroddi told AFP, since it was already refined for a previous life in the form of jewelry or part of a high-tech product.
Going a step further, using only precious metal from electronic or industrial waste is an original idea developed by Courbet, a brand launched just last spring.
“We do not want to promote mining extraction or use recently extracted gold, so we sought suppliers who recycle gold used in graphics cards or computer processors. That’s because we know today that more than half of gold’s available reserves have already been extracted,” says Marie-Ann Wachtmeister, Courbet’s co-founder and artistic director.
She says the brand’s watchwords are ethical and environmental consciousness.
“In a mine, a ton of terrain might contain five grams of gold, whereas a ton of electronic waste might generate 200 grams,” Wachtmeister says.
“Clients are also demanding an ecological approach more and more — they are aware of their day-to-day impact and consider the origin of what they wear,” she adds.
“The issue of supply really resonates with the public at large,” adds Thierry Lemaire, director general of Ponce, a jewelry firm that was established in Paris’s fashionable Marais district in 1886.
The company is RJC-certified and uses only recycled gold.
“There is a logic to that — if we want to do our work well, then let’s go the whole hog and respect nature. That can be done today because the entire chain has become standardised.
“Studios such as ours that work for major names on Place Vendome are all certified,” Lemaire says, referring to an upscale square in Paris.
He represents the fifth generation of family firm Ponce, which produces 45,000 gold rings a year from recycled gold.
Working in a pungent atmosphere of heated metal, refiners sit hunched over polishing machines, a large leather hide slung over their knees to catch the tiniest shaving.
“Every Friday, we have a great clearout and go over the workshop with a fine-tooth comb to pick up little bits of (gold) dust and shavings,” Lemaire says.
“Nothing is lost, it’s a truly virtuous chain.”