To be clear about this, if you have not read the other articles on sustainability in watchmaking, there are bound to be plenty of disagreements on how to define a sustainable watch. Even for a climate-neutral company such as Oris, or a carbon-neutral group such as Mondaine.
On the other hand, if you buy a watch pre-owned, maybe it does not matter at all. There are too many unknowns to simply jump in and declare anything in the world truly sustainable. What we can do is consider timepieces that represent steps in the right direction.
The following list of watches is much shorter than we would like, and goes to show how far we have to go. On the other hand, until a few years ago, such watches simply did not exist so we should celebrate that. We do have to admit that even in this modest list of five watches, spanning a wide range of price points, there will no doubt be something to get flustered about. As we noted elsewhere, you can join the circular economy and get a pre-owned watch. That will check all the chic sustainability boxes; Greta would approve, in other words.
On the other hand, if you are keen on new initiatives from watch brands that also work towards improving the world, you could do worse than to consider the following watches. There are, of course, many more that we could list but a combination of space constraints as well as the specifics of our sustainability discussion serve to limit us.
We will make a little space here for some brands we did not include, chief of which is IWC, which recently became the first Swiss watchmaker to be certified against the RJC’s Chain of Custody standard. It also debuted TimberTex, a paper-based water-resistant material made of 80 per cent natural plant fibres from sustainably managed forests, this year. We salute the brand for its forward-thinking approach here.
Cartier Tank Must SolarBeat
Possibly the biggest newsmaker for time only quartz watches at Watches & Wonders 2021, the Cartier Tank Must might be a touchstone for brands trying to find a way to claw back market share from smartwatches. The chief advantage of the new watch is the SolarBeat photovoltaic quartz movement that boasts a battery lifespan of 16 years.
Try as you might, you will not be able to find those inelegant solar panels anywhere on this watch, and that is because Cartier uses the Roman numerals on the dial to allow sunlight to charge the movement. These models are also marked by unique straps, for the first time made of plant material (40 per cent of apple fruit waste).
Undoubtedly, these will form the backbone of a sustainability story at Cartier, although IWC has an alternative too. The brand informs us that for the moment, the movement here will be a Cartier exclusive but will eventually be available to other Richemont brands. It will probably be something like the quick-change strap system that Cartier was first to deploy, before other Richemont brands introduced their own versions.
Greubel Forsey goes plant-based for straps
This one is not any specific watch but actually the entire Greubel Forsey range of wristwatches. The brand is the first amongst the niche and ultra high-end set to announce such a move, although it perhaps foreshadowed this with the introduction of metal bracelets. Watchmakers in this segment (above CHF50,000) usually have the sorts of clients we have heard about — the ones who insist on alligator leather — so it is unusual to see Greubel Forsey taking such a strong stance.
The move will come into effect starting from January 1, 2022. Given the exceptional craftsmanship and quality Greubel Forsey represents, clients should have peace of mind knowing the straps on offer by the atelier are made to push the boundaries of aesthetics, durability, wear, resistance to water and ultraviolet rays.
Luminox ECO #Tide
As part of the Mondaine Group, Luminox is a carbon-neutral brand, and it now has the right watch to go with this green credential. The new ECO #Tide series feature cases, bezels and straps entirely in recycled material. In the 0320 ECO series, the case and bezel are manufactured with #Tide material, while the strap is made from recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic.
In the 8900 ECO series, the case, bezel and strap are all made using the #Tide material. Made from 100 per cent ocean-bound plastic, developed in partnership with Swiss scientists, #Tide is made from collected plastic from the Andaman Sea that is collected by local fishermen. The quartz powered watches all sport the expected tritium gas tubes that give Luminox watches their signature glow in dark properties. The brand says this gas is upcycled, and we are aware that the only recycling facility for this in the world is in Switzerland.
Oris Aquis Date Upcycle
The name of the Oris Aquis Date Upcycle says it all but, as we have noted earlier, any Oris watch works because the company is certified climate-neutral. This particular watch is interesting in how it showcases the intersectionality of Swiss watchmaking. Oris says this watch marks the moment that the company became climate neutral, and the signature material that anchors this is the recycled plastic dial. It is actually made using in partnership with #Tide, apparently the same outfit that works with another brand in this modest selection.
For Oris, the dial shows how waste material can become a premium offering, with the right care. If the dials look familiar, this is because Oris has used the very same material for the caseback of the Clean Ocean Limited Edition in 2019. This new model, with an automatic movement based on the Selita SW200-1, is available in two sizes (36.5mm and 41.5mm) and is a regular production model.
Ulysse Nardin Diver Net
One of two concept timepieces mentioned in this section, the Ulysse Nardin Diver Net makes it onto this list as an acknowledgement of our own enthusiasm for watches made from the waste that currently litters our oceans. We have referenced it obliquely in relation to the R-Strap, made from recycled fishing nets, that is already available for the Diver, Marine and Freak X models, but have never discussed the concept Diver Net itself.
The concept watch aims to case the entire watch up in recycled fishing nets thanks to an outfit called Fil&Fab that specialises in working with this material. The concept watch uses a transparent ceramic material which is not sapphire crystal, and we are very eager to come to grips with this material at some point. Of course the real story and potential lies in the successful industrialisation of this upcycling effort. Speaking of which, if recycled plastic from the sea interests you, there are commercially available alternatives.
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