In the past, watch companies supported the heroes of the day, which included mainly race car drivers, actors and athletes. Today’s heroes are environmentalists, and watch companies have lined up behind their causes in a big way, including not just spreading the word, but changing their own policies to include recycled packaging and product materials in their collections and building environmentally friendly factories and distribution methods. It allows watch owners to take a new pride of ownership in their purchases.
It started with straps. Ulysse Nardin was one of the first out of the gate with the R-Strap, made of recycled fishing nets retrieved from the oceans. (Check out this great article from watchilove.com)
Breitling’s Econyl collection of NATO-style straps is also made from recycled fishing nets, a fabric that has been used by other luxury industries, including fashion labels Burberry and Prada. IWC has a line of sustainable straps, too, made from a paper-based material called TimberTex, composed of 80% natural plant fibers that come from managed forests or tree farms. The straps are hand made, using natural dyes and stitching, with lining made of recycled materials. Last year, Cartier introduced a line of bands made of 40% plant matter, made using waste from processing apples grown for the food industry. (More details on cartier.com)
Watch brands have also taken aim at packaging, stepping back from the tradition of delivering watches in elaborate boxes, often made of wood and leather. Breitling now uses a small foldable, reusable watch box made from 100% upcycled PET bottles, a type of plastic that can itself be recycled. It can be shipped in folded form, so the transportation footprint is also reduced. The box was recently awarded the Efficient Solution Label given by the Solar Impulse Foundation.
A portion of the sales of Omega’s Seamaster Planet Ocean collection are earmarked to support the GoodPlanet Foundation, which raises awareness about environmental conservation. Omega also supports Nekton, a non-profit research foundation committed to the protection and management of the world’s oceans. Another Swatch brand, Breguet, supports Race for Water, an organization dedicated to the preservation of water.
The Rolex Awards For Enterprise one of three pillars of the Rolex Perpetual Planet initiative, dedicated to helping exceptional individuals with innovative projects that expand our knowledge of the world, improve human well-being and protect the environment. The initiative also includes support of the National Geographic Society, with whom Rolex has been working since the 1950s, and the Mission Blue Ocean conservation program to save some of the world’s hot spots threatened by environmental degradation.
One of the defining factors of luxury watches is a case made from a noble metal, distinguishing it from what used to be perceived as a cheap plastic watch. But that’s changing. Ulysse Nardin recently introduced the Diver Net, with a case made partly from recycled polymers, a courageous move considering plastic is not usually considered a luxury material. The bezel and some case components are made of recycled fishing nets gathered and processed by French firm FIL&FAB. For now, the Diver Net is a concept watch, but Ulysse Nardin hopes to produce it in commercial quantities.
Montblanc introduced recycled aluminum into its collection last year, starting with its smartwatch, the Summit Lite. Aluminum has the benefit of being extremely lightweight, hence the “Lite” in the name, which is another marketing strength.
Recycled gold is another way to reduce the carbon footprint. Chopard has been using it for years, along with something it calls “ethical” gold, some of which is mined in artisanal, small-scale operations that are regulated according the environmental and social standards regulated by an NGO called the Alliance for Responsible Mining. The rest of Chopard’s gold is sourced from RJC-certified refiners – the Responsible Jewellery Council certifies ethical business practices throughout the industry, focusing on responsible sourcing.
Last year, Panerai introduced a watch that is 98.6% recycled. The only reason the Submersible e-LAB-ID is not fully 100% recycled materials is because it would have taken more energy to recycle some of the smaller movement components than to make them from scratch. The titanium case, sapphire crystal, gold hands, strap and most of the movement are recycled. Even the Super-LumiNova is recycled – it is extracted from old watches. That was a 30-piece limited edition, but Panerai also recently launched a more accessible eco-conscious watch, the Luminor Marina eSteel, with a case made of a recycled steel.
Avoiding disposable batteries used in quartz watches is another sound ecological practice. Seiko and Citizen have been making solar powered watches for years, and the only reason luxury watch companies haven’t immediately followed suit is because most of their watches are mechanical. And Cartier introduced a quartz-based Tank Must line, using an eco-movement technology called photovoltaic, involving perforations in the dial that allow solar energy to reach the photovoltaic cells hidden under the dial.
Finally, the manufacture itself where watches are made can provide an opportunity for eco-consciousness. has used sustainable construction practices to build one of the most eco-friendly buildings in the business. Constructed in 2005, the building uses heat pumps and groundwater for heating and cooling. The cladding is a triple-glazed skin with a high insulation factor that significantly helps reduce energy requirements, and rainwater collected from the roof is used to flush toilets.
Now that using recycled materials and conserving energy has hit the luxury watch industry, we can all feel better about our purchases, knowing we are doing our part to help preserve the planet.