It should come as no surprise that luxury watch brands often have ties to various green initiatives aimed at promoting sustainability and accountability. Cynical observers may pass them off as marketing exercises, but a deeper look quickly reveals that marketing alone doesn’t justify the time and resources that such work demands. Other reasons are clearly at play here.
For some brands, green initiatives are simply extensions of their core identities. Blancpain, for instance, has long been associated with undersea exploration, given its history as a forerunner in dive watch development. So it’s only natural for the brand to focus on ocean conservation since it’s a closely related field. To that end, Blancpain runs a multi-pronged programne under the aegis of Blancpain Ocean Commitment, which works with various individuals and organisations on projects that protect the world’s oceans.
Natural synergies can also lead to partnerships with green initiatives. In Breitling’s case, this came about via its relationship with professional surfer Kelly Slater, who is part of the brand’s Surfer Squad of ambassadors. Slater’s environmental advocacy led him to co-found sustainable apparel manufacturer Outerknown, which Breitling has partnered to offer straps in Econyl, a material that’s created from recycled nylon waste.
Associations with green initiatives can also be driven by a brand’s management, in a reflection of evolving corporate governance practices that seek to balance business interests with social responsibility. Chopard, for example, began its transition towards ethically-sourced Fairmined gold in 2013 as part of efforts spearheaded by co-president and artistic director Caroline Scheufele.
By 2018, 100 percent of the brand’s gold was certified to have ethical origins. This doesn’t just mean fair compensation and working conditions for the communities behind the gold’s extraction, but also greater social and environmental sustainability for the supply chain as a whole.
Here’s a look at some of the green initiatives that have recently been implemented.
Lights and apples
This year, various other brands have stepped up to the plate and unveiled green initiatives of their own. For a start, Cartier has introduced a new photovoltaic movement, the SolarBeat, in its Tank Must line. The new calibre is powered by light that falls on the dial, which enters via (invisible) perforations on the Roman numeral indices to recharge the movement’s photovoltaic cells.
According to Cartier, the SolarBeat has a lifespan of over 16 years. This supplements the high-efficiency quartz movement the maison previously introduced, which requires a battery change only about once every eight years. The two calibres thus deliver similar results — greater convenience for the wearer and less waste generated by battery replacements over the life cycles of their respective timepieces.
Movement aside, it features a strap that is also more environmentally friendly. Produced using waste from apples grown for the food industry in Europe, each strap comprises around 40 percent plant matter. Compared to a calfskin strap, the manufacturing process of these “apple straps” produces six times less carbon, requires up to 10 litres less water and saves the equivalent of 80 smartphone charges’ worth of energy.
Straps from trees
In the same vein, IWC has also revealed a new line of paper-based straps that promises a smaller impact on the environment. The key component here is TimberTex, a material consisting of 80 percent plant fibres and that’s coloured only with natural dyes.
The raw material is only part of the equation though. In its sourcing process, IWC was careful to consider the entire supply chain. The cellulose that goes into producing TimberTex, for instance, comes from trees harvested from managed forests and tree farms. Meanwhile, the straps are handmade in Italy with other sustainable materials, including recycled thread for the stitching and recycled microfibre for the lining.
For its take on sustainability, Panerai has taken the concept of the circular economy and applied it to the scale of its watch production, which it demonstrates in two timepieces this year.
The first among them is the Submersible eLab-ID concept watch, created from 98.6 percent of recycled materials based on its weight. To achieve this, Panerai had to establish a completely new supply chain with various partners and suppliers. Aubert et Duval, for instance, supplied the recycled titanium alloy EcoTitanium that went into the timepiece’s case, dial, movement case plate and bridges.
Likewise, recycled silicon was delivered by a partner before being shaped into the necessary components for the escapement. Even the Super-Luminova on the dial and hands is recycled. The Submersible eLab-ID is best seen as a proof of concept and Panerai’s call to arms to the industry at large. The timepiece will be offered in a 30-piece limited run.
The Luminor Marina eSteel timepiece has a similar concept, but keeps things commercially viable by using the eponymous eSteel, a steel alloy smelted with recycled materials, in the watch case and dial. According to Panerai, the primary challenge of developing eSteel was having to match its properties to the steel alloys that are currently in use. One can imagine that an alloy produced with recycled components will require more work to maintain consistency between batches of the same material. Should this practice become more widely used, the environmental benefits will far outweigh the extra effort.
Rounding out the list of new green initiatives from watch brands is Zenith. The brand has signed on as the official timekeeper and founding partner of Extreme E, an electric off-road motor racing series that had its inaugural race in April. The event is unique for racing electric SUVs in remote parts of the world like the Amazon rainforest, with the locations serving to raise awareness about different aspects of climate change.
Of course, the irony of hosting a sustainability-focused motor racing series hasn’t been lost on its organisers. Extreme E has committed to having a net-zero carbon footprint by the end of its first season, and it is working to meet this target through various means. This includes the use of hydrogen fuel cells to power the electric cars and having a ship that’s been optimised for lower emissions for freight and logistics; it also plans to offset the balance via Allcot-certificated carbon offsetting and sustainability programmes. What’s more, the series will put in place a dedicated legacy programme at each location, aimed at providing social and environmental support long after the race is over.
The luxury watch industry is in a privileged position to effect the most change. After all, it has the resources to support the right causes, relationships with ambassadors who can amplify messages and efforts, and the scale to positively affect supply chains. The idea of timelessness that’s fundamental to a luxury watch is in itself an antithesis to fast culture. As the brands above demonstrate, this industry is capable of driving successful initiatives aimed at improving sustainability on various levels. With some luck, more brands will get involved in due time.