As Earth Month draws to a close, we’re taking a moment to acknowledge the damage we’ve done along the way – and the gains that innovative brands have since made.
The style industry, in particular, has been responsible for an insane amount of waste, water consumption and pollution. Most would argue that watches have a longevity that few other fashionable items possess, but the manufacturing processes, packaging and material extraction are not without their own ill effects.
Watch manufacturers, however, are stepping up their efforts to achieve sustainability, especially as consumer attitudes continue to grow in favor of environmentally friendly products.
Gone are the days of shiny exotic wood boxes and plastic packaging. Today, more have begun to opt for recyclable and/or ethically sourced materials. After all, who wants to see a century-old tree cut down just to make a box you won’t soon forget?
However, all of this is not without its challenges, as reversing the damage we have caused to the planet requires far more effort than damaging it in the first place. Panerai, for example, had to challenge partners and suppliers in industry and beyond to experiment and collaborate on its latest achievement, the eLAB-ID. Because many had never worked with such high levels of recycled content before, it took a lot of time and effort to develop materials that would be both sturdy and luxurious enough to make the cut.
Other sustainable initiatives adopted by watch brands include ocean preservation efforts, sustainable manufacturing processes and renewable resources. If you want to do your part, these brands and watches are the ones to watch the next time you want to make an eco-conscious decision.
Panerai has always been at the forefront of materials development, so it was only a matter of time before they found a material tough enough to withstand the functions of a diver’s watch, yet luxurious enough to, a Panerai – while using the highest percentage of recycled materials ever used in a watch.
In total, 98.6% of the weight of the eLAB-ID Submersible comes from materials incorporating a high rate of recycled elements. In this case, its sandwich dial, case and bridges are made of Eco-Titanium, a lightweight aerospace-grade alloy made from more than 80% recycled titanium. Even the SuperLumiNova in its dial and hands is entirely recycled, as is the silicon in the movement’s escapement.
Alpina is another watch brand that has immersed itself in sustainability. Its Seastrong Diver Gyre Automatic is a collection of five models whose cases and straps are made from materials recycled from the ocean.
Here, the case breathes new life into debris derived from fishing nets collected in the Indian Ocean and is made of 70% plastic and reinforced with 30% fiberglass. The two-tone NATO strap continues the message, still made from recycled plastic bottles recovered from the oceans. For more formal occasions there is also a black vegetable leather strap made from apple scraps.
Ulysse Nardin’s timepieces may be from another world, but they are still determined to do good for planet Earth. Recognizing the impact of carbon on watches today, the watchmaker created Carbonium, a super durable and lightweight carbon-based material that first appeared on the Freak X and now, the new limited edition Diver X Skeleton. This material has a 40% lower environmental impact than regular carbon-based materials, which are typically very energy-intensive to manufacture.
Last year, the brand also launched the Diving net, a concept watch that saw its “R-Strap”, the decoration of the case, the back and the bezel made from recycled fishing nets. This was done in collaboration with three young Breton designers from WIRE&FAB, which successfully created the first recycling channel for fishing nets in France.
You may have heard of IWC’s paper-based TimberTex watch straps, but that’s not all the company does for the planet. The Schaffhausen-based manufacturer is so committed to sustainability that it even goes so far as to reimburse a large part of the travel costs of its employees who go to work by public transport. The company even helped the staff to pay the costs of installing solar panels in the houses.
Other efforts include always opting for products certified by the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council), which promotes the responsible management of the world’s forests. TimberTex webbing, for example, is made from 80% natural plant fibers, sourced from trees grown in sustainably and responsibly managed European forests.
By 2025, the watchmaker also aims to have all of its boutiques run entirely on green energy.
Breitling has always been a strong supporter of eco-friendly partnerships, such as its longstanding one with Ocean Conservancy, a non-governmental organization dedicated to leading the global fight for healthy oceans and clean beaches. Beyond efforts such as organizing beach cleanups, the brand has also launched the limited edition Breitling Superocean Heritage Ocean Conservancy, which has seen its NATO strap made from Econyl thread. The unique fabric is reused from nylon waste found in the oceans and can be recycled indefinitely.
Even its watch box promises to go further. Made from 100% recycled plastic bottles, the new packaging is made entirely of recycled plastic bottles and is collapsible, reusable and comes with a much lower carbon footprint.
The new Superocean Heritage ’57 Outerknown also continues to promote sustainability in fine watchmaking. The collaborative effort was made possible by the watchmaker and its namesake, Unknown — a brand co-founded by surfing legend Kelly Slater that uses only organic, recycled or reclaimed materials.
Blancpain’s connection to the ocean means the brand not only creates some of the best diving watches, but is also committed to protecting the deep blues. Its flagship model, the Fifty Fathoms, was launched in 1953 and has since spawned versions dedicated to the cause, such as the 250-piece Fifty Fathoms Ocean Commitment III.
The project has seen proceeds go towards marine expeditions and conservation efforts, as well as the Gombessa Expedition, whose research revealed the impact of global warming in Antarctica.