The watch industry is frequently criticised for being quite unsustainable. The reality is that the materials that go into watchmaking – precious metals, jewels, batteries – are often produced via extractive and environmentally damaging methods.
Of course, watchmaking is nowhere near as wasteful as some other industries, and watch brands have made leaps and bounds in recent years in terms of minimising both their environmental and ethical impact. But there are some watchmakers that have gone above and beyond in their mission to make their creations more sustainable – and as consumers become more environmentally conscious, it’s these brands that are sure to reap the rewards.
One particular problem the watch world has proven quite adept at facing has been the proliferation of ocean plastic. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, over 8 million tons of plastic end up in our oceans every year. Animals frequently ingest or are entangled by plastic debris, which causes severe injuries and deaths, and plastic pollution also threatens human health; food safety and quality; coastal tourism and recreation; and contributes to climate change.
But plastic can be recycled – and that’s where watchmakers come in. Ocean plastic is a problem, but it’s also a resource: some forward-thinking watch brands are turning ocean plastic into designer accessories, killing two birds with one stone. The fascination with watches, as a watch fan, is that watches can tell a story – and what better story to tell than one about saving the planet?
Let’s focus in on a few watch brands that are turning ocean plastic into stylish accessories.
Tom Ford might not be the first name you think of when it comes to watches but the American fashion designer has launched a rather impressive new range of Swiss made, stylish timepieces. The pièce de résistance in his collection, however, is the very good looking but also very forward-thinking 002 Ocean Plastic. As the name implies, it features a case and unique hand-braided strap made entirely of 100% recycled ocean plastic. According to the brand, every watch produced permanently removes the equivalent of 35 bottles’ worth of plastic waste from the ocean. Tom Ford has also established the ‘Tom Ford Plastic Innovation Prize’ in order to find a replacement for thin-film plastic, offering a $1 million purse pool.
Breitling has always been a particularly forward-thinking player in the Swiss watch industry. Their new Endurance Pro is emblematic of the brand’s current trajectory: the action-focused timepiece available with an Outerknown ECONYL yarn NATO strap, woven from regenerated nylon sourced entirely from ocean and landfill waste. Breitling has been very savvy about the collaborations they’ve been penning lately, and this one with Outerknown is particularly worthy.
Founded in 2018 off the back of a highly successful Kickstarter campaign, French company Awake Watches were founded purely with the intention of making watches from ocean waste. Awake made headlines back in 2019 when they gifted French President Emmanuel Macron and all G7 leaders their watches – and if it’s good enough for world leaders, it’s good enough for us peons. Awake bills their AW.01 as “the most advanced low impact watch in the world”: the minimalist timepiece’s case is made of recycled material from fishing nets, its strap from plastic bottles, and utilises a Japanese Miyota solar movement in order to minimise servicing requirements.
TRIWA is a Swedish watchmaker you might not have heard of but you ought to keep in mind. The small, independent Stockholm-based brand are known for their minimalist and thoughtful timepieces, with their Time For Oceans collection in particular made out of – you guessed it – ocean plastic. It’s not the first time TRIWA have experimented with sustainable materials: the company also released a collection named Time for Peace which featured chronometers made out of metal sourced by melting down seized illegal firearms. That’s badass.
You probably have heard of our final two examples, however, as they’re titans of the luxury watch world: Ulysse Nardin and Panerai. The former have released the Dive Net concept watch, which similar to the Awake AW.01, has a strap made out of old fishing nets that have been ‘upcycled’. The latter have taken upcycling to a whole other level with their Luna Rossa collection ahead of the America’s Cup, the collection’s watches featuring dials made from recycled sail material and carbon fibre residues from decommissioned racing boats.
Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to sustainable watches (pun intended). Ocean plastic’s not the only way to make a sustainable watch: take Swatch’s SISTEM51 ‘Bio-Reloaded’ pair of models or Mondaine’s Essence collection, which use renewable, plant-based materials in their production.
Whether it’s from the land or the sea, more sustainable materials are clearly the way forward when it comes to modern watchmaking.