By Diane Small
We’ve written quite a bit about sustainability and jewellery on this site in the past, outlining the importance of shunning diamonds wherever possible (they’re notoriously hard NOT to trace back to war and death), explaining the difference between Fairmined and conventionally mined metals, and showcasing brands like Gemfields, who pride themselves on being accountable for every stone they sell. Sustainability adds emotional capital to the value of a watch and is in greater demand now than ever before, yet many of our readers still wonder whether and how these guidelines apply to watches.
Eco friendly watches aren’t yet as common as say, sustainable gemstones, but there have been huge steps taken by luxury watchmakers to change this.
For example, Tag Heuer’s popular advertising campaign “What are you made of?” was meant to spark consumers to ask that very question about their TAG Heuer purchases. A bit of investigation would reveal the steps the brand is making to reduce its environmental impact and to include more eco-friendly products in its manufacturing process.
We’d love to see TAG Heuer publicising their efforts even more clearly though: they’ve recently built a new ‘green’ building for its operations and made eco-upgrades to its current headquarters, including installing solar panels on the roof and using recycled water for high-tech lasers used in the production. As part of the Responsible Jewellery Council, it has stopped using any materials whose sourcing cannot be guaranteed; hence they’ve nixed the use of python skins as there was no way of confirming their origins, and recyclable FSC certified wood is now used in their packaging instead of man-made materials.
Another sustainable watch brand that is part of the Responsible Jewellery Council is Girard-Perregaux, who only produce around 12, 000 timepieces per year for true watch connoisseurs. The Responsible Jewellery Council ensures its members follow responsible ethical, human rights, social and environmental practices throughout the jewellery supply chain, and has developed a common platform of standards for the jewellery supply chain and credible mechanisms for verifying responsible business practices through third party auditing. But as one of the luxury brands in the Kering group, Girard-Perregaux is also obligated to follow KERING’s sustainability strategy, launched five years ago. For the watchmaker, this involves paying fair wages, using traceable gems and purchasing Fairmined metals, amongst many other green initiatives in their production processes.
Then, there are some fine watchmakers who are mainly focused on social responsibility and sustainability. Fonderie 47 meticulously creates timepieces from ‘recycled’ AK47s. The manufacturer of these collectors’ pieces funds the removal and destruction of these old, dangerous and usually illicit weapons–over 30,000 to date–and after breaking parts down into small components, they hand these pieces over to master craftsmen who then transform them into exquisite high-end accessories for men and women.
Perhaps the most sustainable types of watches are those made of wood. Of course these can’t just be any kinds of wood: Orbita Siena made some lovely timepieces, unfortunately from endangered teak wood; many other brands use rare species such as mahogany, zebrawood, sandalwood and rosewood. They may sound exotic and look lovely, but cutting down these slow-growing, ancient trees threatens hardwood forests and all the creatures that live in them.
The most sustainable wood watches are those made from bamboo and other fast growing timber and one brand that does this beautifully is Affute, who create simple, minimalist watches from bamboo for casual, everyday use. For wood watches with a more luxe touch, WeWood can’t be beaten. Using only recycled and fully sustainable materials, the brand designs chic timepieces for the hip urban tree hugger – no wonder Lenny Kravitz is a fan!
Whether it’s by following traceable sourcing guidelines, creating timepieces from upcycled items or using eco-friendly woods, it seems fine horologists are more focused on ensuring their work is greener than ever. Still not convinced? The best way to ensure you’re wearing a sustainable watch is to purchase ‘recycled’ one – or in other words, a vintage piece. These only gain in value over time, and unlike most ‘off the rack’ timepieces, they have the potential to really tell a story – as well as the time.