The jewellery industry is getting greener, and luxury watch brands are more sustainable all the time
By Diane Small
By now, we all know that sustainability is imperative for any business – including luxury companies – to survive. This is true for handbags, clothing, and jewellery – including luxury watches.
It could be argued that the finest luxury watches are already sustainable in the sense that they are ‘slow fashion’ pieces, often intended to be handed down from generation to generation. And in the past, that was certainly always the case.
Until the 1960’s, watches were 100% mechanical, and were highly valued as ‘investment pieces’. But they still used mined materials that were often obtained in very ‘dirty’ ways. They also usually had leather straps. To make matters worse, newer quartz timepieces created during the 60’s introduced batteries that contain heavy metals such as mercury and lead, which are a threat to the environment if not disposed of properly.
Luckily, to stay competitive in the market, today luxury watch manufacturers are using various eco-friendly strategies to be kinder to the planet. Thankfully, watch brands such as Hublot have come to realise the issues around the ecological harm that comes with watchmaking. And they’re trying to do something about it.
Here are six great examples of how luxury watch brands are more sustainable now than ever before.
7 Ways Luxury Watch Brands Are Embracing Sustainability
1. Recycling More
As mentioned, mining destroys the Earth. That’s why recycling existing materials for watches and other accessories is essential.
For example, Panerai is an Italian watch brand that uses recycling extremely well, while also providing exceptional quality watches. They use what they call EcoTitaniun. This recycled material is not seen very often, as it’s difficult to do, and it’s not cheap. But it doesn’t stop Panerai from making great quality watches and reducing waste in the environment.
While it might not be possible to recycle all materials needed for sustainable watchmaking, using as much existing material as possible is essential. And that’s why I was happy to hear about Cartier’s recycled gold initiative.
The jewellery giant’s annual gold consumption is a whopping 10 tons. But the good news is that today, 90% of it is actually recycled gold.
Using recycled materials brings another benefit: lower pollution and emissions. Cartier makes sure that it emits a minimum amount of CO2 and other harmful gasses. Since 2009, Cartier has been measuring their carbon footprint, and is committed to reducing it as much as possible.
2. Using Natural Materials & Certified Sources
A non-profit organisation known as the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC) was founded in 2005. It promotes ethical and environmental practices regarding the sourcing of metal and stones used in jewellery.
This non-profit organisation counts more than 1000 watch and jewellery companies that are dedicated to ethical sourcing. Whether it’s a brand’s environmental or social, impact you care about, the RJC provides transparent information on every step of production, from mining to retail.
A brand mentioned in the first part of this article was Hublot. This is a good example of a company in good standing with the RJC. With their RJC certification, Hublot has proven they respect all ethical rules, payment practices and ecological values when producing their watches.
Other ethical jewellery certifications to look for can be found here.
3. Helping To Conserve Our Oceans
Did you know that every year, nearly 8 million tons of plastic waste enters our oceans, destroying more than a quarter of the world’s live coral? To help combat this, several luxury watch brands are getting more sustainable today by becoming involved with oceanic projects.
For example, the Swiss watchmaker Blancpain created their first diver’s watch (called Fifty Fathoms) in 1953 known as Fifty Fathoms. Today, they are passionate about ocean conservation. In 2011, the brand launched its Ocean Commitment campaign, and since then, it has funded 18 marine exploration missions helping create more than four million square kilometres of protected marine areas.
Rolex is also a long-time supporter of ocean exploration. They fund scholarships in Australasia, North America, and Europe to work with leaders in fields related to marine preservation.
Omega has also vowed to support the preservation of ocean health. They have partnered with the GoodPlanet Foundation, which is mainly concerned with the organisation of events for raising awareness of the importance of sustainable development, such as the “GoodPlanet” ecology film-festival in Rio de Janeiro.
Finally, to add to their sustainability in their watchmaking, Breitling has introduced planet-friendly nylon straps that they call Outerknown ECONYL yarn straps. Outerknown is a company that is designed by surfer star Kelly Slater. It mainly focuses on producing sustainable clothing for surfing fans. But Breitling partnered with the label to create colourful, fun, comfortable and most importantly, sustainable nylon straps. Their ECONYL yarn is actually made from nylon waste that is pulled from the oceans. Good for surfers, good for the planet, and even good for business.
4. Contributing To The Conservation Of Forests
But it’s not just the seas luxury watch makers are trying to protect. In 1992, Audemars Piguet established the Audemars Piguet Foundation, which contributes to the conservation of forests globally. Their recent projects involve efforts to reconstitute forests destroyed by deforestation and fires in India, Namibia, and the Senegal Mangroves.
Gucci is another watch brand aiming to save the planet with the help of trees. They’re working with REDD+ guidelines from the UN to do so. REDD+ is a UN scheme to reduce emissions from deforestation. The REDD+ projects offset Gucci’s carbon emissions through forest conservation initiatives involving the preservation and restoration of around 1.1 million hectares of forest in Kenya, Peru, Indonesia and Cambodia.
Finally, another great example from a luxury watch brand helps conserve forests is IWC.
IWC makes TimberTex straps from 80% natural plant fibres. These are ethically harvested from trees in Europe that are ecologically and consciously maintained. In addition, IWC actually partnered with FSC (Forest Stewardship Council), which is a non-profit organisation that helps and promotes ethical forest management.
5. Going Vegan
As more consumers demand their fashion to be cruelty-free, increasing numbers of watchmakers are questioning their use of leather. For example, Officine Panerai was prompted by request from Protection Suisse Des Animaux to inspect the use of leathers for its watch straps. In Switzerland, the use of leather for watch straps is prohibited unless the source is from a certified farm.
While most luxury watch companies are encouraged to use more ethical leather alternatives to help preserve the planet, others are just shunning the use of dead animals altogether.
Emerging watch brands such as Ksana, Dan & Mez, Nordgreen and Votch are leading the way by creating vegan leather watches. And we’re not just talking plastic straps here, either. No, instead these brands are using stainless steel, wood, or innovative vegan materials. These include Piñatex, which is made out of waste pineapple fibres, and leather made from apple skins.
We love that increasing numbers of luxury watch brands are creating vegan collections!
6. Better Packaging
Some watches come housed in highly luxurious boxes. Imagine a Rolls Royce’s interior – exceptionally finished wood, fancy hinges, calf leather handcrafted in Italy…you get the point. But not a single one of these posh-looking boxes serves any purpose other than presenting a watch in an (overly?) extravagant way
Sure, a luxury watch definitely deserves a luxurious presentation. But most of those boxes just go to waste.
So, what we can do? Let’s start by making the box more useful. And I think Breitling does an incredible job on this. As standard, all their watches come in an eco-friendly, foldable and reusable watch box that’s made from 100% recycled plastic bottles.
These boxes can actually fold into a watch pouch, allowing you to carry them around easily when travelling. You can also use it to house your other items of jewellery.
Another great example from a prestigious luxury watch brand is Blancpain. Blancpain has started to make their moves on using sustainable materials for their packaging by using FSC-certified cardboard and paper. All of which are 100% recyclable, of course. Packaging matters!
7. Thinking Out Of The Box
There are lots of other ways luxury watch brands are embracing sustainability.
Piaget, for example, has implemented electric-charging parking spaces and an electric bike schemes for their employees to reduce car emissions. They also fund a few projects globally that involve renewable energy sources and energy efficiency.
Going back to Gucci, they were one of the first luxury brands to adopt the Environmental Profit & Loss (EP&L) account, which monitors all GHG emissions in its business. Apart from having signed up to the “Fashion Pact”, which fashion brands have signed to agree to implement more sustainable practices, Gucci has set up its own 10-year sustainability strategy, aiming to halve GHG emissions by 2025. The company claims it is now entirely carbon-neutral.
The watch industry is not yet fully sustainable. However, we do appreciate how luxury watch brands are more sustainable, and hope they will only improve that in the future.