How can the watch industry be greener?
The Swiss watch industry seems to be stepping up its commitment to the fight against climate change.
Last month Cartier and Kering – the Paris-based luxury group that owns watchmakers Girard-Perregaux and Ulysse Nardin – partnered with the Responsible Jewelery Council, a London-based organization that sets sustainability standards for the industry, to announce a campaign open to all jewelry and watchmaking companies wishing to commit to an ambitious set of environmental and social responsibility objectives.
Known as the Watch and Jewelry Initiative 2030, this effort reflects the pace of voices within trade calling for a more urgent response to the climate crisis. Collectively, they seem to be asking the same question: How can the industry be greener?
Here, 10 people familiar with the luxury watch industry – including content creators, collectors, watch experts and an industrial environmentalist – come up with their ideas. Their responses have been edited and condensed.
Co-founder of “Scottish Watches”Podcast, Glasgow
Whenever we talk about the show, I like to slap the Apple Watch a bit because it’s dying technology – it will need to be replaced in two or three years. And it has a lithium battery. An automatic watch or a hand-wound watch that uses trace amounts of lubricant – this is the way to go compared to battery-powered watches, which have a lifespan of one or two generations.
But how the engineering industry could be greener is a tricky question. Sometimes I look at it from a realistic point of view, and other times from a romantic point of view. The romantic idea is that everyone should take care of the planet and do their part, but the reality is that with the big brands, they are all about the luxury aspect – they want to give you the massive box in polished veneer that may not come from a sustainable forest but it is a presentation box. And it’s not just the material that goes in the box, but the way they transport it – all the fuel they use for the trucks and ships that get it from the warehouse to the retailer. But still, compared to the waste that humans produce on a daily or weekly basis, it’s so insignificant.
Watch journalist and brand consultant, Basel, Switzerland
Ultimately, the demand for greener products, perhaps especially with those things that are not quite necessary, has to come from consumers. Now when we go to buy fish, we ask where it is caught, right? And many of us shy away from the horribly farmed Norwegian salmon. Or just as it became essential 15 years ago to start asking yourself how diamonds got to you to make sure they weren’t blood diamonds, we should start asking questions about gold from our watches.
Once the demand really starts, everyone makes the switch. Nor am I opposed to legislation, which could really speed things up. I’m Swedish after all – listen to Greta [Thunberg]!
executive director of the New York Watch Company
Watches are relatively climate-friendly products, but the business trips that often accompany their promotion and sale are not. One of the ways the watch industry could be greener is to reduce unnecessary business travel. Before Covid, it was common for watch brands to fly journalists around the world to witness the debut of a new watch. Nowadays, video conferencing has become much more acceptable. We don’t need to stop all business travel altogether, but a hybrid approach would be best for all of us.
Creator of watch and jewelry content, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
As a vegetarian trying to go completely vegan, my # 1 request would be to stop seeing watches made with animal leather straps. First of all, there is the undeniable cruelty in obtaining the animal’s leather, which seems totally unnecessary especially when there are so many eco-responsible alternatives today.
Second, raising animals for leather requires huge amounts of feed, pasture, water, and fossil fuels, not to mention the toxic chemicals involved in the production of leather. With so many clean alternatives on the market today, the watch industry has a lot to gain by making these changes.
Vintage Rolex dealer and co-founder of the watch auction site Magnifying glass this, Berkeley, California
Before I got into watches I worked in the computer recycling business and one of my business mantras was that the best way to recycle is to reuse. From a reuse standpoint, a used watch is an interesting thing.
And look at mining: there is all this talk about conflict stones and so on. The truth is that a lot of diamonds set in watches are so small that the intrinsic value is quite minimal. Why wouldn’t you use lab-created stones? There are people on both sides of this question, but it is a question worth asking.
Harvard University student, collector and co-host of “Waiting list”, A podcast of the watch, Vancouver
I recently ordered a piece from independent watchmaker Kari Voutilainen and asked him to make it from recycled materials. Earlier this year, it introduced the 28SC SB, which is its flagship model. It is the first of this model to be equipped with a central second. They introduced it in a new housing material, AISI 316L grade 4441 steel, and it is essentially solar forged steel which is 100% recyclable and itself recycled, reducing the footprint. carbon.
You kill two birds with one stone: it’s recycled and you get great quality steel in the sense that it doesn’t even get scratched so easily. All the green aside, it’s just cool. The industry needs more watchmakers to try new things like this. Wouldn’t it be cool if all of these brands offered models made from recycled materials?
Sustainable development consultant with Ardevie & Kaaviar public relations agencies, Berlin
What brands now seem to understand is that investing in certain tree planting projects is no longer enough. The next generation of consumers (and some now) demand better than a good product – the brand they buy from must make sense.
Every department needs to be involved, especially top management, and every decision made now needs to include sustainability in the conversation, from people’s well-being to inclusiveness, data management, servers, power consumption. , packaging, shipping, materials used, etc. What they need to watch out for is not to fall for greenwashing. For example, replacing leather with vegan leather is a good idea, unless the alternative uses hundreds of thousands of gallons of water for production and is shipped around the world.
Actor (“City on a Hill”, “One Night in Miami”), watch enthusiast and administrator of the Horological Society of New York
It starts with manufacturing practices. When producing parts and products, waste reduction methods can be applied in such a way as to significantly target green milestones. When it comes to packaging, we use a lot of wood, paper, cardboard, plastic, etc. Considering that more than 1.2 billion watches are produced per year, standardizing the use of recycled materials to produce packaging could significantly reduce the polluting effects of our industry.
Executive Vice President, Swiss Watches Group, New York
Despite the outward appearances, the actual manufacturing of mechanical timepieces is quite environmentally friendly as the watches are designed to be repaired and they are made from high quality materials that are designed to last. The use of more sustainable materials in the design of the watches, as well as in the packaging, also creates a positive impact and reduces waste. Finally, the beauty of a high quality mechanical watch is that even after fulfilling its function with the original owner, it can have a second or third life as a pre-owned watch.
Reid J. Lifset
Researcher at the Yale School of the Environment and editor-in-chief of the Journal of industrial ecology, New Haven, Connecticut.
The best thing people who can afford a luxury watch can do is fly less, from afar. And above all, do not fly in a private plane or in first or business class. The plane, more or less, spends the same amount of fuel no matter where you are sitting. But if you are first class you move people from seats and you will need another plane. So you only make it worse when you travel high end.
The other question is: how many watches do people need? My feeling is that when you get into high end watches people like to have a few of these things. It is excessive consumption. Could you tell the companies that make watches (and I’m sure they would hate that): would you tell people to buy only one, to be sustainable?