Watches are somewhat of a paradox. One the one hand – incredibly sustainable as a product which lasts generations with intermittent intervention (the definition of luxury). On the other, the manufacturing process, packaging and profit maximisation is often damaging. For too long watch brands have got away without having to improve their practices, and now customers, particularly younger ones, are starting to hold them accountable for their disruptive supply chains and global impact.
The most obvious way brands are upping their eco game is via the materials they use. That’s been the case in straps for a while, which are a pretty surface-level way of ensuring a modicum of sustainability. It also happens that there are some pretty cool examples out there – good for the planet, good on the wrist.
Breitling’s Outerknown ECONYL® yarn NATO strap collection, for example, was launched in 2019. Created in partnership with Outerknown (a super-cool surf brand), the straps have been designed specifically for the Superocean collection.
ECONYL® yarn is created exclusively from recycled nylon waste, some of which is recovered from discarded or lost fishing nets. The straps are not only recycled but are also completely recyclable and visually a powerful modern tribute to the surf culture of the 1950s and 1960s.
Similarly, the Patravi ScubaTec Black, a new sporty number from Carl F. Bucherer, features its all-new black rubber strap with material made of 100% recycled plastic bottles removed from the ocean (it also looks mega). It ties in nicely with the brand’s ongoing work with the Manta Trust, helping to conserve rays and their habitats.
However, more recently brands have been going a bit further in their quests to clean up the world and have begun including recycled materials into their watches proper. Sure, there have been concepts in the past doing just that but now we’re looking at a raft of new production pieces like Panerai’s eSteel. So let’s have a look at 10 of the most exciting watches championing sustainable materials.
10 Watches Made from Sustainable Materials
Panerai Luminor Marina eSteel
Panerai’s commitment to the development of sustainable materials is manyfold. For the Submersible eLab-ID they completely altered their supply chain to create an EcoTitanium. However, while titanium is no stranger to watchmaking, a more common material is steel and so finding an eco-friendly way to produce steel watches is a more pressing concern. The result of their experiments is eSteel, a steel alloy that uses a high proportion of recycled material and that, crucially, has identical physical and chemical attributes to the non-recycled alloy.
All of which is to say that the Panerai Luminor Marina eSteel is almost identical to every other Marina, down to its 300m water resistance, except that it’s better for the environment. And it comes in three cool colours to boot. Sure, it’s about £1,000 more expensive than the base model but that’s a lower price to pay than risking the planet.
Case/Dial: 44mm brushed eSteel™ case, with 300m (30 bar) water resistance
Movement: P.9010 calibre, automatic, 72-hour power reserve
Strap: Recycled PET fabric
Christopher Ward C60 #tide
The first really new watch on this list is the Christopher Ward #tide. The 42mm diameter watch was created in collaboration with the #tide ocean material company, who supply multiple manufacturers with plastic removed from the world’s oceans. Plastic supplied by them has been injected in the watch’s caseback and crown as well as being used to create the #tide strap, which is available separately across the entire Christopher Ward range.
This watch is part of the C60 Trident line and has a captivating wave patterned dial. Although you won’t see much of the real waves above your head if you take it all the way down to its water resistance limit of 600m. It’s powered by the Sellita SW200, a chronometer status automatic movement with a slightly underwhelming 38-hour power reserve. However, at a price of £895 with a portion of sales from every #tide strap going to the Blue Marine Foundation, it’s a watch worth considering.
Case/Dial: 42mm stainless steel case with 600m (60 bar) water resistance
Movement: Sellita SW200 calibre, automatic, COSC-certified chronometer, 38-hour power reserve
Strap: #tide ocean material® fabric
Alpina Seastrong Gyre
Modern, contemporary materials lend themselves to bold modern designs and in diving watch terms that means big cases. Alpina’s Seastrong Gyre measures 44mm in diameter and is constructed from a mixture of 70% recycled plastic and 30% glass fibre, paired with a large stainless steel unidirectional rotating bezel with dive timer. Not to mention that the gorgeous black and electric blue colour combo is great to look at, so much so that the Gyre earned a place on our Ultimate Dive Watch Guide.
An important thing to note is that while many sustainably built watches are still in the conceptual phase or produced as limited editions, the Seastrong Gyre is here to stay and is testament to Alpina’s commitment to ridding the oceans of waste fishing net, which is their plastic of choice.
Case/Dial: 44mm recycled PA 6 (70%) and glass-fiber (30%) case with 300m (30 bar) water resistance
Movement: Calibre AL-525, automatic, 38-hour power reserve
Strap: RPET (recycled plastic bottles) blue and black NATO
Price: £1,359, limited to 288 pieces
Baume Skate Aurelien Giraud Special Edition 10653
Turning away from the water, Baume have chosen to a very unique source to find a sustainable, upcycled material: the world of skateboarding. Skateboards are constructed out of multiple materials, which includes aluminium and wood, both of which are valuable resources that need to be protected. They also happen to be great materials for watchmaking, possessing the qualities of lightness, strength and flexibility.
Baume’s attention to detail is exceptional as even the skate deck grip tape is used, giving the dial that classic skateboard texture and aesthetic. This is not so much a watch that set out to be sustainable as one where they realised a perfectly good resource was going to waste whenever a board headed to the trash pile. It also has the endorsement of Aurelien Giraud, a French pro skater who reached the street skating final at Tokyo 2020.
Case/Dial: 42.2mm aluminium and wood case, with 300m (30 bar) water resistance
Movement: Sellita SW200 calibre, automatic, 38-hour power reserve
Strap: Interchangeable black cotton
The Sacred Crafts La Grande Mer
It’s honestly amazing how much waste humans generate and not all of it as small as a plastic bottle tossed carelessly into the ocean, some of it can be as large as an entire boat left to rot on the coast. It’s these larger scale reclamation projects that The Sacred Crafts is involved with, turning disused boats into luxury, sustainable watches. For example, the bronze case of La Grande Mer, a 44mm diving watch, is made from reclaimed boat propellers.
Another key material used by The Sacred Crafts is plastic taken from fish netting, which they use as an alternative to precious stones like jade. It’s not just about redistributing the physical material in an environmentally sound way, it’s also about re-evaluating the value we place on those materials. It’s this combination of factors that gives the brand it’s mission statement, Culture Reclaimed. It also doesn’t hurt that La Grande Mer has an attractive nautical aesthetic.
Case/Dial: 44mm bronze case with 300m (30m) water resistance
Movement: Calibre ETA 2824, automatic, 42-hour power reserve
Strap: Bronze with the middle bracelet links made of reclaimed wood
Price: $1,999 (approx. £1,445), limited to 220 pieces
Ulysse Nardin Diver NET
The ‘sustainable’ part of the watchmaking industry sees a higher than usual proportion of concept watches because they allow watchmakers to experiment with new materials and new manufacturing techniques without having to commit to large scale production. While we may never see a watch akin to the concept again, the learnings are sure to go forward.
The concept Ulysse Nardin Diver NET was an attempt to make each aspect of a watch as environmentally friendly as possible and its nautical leanings are no surprise given UN’s history. The 44mm case is constructed from recycled fishing nets and the strap is made from PET plastic taken from the oceans, provided by the same supplier as Christopher Ward’s C60 #tide. Intriguingly, they have also replaced the traditional sapphire crystal for a transparent ceramic because the overall energy used in its production is lower.
Case/Dial: 44mm constructed from recycled fishing nets with 300m (30 bar) water resistance
Movement: Calibre UN-118, automatic, 60-hour power reserve
Strap: Fabric ‘R-STRAP’ (PET plastic taken from the oceans)
Price: Concept watch, not available for sale
REC x Gunther Werks 901 GW Exoskeleton & Chelsea
In the environment conversation, oceans are without a doubt a major issue, but the other equally large issue is vehicles, especially cars. While they’re active they produce unrivalled amounts of pollutants and once they’re no longer usable, they often find their ways to vast scrap heaps that spoil the natural landscape. REC offer disused vehicles an alternative and more environmentally friendly ending, reclaiming their parts for use in unique and technical watches.
Every watch they produce has components taken from an iconic car, each with the individual patinas they earned through use, making every watch produced unique. Their latest project is a collaboration with Gunther Werks on two timepieces, the 901 GW Exoskeleton and Chelsea, based on the Porsche 903. Both watches use recycled carbon fibre for their six-part construction cases and have redesigned sandwich dials. Naturally, because each watch model is made from a single vehicle, all REC watches are limited editions.
Case/Dial: Recycled carbon fibre case
Movement: Swiss made chronograph movement
Price: TBC, limited to 420 pieces
Swatch Bioceramic Gent
One downside of sustainable watches has typically been their prices, due to the added effort in producing them they are often more expensive than their base model counter parts. However, earlier this year Swatch launched their new bioceramic material, a substance created from the combination of recycled plastic and ceramic powder that is simultaneously sustainable and accessible.
The latest additions to their bioceramic watches are a summery collection of Gent and New Gent watches in black and white with vibrantly coloured open work movements. And at £70 for the white models and £79 for the black, they’re entirely accessible for anyone and help to show that sustainable doesn’t have to mean expensive. The trade off is that it houses a fairly standard quartz movement when, with an open work dial, you’d really prefer an automatic calibre.
Case/Dial: 41mm bioceramic case with 30m (3 bar) water resistance
Movement: Quartz movement
Strap: Bio-sourced rubber
Price: £70 for the white model, £79 for the black model
William Wood Triumph
Similar to the Baume Skate, William Wood’s Triumph is sustainable in that it uses material that was being otherwise unused, which adds to the style and aesthetic of the piece. And in the case of William Wood, that material is vintage firefighting equipment such as disused helmets and hosing. The limited edition Chivalrous models feature brass commemorative plaques from repurposed helmets from the 1920s. However, the recent Triumph is a more well rounded timepiece.
The Triumph introduces a chronograph function to the collection for the first time and is adorned with cool retro style subdials. It’s a characterful design that shows that watches made from upcycled materials don’t have to be limited to modern aesthetics but can actually run the full gamut of watchmaking.
Case/Dial: 41mm stainless steel case with 100m (10 bar) water resistance
Movement: Sellita SW510 chronograph calibre, automatic, 48-hour reserve
Strap: Upcycled fire hose
Oris Aquis Upcycle
As you’ve seen, there are now a fair few watches with cases made from recycled materials, which makes sense as far as practicality goes. The dial though, the main visual impact of the watch might be a stretch too far. Except for Oris, of course. The latest (and non-limited) version of their flagship diving watch uses a dial made from recycled ocean plastic.
The Oris Aquis Date Upcycle is… out there. It’s similar in vein to the crazy TAG Heuer Monaco pieces made by Bamford Watch Department and Black Badger in those kind of eye-wrenching colours. But here it’s a touch more random and, strange given the fact that it’s ocean plastic, oddly organic. Otherwise the base watch is the same as ever, with a pared-back grey diving bezel and the usual 41.5mm case with 300m water resistance.
It’s not for everyone, but it’s as funky as it is sustainable. If you can pull it off.
Case/Dial: 41.5mm stainless steel case, with 3000m (30 bar) water resistance
Movement: Oris 733 calibre, automatic, 38-hour reserve
Strap: Stainless steel bracelet
As an alternative to these sustainably manufactured watches, there’s what brands have been doing for decades: watches for good causes. Honestly, these are often as much a marketing ploy as a genuine charity drive, but if they raise money for the right causes, who can argue? They often bring attention to eco charities that otherwise fly (or more often, swim) under the radar.
Keep an eye out over the coming weeks for an in depth look at project’s like Ulysse Nardin’s work with OCEARCH and the FIU Medina Aquarius Program with the DIVER Lemon Shark, Hublot’s drive to save the rhinos with the skeleton-dialled Big Ban Unico SORAI and pretty much everything Blancpain do that’s not a heritage limited edition via their Ocean Commitment programme.