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- 5 Jul 2013
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Luxury Watchmakers Focus on Sustainability

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IWC Aquatimer Chronograph Edition Galapagos Island, in partnership with the Charles Darwin Foundation


Mahasweta Bhattacharyya of Tic-Tock investigates the sustainability solutions pursued by brands such as Audemars Piguet, IWC, Jaeger-LeCoultre, HYT & Cartier

When you look a little closer, the timepiece industry has actually become somewhat of a frontrunner in championing environmentally sustainable practices. Whether the use of cotton or cork to craft watches as seen at Sprout, or the incorporation of lithium-ion cell technology to harness light and power watches by Citizen, watch manufacturers are increasingly focusing their attention on corporate social responsibility.

According to the International Energy Agency, global CO2 emissions reached a record high in 2012. According to the report, attempts to cut down on emissions by the US and European nations have been offset by China. Industrial processes contribute significantly to the CO2 emissions.

They also contribute to other problems such as natural resource consumption and waste generation. Particularly in the luxury goods sector, through the use of exotic skins and materials, and of course the mining of precious stones and metals. Recently we have witnessed a dramatic shift in the way the luxury industry understands its responsibility towards the planet.

Timepiece manufacturers in particular have quietly been seeking out methods to aid sustainability efforts. The question is – how far have they come?


 We have witnessed a dramatic shift in the way the luxury industry understands its responsibility towards the planet 


It is interesting to note that many high-end timepieces inherently follow some of these principles. The mechanical movement has been in existence for centuries, as early as the 1500’s depending on which sources you choose to believe. Indeed, until the quartz revolution of the 1960s all watches were mechanical, meaning that they did not require a battery to keep the time.

Reducing the use of batteries in the timepiece industry is an important environmental step, when one considers that the used batteries from quartz watches can become a serious threat to the environment if they are not disposed of properly.

Batteries contain heavy metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium, and nickel, which can contaminate the environment when batteries are improperly disposed of. When incinerated, certain metals might be released into the air or can concentrate in the ash produced by the combustion process. The ecological impact of mercury leakage from the batteries is another cause of concern.

Yet horologists are looking beyond the basics to integrate ‘green’ initiatives into their operational processes. Let’s take a closer look into the eco-friendly strategies various watch houses have put into practice.


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Sprout timepieces, fashioned in organic cotton and bamboo


Natural Materials and Certified Sources

The luxury watch market thrives on products that feature valuable metals and precious stones. It is yet another reason for the high price of the products in this category. While manufacturers like Sprout may fashion watches from organic cotton or bamboo, they may not necessarily speak to the collector of luxury timepieces.

The Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC), a no-profit organization founded in 2005, promotes the incorporation of ethical, social and environmental practices with regard to the source of the expensive metals and stones used in haute horlogerie and jewellery pieces.

Swiss watchmakers of repute, such as Cartier and Jaeger-LeCoultre, have joined the efforts of RJC to aid sustainable practices in the procurement of gold and diamonds for their timepieces. To attain RJC Certification, the watch houses, and their partners, need to follow the guidelines set by them to ensure that the materials are sourced from ‘green’ suppliers.

A request from Protection Suisse Des Animaux prompted Officine Panerai to inspect the use of exotic leathers for its watchstraps. To ensure that wildlife is not endangered by commercial practices, the watch house sources its leather from certified farms only.


 Until the quartz revolution of the 1960s all watches were mechanical, meaning that they did not require a battery to keep the time 


Innovative Technologies to Go Green

Citizen’s Eco-Drive technology used light to power its movement. The original solar-powered watch was introduced as early as 1976. The upgraded version hit the markets in the early 90s and became an instant success due to its innovative technology. The Eco-Drive retained its popularity; the inventiveness continued.

As mentioned earlier, the best example of environment-friendly technology used in luxury watches is the mechanical movement. Handcrafted mechanical movements reduce the environmental impact of industrial manufacturing processes.

HYT has been attributed with the laurel for creating a fine watch that integrates groundbreaking technology with novel design. Turning utopia into reality, as they themselves claim, HYT has mastered fluid technology and combined it with mechanics to create their luxury watch line-up.


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Citizen’s Eco-Drive


Eco-Friendly Work Processes

Keeping with the sustainability efforts, many watch manufacturers have switched to LED lighting to reduce energy consumption in the boutiques. But that is not all that Officine Panerai has done; their new production site, to be completed by the end of 2013, would have ‘zero impact’ on the environment.

The Manufacture des Forges, operated by Audemars Piguet, is the only industrial building in Switzerland to attain the Minergie-eco status. The watch house also has the exclusive use of certified hydraulic electricity.

One of the employees of NOMOS Glashutte referred to a watch he was working on as a ‘slow watch’ not because its movement was slow, but because of its connection to the ‘Slow Food’ movement that originated in Italy. The watch house emphasizes on this principle; each element is made regionally, which cuts down on the waste of resources.

The carpool scheme and bus service operated by Jaeger-LeCoultre ensures that its staff does not use separate cars to reach the manufacture site. Cartier uses recycled paper and packaging materials to reduce the production of waste.


 Manufacture des Forges by Audemars Piguet is the only industrial building in Switzerland to attain the Minergie-eco status 


Foundations, Partnerships and Awards

Luxury watchmakers have implemented ‘green’ technologies in diverse aspects of the watch making process. Their active participation in conservation and preservation efforts is also commendable. A great example is the contribution of Audemars Piguet to the conservation of the world’s forests since 1992.

The International Watch Company (IWC) partners with the Charles Darwin Foundation to conserve the endemic flora and fauna of the Galapagos Islands. Omega supports the endeavours of the GoodPlanet initiative to raise awareness about environmental protection.

Rolex has devised its own way to encourage environmental responsibility. The watch house has recognized the pioneering individuals in diverse fields. One such is for innovativeness in environmental campaigns. Personalities such as Erika Cuellar and Sergei Bereznuk have achieved laurels for their contributions to environmental conservation.

Though the industry is far from completely sustainable, these recent initiatives and policies by leading conglomerations suggest an authentic shift towards a more ecologically responsible future.





To further investigate Sustainability on Luxury Society, we invite your to explore the related materials as follows:

- The Future of Luxury in Africa: Trade Not Aid
- Understanding The Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards
- The Luxury Hybrid Automobile: Future or Fallacy?


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Mahasweta Bhattacharyya is a contributing writer at Tic-Tock. An unwavering passion for luxury watches and an unending curiosity about how they work is what drives her to take an active interest in them.

Tic-Tock.com