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Sustainability in the Watch Industry

In an industry that spans centuries and values its rich heritage, the horological world is one that could easily choose to turn a blind eye to ongoing global issues. Although the world has changed dramatically since the birth of watchmaking, the art of watchmaking continues to follow time-honored traditions, many of which could be considered unsustainable. Watchmaking is synonymous with luxury, including the use of precious metals, whilst behind the scenes, certain practices and operations have been questioned over time for having negative environmental impacts like whether mechanical watches are more eco-friendly. Yet whilst the watch industry in some respects likes to stay true to its roots and remain in the past, sustainability is one modern concern it is willing to embrace.

The Swiss watchmaking industry in particular is making waves for its focus on sustainability with continuous research and implementation of sustainable development. As a collective, manufacturers are investigating ways in which to minimize their environmental impact which will ultimately change the horological landscape for the better. Sustainability in the watch industry is more than just a trend, it is an active mission to support the planet without compromising on quality craftsmanship.

How does watchmaking impact the environment?

Watchmaking is an art form that not only produces timepieces that are timeless in design but also leaves a significant environmental footprint for their production. Significantly, the production of watches and the way factories are run contribute to carbon emissions, accelerate climate change and generate landfill waste. The intricate craftsmanship that goes into creating each timepiece often involves energy-intensive processes. Plus, the use of precious metals, stones and leather for watch production contributes to deforestation, pollution and habitat loss.

The watch industry’s demand for precious resources intensifies these environmental impacts, threatening ecosystems and biodiversity.  As consumer awareness of environmental issues grows, there is an increasing call for sustainable practices within watchmaking to reduce its ecological footprint by promoting responsible production. Balancing the art of crafting exquisite timepieces with a commitment to sustainability is currently one of the most pressing challenges for the watch industry.

Why is the watch industry focusing on sustainability?

Everyone can play a role in supporting the planet and every action, no matter how big or small, has an impact. As a huge industry, watchmaking has a significant environmental footprint and it is incredibly important that more sustainable materials and practices are explored to help reduce any negative environmental impact. By focusing on the usage of recycled materials, harnessing energy-efficient technology and minimizing wasteful operations, a brand’s carbon footprint will significantly deplete. This focus on sustainability not only benefits the environment but also benefits the brand in terms of brand reputation and client retention.

Whilst there will be many industry insiders who truly value being kinder to the planet, the main reason why the industry has is focusing on sustainability as a new standard is predominantly customer-led. As times change, so do customers’ values and opinions with the 21st century bringing sustainability to the forefront. Modern customers are part of a generation that considers the impact of their purchases and brands in the watch industry need to move with the times to keep the contemporary clientele satisfied. In a world of cancel culture, brand boycotting is commonplace for those who ignore social, environmental and ecological issues. It is therefore essential for the watch industry to undergo a revamp to remain current and meet the demands of the environmentally-conscious market.

The use of sustainable operations in the watch industry

The watch industry is renowned for continuing time-honored traditions but with the industry dating back to the 16th century, there is no doubt that many watchmaking practices are outdated and have raised concerns in recent years for not being in line with sustainability. These ancient practices have sparked debates over their environmental impact leading to the creation and implementation of industry councils that analyze practices in the watch industry. The Responsible Jewellery Council is the leading organization setting the standard for sustainability in the industry but many brands are taking it one step further. 

Outside of industry standards, select manufacturers are taking additional steps towards sustainability with extra focus on water conservation, waste reduction and the use of renewable energy sources in factories and offices. The most notable brands are Audemars Piguet which operates exclusively on hydraulic energy and Panerai with an energy-neutral production line.

Many other manufacturers are also reducing their carbon footprint and operating in a more eco-conscious fashion. LED lighting is now commonplace across factories and office buildings in an effort to reduce energy consumption whilst solar panels are also installed at many production facilities to further minimize wasteful energy use. Across the Swiss watch industry, in particular, renewable and energy-efficient electricity is predominantly in use.

The use of sustainable technology in the watch industry

Technology continues to advance with mind-blowing new inventions constantly emerging. One of the most notable advancements in sustainable technology was the introduction and to this day, continual development of solar energy in timepieces. Founded in Japan, one of the world’s most innovative countries which is constantly one step ahead of the times, it is no surprise that Citizen was one of the first brands to focus on sustainability. Way before sustainability was even a hot topic, Citizen launched the world’s first solar-powered watches. The Citizen Eco-Drive was released in 1976 exclusively using solar energy and whilst it was a great step in the right direction, production practices would still be considered questionable today. Over time, the impressive technology has gradually become sustainably developed to be mass-produced without compromising the environment.

In the last 16 years, great leaps have been made to craft eco-friendly timepieces. TagHeur was one of the first brands to market its commitment to sustainability. Back in 2009, the brand launched a line of ethically produced watches advertised by a star-studded lineup of brand ambassadors. Celebrities including environmental advocates Uma Thurman and Leonardo DiCaprio backed the brand during this transitional phase into sustainability showcasing to customers TagHeur’s eco-conscious approach to watchmaking and encouraging sales.

The use of sustainable material in the watch industry

With world-renowned brands such as Rolex, Cartier, Breitling and AP acting as headliners, the watch industry is incredibly famous for its luxury market. In an industry synonymous with opulence, materials such as precious metals, gemstones and genuine leather are routinely used in watchmaking. Whilst these materials provide a more elegant aesthetic appeal, they are not in line with the new sustainable standard of the industry. It is now on brands to explore sustainable materials to create the same breathtaking visual appeal but with an eco-conscious effort.

The main focus for the use of sustainable materials at present is the use of recycled materials. Sourcing recycled materials from sustainable sources ensures that the production of timepieces has minimal waste and environmental footprint. There are many eco-friendly materials that offer the same durability and aesthetic appeal but with a green stamp. Recycled stainless steel is most commonly used whilst ethically-sourced gold is also being used for watch cases and components. Omega in particular is a brand heavily supporting the use of sustainable materials utilizing recycled stainless steel, ethical gold and sustainably sourced leather for their watches.

Aside from the use of precious metals, leather straps are another corner of the luxury watch industry that has needed attention. There are many environmentally responsible tanneries that can provide leather whilst ensuring both animal welfare standards and sustainable practices are met. Watch brands, including Omega, are now diverting their leather sourcing to such tanneries in an effort to embrace eco-friendly materials.

There are always brands that will lead the way in sustainability and Panerai is one of them. In addition to significantly reducing its carbon footprint and achieving an energy-neutral production facility, Panerai is the first watchmaker to launch an EcoTitanium watch. This quality material is made exclusively from recycled titanium and helps to address a major issue for sustainability in the watch industry. The Swiss-made Panerai Submersible Mike Horn Edition was launched with two almost identical styles, a green-lumed standard model and a limited edition blue-lumed model. The limited edition is one of the most highly sought-after timepieces in the industry with just nineteen produced. This is clear evidence that even the most eco-friendly and sustainable timepieces have a significant place in the watch industry.

Where next for sustainability in the watch industry?

Now the watch industry is embarking on a sustainability journey, the landscape of the horological world will shift to reflect a more eco-conscious view. To rival their competitors, there is no doubt that brands will continue to research and develop more sustainable practices and craft timepieces with diverse sustainable materials. Sustainability is redefining the watch industry whilst simultaneously meeting the demands of consumers and deeply benefiting the environment. 

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