Though you might not have guessed it, the luxury watch industry is gradually going green. With a slew of eco-friendly changes in manufacturing practices and an increasing consumer appetite for sustainable products, the luxury market looks very different today than it did even five years ago.
Jewellery and other luxury accessories were rightly long associated with unethical employment practices and gross consumption of natural resources. However, as climate change and fair trade have entered into broader public consciousness, producers are changing to adapt and are breathing new life into a once struggling market. Watch making, in particular, has changed dramatically to reflect the shifts in consumer and producer consciousness.
Reducing the use of batteries has been an important step in making watches and their production more sustainable. Quartz-based batteries, the most common type found in watch making, are very damaging to the environment. These batteries contain an environmentally unfriendly mix of mercury, lead, and nickel.
It’s worth noting that the move away from battery powered watches represents a return to original practices. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1960s with the advent of quartz watches that there was any need for batteries in watches. Prior to that, all watches ran on a handmade mechanical wind up system, which remains the most environmentally-friendly method of powering timepieces.
Of course, luxury watches often feature precious stones, leather, and metals that come with a heavy cost to the environment. As in many other sectors, there’s a serious debate about the standards of environmentally friendly production. Organisations like the Responsible Jewellery Council exist to promote environmentally-friendly manufacturing practices in the watch making and jewellery industries. Watch houses and producers must match certain standards of green material sourcing to acquire RJC Certification. Yet the RJC, which was founded in 2005 and is based in London, has been criticised in the past by major environmental NGOs including Earthworks and Mining Watch for not having high enough standards for certification. Given that so many potentially harmful materials go into the production of a watch, it’s hardly surprising that the RJC is facing to calls to adopt a stricter approach.
As early as 2009, one of the leading watch manufacturers Tag Heuer sought to address the issues surrounding watch production with their advertising campaign “What are you made of?” Bolstered by the green credentials of Leonard DiCaprio, the manufacturer sought to distinguish their range of ethically and environmentally produced watches in a market once saturated with poor practices and dubious associations. By posing the question, Tag Heuer invited customers to research their green manufacturing process. On the other end of the scale, smaller manufacturers like Sprout have even taken the step of making fashion timepieces from bamboo and organic cotton. These products, whilst not luxury item, are truly eco-friendly.
Of course, the technology that keeps watches going has changed too. Solar powered watches have been around since Citizen first developed one in 1976, but these kinds of timepieces only recently became a viable option for sustainable mass production. The Eco-Drive One represents the current pinnacle of this innovative technology.
On the production side, more and more manufacturers are using LED lighting in their workshops to reduce energy consumption. Officine Panerai, for instance, now operates an entirely energy neutral production facility. Furthermore, Audemars Pigeut’s industrial building is the only one of its kind to have attained Minergie-ECO status in Switzerland. The building runs entirely on hydraulic electricity.
As we’ve written elsewhere, the need to reduce our consumption rate is pressing, and whilst the watch making industry is far from being completely sustainable, progress is being made. Against the ticking clock of climate change, these recent innovations in an industry once associated with waste and overconsumption should be applauded.
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