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CONCEPT WATCHES ARE like concept cars — attention grabbers created to flaunt the latest and greatest advances a watch brand is developing. While technical innovation is always a hallmark among luxury watch brands, sustainability and environmental impact are equally integral parts of the conversation. Sustainability initiatives impact everything a company does — from how manufacturing facilities are designed and built to reduce their carbon footprint, to how products are transported, to using recycled materials in everything from store design to packaging, to the products themselves. A handful of brands are leading the way by increasingly using recycled materials throughout the watches they produce.

Last year, Panerai’s Submersible QuarantaQuattro eLAB-ID watch, developed at its Laboratorio di Idee R&D workshop in Italy, wowed with recycled materials — which accounted for an unprecedented 98.6% of the watch by weight. The company has been a pioneer in such efforts for years, but the Submersible eLAB-ID went to extremes. The case, sandwich-style dial, and movement bridges were made using EcoTitanium, a recycled aerospace-grade titanium alloy with more than 80% pure recycled content. Recycled Super-LumiNova was applied to the dial and hands (made of recycled gold), and the movement’s escapement was made of 100% recycled silicon. Even the sapphire crystal contains recycled material. Each watch comes with two straps: a fabric strap made from recycled PET (plastic bottles) and an alternate made from recycled rubber.

In a renegade move for the resolutely conservative and secretive Swiss watch industry, Panerai CEO Jean-Marc Pontroué shared its sources. “Panerai decided to make it an open ecosystem — meaning we are inviting all our competitors to see how we did that project so they can copy us,” says Pontroué. “Normally, at Panerai, we love to keep our innovations only for ourselves. We stand for Panerai Laboratorio di Idee, and when we discover something, we want to protect it for the next hundred years. But here, I want to be copied.”

This year, Panerai introduced the 44mm Submersible QuarantaQuattro eSteel with three versions made from the brand’s proprietary eSteel alloy, a material that has the same properties as conventional steel but is made with 95% recycled metal. The fabric strap is produced from recycled PET, and an alternate strap is recycled rubber. Going by weight, more than half of the watch’s components are made from recycled materials. The brand has already started converting all its steel models — 75% of production — to eSteel. Similarly, for its 2019 Alpine Eagle, Chopard opted for a brighter, harder stainless-steel alloy, Lucent Steel A223. While about 60% of all new stainless steel comes from recycled materials, Lucent ups the recycled quotient to 70%.

The use of recycled materials in luxury watches first started with straps, particularly on dive models that were fitted with fabric straps made from recycled plastic and ocean waste. But Cartier took a very different approach for last year’s SolarBeat Tank Must. Tiny perforations in the signature Roman numerals let sunlight flow through the dial to charge the SolarBeat movement’s photovoltaic cells, allowing the watch to run for an average of 16 years. The Tank also has interchangeable vegan straps made with 40% plant matter, specifically recycled apple waste collected from European food producers. Compared to producing a calfskin strap, the process saves up to 10 liters of water and up to seven megajoules of energy.


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As a member of the LVMH luxury conglomerate, Zenith has exceptional access to a range of luxurious materials from the fashion industry through the LVMH startup Nona Source, an online resale platform for leftover fabrics and leathers produced for some of the most esteemed fashion brands in the world. Zenith upcycles them into straps for its DEFY Midnight collection, with plans to add the materials to other collections in the future. “This partnership, however, doesn’t mark the first time Zenith has used recycled items,” says Zenith President and CEO Julien Tornare. “Recently, we also used parts of used Continental tires to make our rubber straps for the DEFY Extreme E limited edition.”

Patrick Pruniaux, CEO of Ulysse Nardin and Girard-Perregaux, also underscores the importance of sourcing and “digging for new, young, and agile partners, outside of the industry and outside of our existing portfolio of creative partners.” He admits that “the watchmaking industry was a bit behind the rest of the world and not full of creative ideas around sustainability.”

When he took the helm at Ulysse Nardin in 2017, Pruniaux implemented a dedicated research unit to study materials from the sea, particularly oyster shells, algae, marine PET, and polyamide fishing nets. In late 2020, the brand unveiled a concept piece called Diver Net, with a case and bezel decoration made from a polyamide material sourced from the French start up Fil & Fab, which recovers used nets in French fishing ports and recycles them in the form of polyamide granules called Nylo. In May, it announced the commercial version with the Ocean Race Diver, commemorating its partnership with the legendary open-sea sailing race.

Limited to 200 pieces, the 44mm Ocean Race Diver’s side-case and case-back use a combination of 60% polyamide Nylo and 40% Carbonium, which also decorates the unidirectional bezel. Carbonium is made with the same fibers used for airplane fuselage and wings. Producing it from offcuts of aircraft parts helps reduce environmental impact compared to other carbon composites. In addition, steel from an automotive industry recycling channel was used for case components that are at least 80% recycled. The strap is made from fully recycled fishing nets that are transformed into reels of yarn by the French company JTTI.

“Sustainability is a necessity, not a choice,” Pruniaux says. “Luxury doesn’t necessarily mean opulence or unconsciousness. Timelessness, purism, and understated chic are new paradigms in the luxury sector. You buy a watch because you like that watch, you find it beautiful — not because it is sustainable. Sustainability is an added value. The design and luxurious aspects, such as finishing, must meet your expectations first.”

Header illustration: The Ulysse Nardin Ocean Race Diver includes a strap crafted from recycled fishing nets.

Shop Sustainable Designer Watches

  • Submersible QuarantaQuattro eSteel

    This Panerai watch wows with recycled materials — which account for 98.6% of the watch by weight. It comes with two straps: a fabric strap made from recycled PET (plastic bottles) and an alternate made from recycled rubber.

  • Ocean Race Diver

    Commemorating its partnership with the legendary open-sea sailing race, this watch’s strap is made from fully recycled fishing nets that are transformed into reels of yarn.

  • DEFY Extreme E limited edition

    With access to leftover fabrics and leathers produced for some of the most esteemed fashion brands in the world, Zenith upcycles them into straps for its DEFY Midnight collection.

  • Submersible QuarantaQuattro eSteel

    This Panerai watch wows with recycled materials — which account for 98.6% of the watch by weight. It comes with two straps: a fabric strap made from recycled PET (plastic bottles) and an alternate made from recycled rubber.

  • DEFY Extreme E limited edition

    With access to leftover fabrics and leathers produced for some of the most esteemed fashion brands in the world, Zenith upcycles them into straps for its DEFY Midnight collection.

  • Ocean Race Diver

    Commemorating its partnership with the legendary open-sea sailing race, this watch’s strap is made from fully recycled fishing nets that are transformed into reels of yarn.

Our Contributors

Laurie Kahle Writer

Laurie Kahle is a freelance writer who frequently covers watches, fashion, and luxury travel. A former editor at Robb Report, her work has been featured in Barron’s, Cigar Aficionado, Departures Intl., Hodinkee, and Centurion, among others.

Mat Maitland Illustrator

Mat Maitland is a collage artist based in London. His distinctive surrealist-pop images and films have been commissioned by a wide range of clients, including Chloé, Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Kenzo, Bulgari, Emporio Armani, MAC Cosmetics, Nike, and Printemps Paris. Maitland is also creative director of the agency Big Active.

Departures and American Express do not provide, endorse, or guarantee any of the items, and the sale of such items is governed by the third-party seller’s policies, terms, and conditions.
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