Luxury watch brands are recycling plastic into watches

The watch industry is frequently criticized for its lack of durability. The reality is that the materials that go into watchmaking – precious metals, jewelry, batteries – are often produced by extractive and environmentally damaging methods.

Of course, watchmaking is nowhere near as wasteful as some other industries, and watch brands have taken giant strides in recent years in terms of minimizing their environmental and ethical impact. But some watchmakers have gone above and beyond to make their creations more sustainable – and as consumers become more environmentally conscious, these are the brands that are sure to reap the rewards.

One particular problem that the watch world has proven quite adept at dealing with is the proliferation of ocean plastic. According to International Union for Conservation of Nature, more than 8 million tonnes of plastic end up in our oceans every year. Animals frequently ingest or become entangled in plastic debris, causing serious injury and death, and plastic pollution also threatens human health; food safety and quality; coastal tourism and recreation; and contributes to climate change.

But plastic can be recycled – and that’s where watchmakers come in. Plastic from the oceans is a problem, but it is also a resource: some avant-garde watch brands are transforming plastic from the oceans into designer accessories, killing two birds with one stone. The fascination with watches, as a watch fan, is that watches can tell a story – and what better story to tell than saving the planet?

Let’s focus on a few watch brands that turn ocean plastic into stylish accessories.

From left to right: 002 Ocean Plastic by Tom Ford, Endurance Pro by Breitling with an Outerknown bracelet, AW.01 by Awake.

Tom Ford It might not be the first name you think of when it comes to watches, but the American fashion designer has launched a rather impressive new range of stylish Swiss-made timepieces. The piece de resistance of his collection, however, is the very beautiful but also very avant-garde 002 Ocean Plastic. As the name suggests, it features a unique hand-woven case and strap made entirely of 100% recycled ocean plastic. According to the brand, each watch produced permanently removes the equivalent of 35 bottles of plastic waste from the ocean. Tom Ford also established the “Tom Ford Plastic Innovation Prize” to find a substitute for thin-film plastic, providing a $1 million scholarship.

Breitling has always been a particularly avant-garde player in the Swiss watch industry. Their new Endurance Pro is emblematic of the brand’s current trajectory: the action-oriented watch available with an Outerknown ECONYL yarn NATO strap, woven from regenerated nylon sourced entirely from ocean waste and landfills. Breitling has been very savvy about the collaborations they’ve penned recently, and this one with Outerknown is particularly worthy.

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Founded in 2018 following a very successful Kickstarter campaign, the French company Awakened watches were founded for the sole purpose of making watches from marine litter. Awake made headlines in 2019 when they gifted their watches to French President Emmanuel Macron and all the G7 leaders – and if it’s good enough for world leaders, it’s good enough for us peons. Awake touts its AW.01 as “the world’s most advanced low-impact watch”: the minimalist watch case is made from recycled materials from fishing nets, its strap from plastic bottles and uses a Japanese Miyota solar movement to minimize maintenance conditions.

From left to right: the Time For Oceans watch by TRIWA, the Diver Net concept by Ulysse Nardin, the Luminor Luna Rossa regatta by Panerai.

TRIWA is a Swedish watchmaker you may not have heard of, but should keep in mind. The small, independent Stockholm-based brand is known for its minimalist and thoughtful timepieces, with its Time For Oceans collection in particular made of – you guessed it – ocean plastic. This isn’t the first time TRIWA has experimented with sustainable materials: the company also launched a collection called Time for Peace that featured metal watches made from the melting down of seized illegal firearms. It’s badass.

However, you’ve probably heard of our last two examples, as they’re titans of the luxury watch world: Ulysses nardin and Panerai. The former released the Dive Net concept watch, which, similar to the aforementioned Awake AW.01 case, has a strap made from old fishing nets that have been “recycled”. The latter, however, took recycling to a whole new level with their Luna Rossa collection before the America’s Cup: the watches in the collection feature dials made from recycled sail materials and carbon fiber residue from disused racing boats.

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Of course, that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to durable watches (pun intended). Ocean plastic isn’t the only way to make a durable watch: take Sample Pair of SISTEM51 ‘Bio-Reloaded’ models or Socialite Essence collection, which uses renewable plant-based materials in their production.

Whether they come from the land or the sea, more durable materials are clearly the way to go when it comes to modern watchmaking.

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