A short essay on sustainable watch materials

In a previous article, we talked about the variety of materials that a wristwatch can be made from, materials that range from the affordable to the most esoteric.  Plastic, for instance, is most definitely a very affordable option and is a material that is often used in the most affordable watches.  Unfortunately, plastic is also petroleum-based and is known to have a large carbon footprint causing a significant impact to the environment. 

This is why a popular Swiss watchmaker recently came out with their own version of “plastic,” an esoteric but affordable material called “bio-ceramic.”  Indeed, this bio-derived hybrid plastic-and-ceramic material is a plant-based polymer partially made from castor beans and other renewable resources.  A fine example of bio-based, biodegradable materials, bio-ceramic, unlike traditional plastic, will naturally degrade over time and is only one of alternative materials that the watch industry has begun to consider in their efforts to achieve sustainability and become eco-friendly.

Many watchmakers are considering recycled materials for their watches, for example.  Anything from recycled stainless steel or recycled precious metals like gold or silver have recently made the cut.  The most significant movements in recycling, however, are those being made by Tide Ocean SA, the world’s premier recycled plastic supplier that makes products out of the plastic waste presently inundating our oceans. 

Together with the Swiss University of Applied Sciences, Tide Ocean SA began conducting research on how to make watchstraps out of upcycled plastic waste.  The result is ocean-bound plastic waste, “Brought back to life as a valuable resource,” in the form of the award winning #tide ocean material, a 100% ocean-bound plastic raw material that is processed into either granules, yarn or filament depending on the application.

Produced by the Institute for Materials Engineering and Plastics Processing (IWK), Switzerland’s leading research institution for component design and production in plastics technology, this raw material is then shipped for application to all sorts of diverse industries throughout the world via an eco-friendly global supply chain that Tide Ocean SA is helping to develop as well.  And coming full circle, one of those industries is the watchmaking industry with a number of major watchmakers making use of the award winning #tide ocean material for their watch straps and case material. 

Believe it or not, natural wood has also made significant strides for sustainability in the watch industry.  A spectacularly renewable and biodegradable material if there ever was one, sustainable wood sources such as bamboo, maple, ebony and sandalwood have recently gained popularity in watchmaking, and have been used to make watch cases and bands, creating a unique and natural aesthetic never seen before.

On the other end of the spectrum, even high-tech ceramic has gotten into the environmental game.  Many watchmakers have begun manufacturing the highly scratch resistant material using sustainable and eco-friendly processes, reducing the environmental impact associated with traditional ceramic manufacturing.

On the strap front, cork is an eco-friendly and sustainable material that has made significant strides in the watch industry by being used in watchstraps.  It is lightweight, water-resistant, and has a distinct texture and appearance.  Best of all, cork can be harvested from the bark of cork oak trees without harming the tree.

Still on the sustainable strap front, traditional leather production involves the use of chemicals that can be harmful to the environment.  This is why vegetable-tanned leather has become an alternative in the watch industry.  It utilizes natural tannins derived from plant sources, such as tree barks, which is considered more environmentally friendly.

All the above are just a few examples of the policies that the watch industry has implemented in the adoption of sustainable materials in watch manufacturing.  It is part of a broader industry shift towards sustainability, as well as towards responsible and environmentally conscious manufacturing practices.