While we’ve been busy with The Bat Kiss, public dialogue around climate change and sustainability have taken a huge toll in 2020. It’s easy to forget that Australia suffered through some of the worst bushfires in history just months ago, a direct result of global warming and land clearing among other factors.
The reality is that most businesses have a huge impact on the environment – agriculture, mining, construction, manufacturing… Indeed, luxury brands, especially watch manufacturers, have some of the largest environmental footprints and most questionable ethical practices due to the rare nature of the goods they trade in and create.
Mondaine, a Swiss timekeeping brand most famous for their clocks and watches utilising the iconic Swiss Federal Railway station clock design, attempted to demonstrate the watch industry’s capacity to become more sustainable with the release of their ‘eco-friendly’ Essence collection of Swiss railway watches earlier this year.
The minimalist timepieces, which make heavy use of sustainable materials, have made waves for their forward-thinking – but have also attracted cynicism and critique from watch insiders, as this Instagram from pithy independent watchmaker No Bullshit Watchmaking reveals.
“The watchmaking industry… [doesn’t] give a shit about the environment,” No Bullshit Watchmaking reveals.
“Fairly late to the scene, several companies have tried to do their part in reducing their footprints and becoming more eco-friendly.”
“Mondaine’s Essence collection… tries to prove that sustainability and good design can go hand-in-hand. … [using] naturally derived materials and solar energy during assembly. They use a Rhonda 513 quartz movement. The plastic case that contains the movement is organic and made out of ricin oil… the textile and sustainable rubber straps come with a natural cork lining and reusable packaging crafted from recycled PET bottles.”
“Apparently this is considered an eco-friendly watch? As you can see, the standards are quite low.”
While Mondaine’s timepiece is certainly a step in the right direction in terms of its construction, as a quartz watch it’s still battery-powered – and batteries are terrible for the environment. It’s quite the critical flaw and has made many feel as if the Essence collection is more style than substance (although it’s easy to be cynical).
On the other side of the coin, another Instagram commenter also made some salient points:
“The reality is that the watch industry as it currently stands doesn’t have much leeway towards ‘eco-friendly’ business. Precious metals and natural gemstones are terrible for the environment – and the carbon footprint for a single watch is really high… if you want a true eco-friendly watch, then the only option I can think of is a sundial made of compost.”
While it’s right to be critical of corporations attempting to greenwash, we can’t help but feel that there’s a certain level of ‘tall poppy syndrome’ or defeatism here. Sure, the Mondaine Essence might not be perfect, but at least Mondaine is making an effort. Isn’t iterative progress important? It’s more than many other, much larger brands are making.
Some big players in the industry who’ve been stepping up in terms of sustainability include Chopard, who as of July 2018 have transitioned to using only 100% ethical gold in all their watches and jewellery (as well as for the Palme d’Or, as pictured above), and IWC Schaffhausen, which has pursued aggressive environmental and social targets, including lowering greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent, using eco-friendly packaging, and reaching gender parity for training.
All of this reflects a growing desire among consumers – including luxury consumers – for brands to be more accountable, sustainable, ethical, and to have more social consciousness. People vote with their wallets: in a highly competitive market (which has only become more competitive in 2020), brands that innovate and stay relevant to consumers will emerge victorious, even small players like Mondaine.
Hopefully we’ll see even more luxury brands keep the ball rolling and some more substantive changes in the industry arise.