Watchmaking and the environment

Awake, watches and the fragility of the Earth


September 2022

Awake, watches and the fragility of the Earth

Awake’s latest Mission to Earth model is inspired by the “Overview Effect”, which takes hold of astronauts who are lucky enough to see our planet from the Cupola, the observation window of the International Space Station. They all talk about the emotions they feel and their awareness, like an epiphany, of the Earth’s breathtaking beauty... and of its fragility, like a speck of dust suspended in the void. Independent French watch brand Awake has set itself the mission of reducing environmental impact through innovation. They are also using the blockchain in a new way. We met Lilian Thibault, one of its founders.


y now, everyone will have understood (everyone except the inveterate climate sceptics) that our planet is in danger. What’s needed is a collective realisation that we’ll have to make some profound changes to our way of life. New initiatives are being launched all the time. Every one of us has a role to play, and that includes the watch industry.

The Awake brand has made this its raison d’être, as it openly states: “Awake is a young French digital-native brand organised as a collective of committed creatives and designers, whose desire is to rethink the consumption model by imagining the objects and interactions of a new, more respectful and sustainable world.” We met Lilian Thibault, one of its founders.

Awake's new Mission to Earth timepiece
Awake’s new Mission to Earth timepiece

Europa Star: Awake was born in late 2018. What was behind the genesis of your project?

Lilian Thibault: Everything started from a desire to give meaning to my professional life, linked to the birth of my children. I felt a deep need to be useful, to have a real impact, to inspire people and to simply do better. I listened to my passion for watchmaking and craftsmanship; I wanted to create a brand that would address the urgency of the ecological problem. Thus Awake was born. We chose a brand name that was as explicit as possible. The crowdfunding campaign for our first model, Origins, generated over 1,000 pre-orders and some CHF 300,000 on Kickstarter in 2018. This allowed us to launch the brand.

Lilian Thibault, co-founder of Awake
Lilian Thibault, co-founder of Awake

How do you apply this philosophy to your designs?

With every model that followed Origins, our goal has been to innovate in order to reduce our environmental impact. The movement of the first model was a solar quartz calibre from Miyota; the strap was made entirely of recycled fishing net materials; the case was made of recycled steel. We wanted to show that we could produce a series with minimal use of materials extracted with high environmental impact. Our goal will always be the same: to promote upcycling, waste reuse, innovation in the exploration of new bio-materials and the circular economy.

This is also how we developed our second model, which was commissioned by the French presidency, as a gift for heads of state during the 2019 G7 summit in Biarritz. In six months, we managed to develop a watch case made from recycled fishing nets! This trained a huge spotlight on the need to wake people up to the urgency of protecting the oceans, while confirming the primordial role of innovation in our approach.

However, a quartz movement, the most affordable option, is probably not the best solution in terms of sustainability. Have you changed your mind since then?

Yes, we wanted to become even more sustainable by switching to a mechanical movement. The problem with quartz, apart from the fact that it has to be changed after ten years, is that it places the watch in the fast fashion segment, which proved to be counterproductive to our initial message. We therefore wanted to test a new approach by moving upmarket with an automatic calibre. Our first timepiece equipped with a mechanical movement, the Ocean DNA model, sold out in a few days at a price of about CHF 500 (compared to CHF 250 for the first model). From that point on, we started to connect with watch enthusiasts, not just our original target group of environmentalists.

The next series was a result of this observation. The Mission to Earth model was born from a partnership with NASA. The symbolism is very strong: it is inspired by what the astronauts who are lucky enough to see our planet from space all say. They all talk about their emotions and their awareness, which hits them like an epiphany. While admiring the Earth through the Cupola [the observation window of the International Space Station] they all realise its breathtaking beauty... as well as its deep fragility – it’s just a speck of dust suspended in the void. This is known as the Overview Effect, and it’s well documented. The watch embodies this awakening.

What innovative features does this model have?

The first is the integration of blockchain. This technology guarantees the authenticity and security of the watch, but we also wanted to use it to raise awareness of environmental challenges. In collaboration with Swiss manufacturer STISS and the Arianee protocol, we equipped each watch with a unique, unforgeable identifier embedded in its sapphire crystal. The non-intrusive ID GLASS technology works with a fully energy autonomous NFC tag. This innovation, reflecting NASA’s mission of exploration and the innovative spirit of our brand, is a world first in watchmaking. It allows the owner of the watch to connect in real time to the camera of the International Space Station, to observe the Earth from space – elevation goes hand in hand with an awakening of consciousness. This shows that blockchain can also be used to create a link that is not purely commercial, but that also helps to change mentalities.

Another innovation is our 70% recycled titanium case, which significantly minimises our environmental impact. Finally, the strap is made from Biopoly®, an exclusive material made from castor oil, a natural plant-based alternative to fossil fuels, with the aim of reducing our impact on the environment. The results speak for themselves: the two limited series of 250 pieces (black and white, CHF 990 each) sold out in just three days!

Each Mission to Earth watch has a unique tamper-proof ID embedded in its sapphire crystal. The non-intrusive ID GLASS technology is powered by an energy-saving NFC tag.
Each Mission to Earth watch has a unique tamper-proof ID embedded in its sapphire crystal. The non-intrusive ID GLASS technology is powered by an energy-saving NFC tag.

Have you calculated your carbon footprint, to back up your commitment?

This requires a very large budget, as it involves analysing the entire life cycle of products, otherwise it’s just greenwashing. We’re not yet big enough to do this. But it will be done as soon as possible. On the other hand, we are working to be certified as a B Corp by 2023. This also represents a major investment, but our entire approach is focused in this direction. Take our first totally biodegradable packaging, made from sugar cane, without any additives or colouring. Similarly, the packaging for our Mission to Earth model is made of recycled steel and can be reused.

Where do you think your approach could be improved even further?

Our goal is to work with the highest quality recycled material possible, perhaps even better than the original material. If the end customer gets a concrete benefit, in addition to the intrinsic sustainability, everyone wins! We are working closely with universities and companies to develop new “super-materials”, but I can’t tell you any more about that yet.

There’s a lot of talk about frugality, reducing consumption. How do you grow a brand in this somewhat paradoxical context?

Development must be in line with history. We know that resources are finite. We have to accept the idea that restrictions are necessary for behaviour to change. That said, “waste materials” are everywhere: it is up to us to use them! We can see that the use of energy must also be rethought. Prices are rising and this is only the beginning. We must develop new manufacturing processes that use less energy. Efficiency in energy and materials is an integral part of our vision.

Finally, do you have any wish you would like to share with the watchmaking community?

We need to evolve from a consumer economy into a true circular economy, as Nature designed our world to be. Initiatives like lab diamonds are going in the right direction, in my opinion. Above all, there should be more consistency between grandiloquent speeches and concrete actions. For example, using less gold seems a simple and feasible solution. Also, not sponsoring events that glorify consumption patterns or actions that are harmful to the environment, like Formula One, which is unfortunately only one example among many. I would especially like to see less of the futile greenwashing that actually results in greater inaction. We need more concrete and far-reaching actions. Mindsets are certainly evolving, but too slowly. All industries, watchmaking and luxury included, must take stock of the urgency of the situation, and let their conscience guide them.

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