Watchmaking and the environment


From ego to eco

EDITORIAL

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October 2022


From ego to eco

he 2000s were all about tourbillons; the 2010s were a race for vintage; the decade that has just begun looks set to be all about who can be greenest. But shouldn’t genuine sustainability begin with a more humble approach?

T

his summer was hot – extraordinarily hot – all over the world. Year after year, temperature records are being broken, and phenomena previously considered “extreme” are inexorably becoming the new normal. Evidence of humans’ contribution to climate change is also becoming increasingly hard to ignore. We’ve reached a point of no return. The question now is how much warmer our planet will be by the end of this century: +1.5°, 2° or 3°?

Some people have concluded that, since it’s too late to limit the damage, it’s time to look at solutions such as geo-engineering. Let’s acknowledge the impact humans have had on the climate, they say, and solve the problem by coming up with some even more ingenious ways of interfering with nature. Scientists are looking at solutions including using commercial aircraft to release sulphur into the atmosphere, or installing giant mirrors in orbit.

Scientists are looking at solutions including using commercial aircraft to release sulphur into the atmosphere, or installing giant mirrors in orbit.

The watch industry is also suffering something of a heatwave. There has never been such euphoria, particularly for collectible models, as we saw in the first half of this year. Given that the industry relies on scarce resources, and is highly susceptible to geopolitical factors, it should pay very close attention to the impact of this kind of overheating on its long-term development.

In any case, the industry is always happy to hop on a bandwagon, and environmentally sustainable initiatives have multiplied and gathered pace over recent years. Too little, too late, some will say (including younger generations): did they really need to wait this long before making an effort? The 2000s were all about tourbillons; the 2010s were a race for vintage; the decade that has just begun looks set to be all about who can be greenest.

In 2019, independent watchmaker H. Moser & Cie, now RJC certified, introduced its Nature Watch. It's both a symbol of the fragility of our ecosystem, and a call to action. Made from native Swiss plants, this unusual watch was created in the gardens of the brand's Schaffhausen premises. In a way, it's the first truly organic watch: a unique piece in steel embellished with succulents, moss, mini Echeveria, watercress, Tradescantia and seed onions, with a dial made from natural stone and lichen from the Swiss Alps, and a grass strap. Care instructions: water twice a day!
In 2019, independent watchmaker H. Moser & Cie, now RJC certified, introduced its Nature Watch. It’s both a symbol of the fragility of our ecosystem, and a call to action. Made from native Swiss plants, this unusual watch was created in the gardens of the brand’s Schaffhausen premises. In a way, it’s the first truly organic watch: a unique piece in steel embellished with succulents, moss, mini Echeveria, watercress, Tradescantia and seed onions, with a dial made from natural stone and lichen from the Swiss Alps, and a grass strap. Care instructions: water twice a day!

But shouldn’t genuine sustainability begin with a more humble approach? That’s one of the shortcomings of the watch industry, and the luxury industry in general. The temptation to pile on the hyperbole – which leads to “greenwashing” – is inescapable. It’s hard to tell which initiatives are genuinely useful when they’re all accompanied by overblown promotion of what is often a relatively ordinary accomplishment. Employees are given grandiose titles, companies parade their “Chief Climate Change Awareness Officer”, appoint prestigious ambassadors and choose breathtaking natural backdrops for their photo shoots. Is this an eco trip, or an ego trip?

And don’t be fooled by sleight of hand. Choosing to use renewable energy in Switzerland, which gets the majority of its power from hydroelectric sources, is not an act of radical environmentalism. Similarly, the plethora of certifications available are more like the participation prizes given to children on sports day than indicators of genuine achievement – most of them are there to make everyone feel better about themselves. And, as in the world of finance, technical jargon is often used to conceal a less than uplifting reality.

Change is happening everywhere: it is possible to make meaningful changes, in every price segment and regardless of the size of the company. Some pioneering brands are active in the entry level, as our archives frequently show.

The transition to digital is perhaps the best example of greenwashing. You can’t see bits and bytes, so they must be clean, right? The annual energy consumption of the world’s data centres outstrips that of some of the world’s most advanced countries, such as France or the UK. Their carbon footprint is comparable to that of global air travel. Air conditioning units work overtime, cooling down the servers that power an overheating digital world that is in danger of suffocating on its own PR.

Let’s hope that this is just the price of change, in an industry where success is heavily reliant on image. Change is happening everywhere. As our special dossier by Benjamin Tesseire demonstrates through a number of case studies, it is possible to make meaningful changes, in every price segment and regardless of the size of the company. Some pioneering brands are active in the entry level, as our archives frequently show.

But the issue goes far beyond the efforts of individual watch brands. A coordinated effort to set minimal environmental standards – similar to the Swiss Made label, despite its flaws – would be beneficial to the industry as a whole. But it is proving very difficult to set things in motion. It’s in all of our interests to drop the ego trip and take an eco trip. Together.

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