ll the virtuous solutions described in our latest issue of Europa Star, aimed at setting the watch industry on the path to sustainability, reducing its environmental impact, improving circularity and responsibility, are to be applauded. But however necessary they may be, they are just a drop in the ocean, given the enormity of the threats we face.
When a watchmaker tells me that a timepiece they have made “with the greatest attention to the highest standards of ethical production and sustainability” will be delivered to the customer along with an all-expenses paid visit to the Swiss workshops where it was made, followed by a flight in a private jet to somewhere near Hollywood where the watch will be handed over by an A-list celebrity whose name must remain secret (probably because the contract has not yet been signed), what am I to think? What is the carbon footprint of that watch? How do you even begin to calculate it? The private jet alone makes it astronomical, without even considering the impact upstream, which is no doubt pretty heavy on the CO2, or the downstream impact that will depend on where the watch ends up.
Greenwashing is such a slippery concept. It’s impossible to know exactly where its starts and where it ends. I’ll give you another example, this time not from the watch industry. Anyone looking to buy a high-quality mattress now has a “green”, ecological, recyclable option: soya foam. Indeed, you can’t get much greener than the Amazon – which is being burned down to make way for soya plantations. No further explanation is necessary or desirable, since the consequences of such short-sightedness are quite simply horrifying.
Greenwashing is such a slippery concept. It’s impossible to know exactly where its starts and where it ends.
- The simplest and most striking visual representation of global warming: created by Ed Hawkins at the University of Reading, it shows the average temperature from 1850 to the present day. The 1971-2000 reference period is set as the boundary between blue (cooler) and red (warmer) colours.
Only radical solutions can create real change. But how do you steer an iceberg the size of Ireland, for example, never mind the entire world? What are these radical solutions? I’m not remotely qualified to even begin to imagine. The watch industry doesn’t steer the world, and it’s a long time since it was in a position to set the tempo. It merely holds a mirror to history.
But everything seems to be speeding up, running out of control. Nature fights back; men just fight. The small gestures we are able to make, that watchmakers are making, are as necessary as they are negligible. If anything, they are merely putting off the radical transformation we need. A paradigm shift; a quantum leap. How will it occur? What form will it take? No one knows, but everyone can feel it. One thing is certain: we can’t afford to keep pretending any more.
How will this radical transformation occur? What form will it take? No one knows, but everyone can feel it.
Nevertheless, in a landscape undergoing profound and far-reaching upheavals, the mechanical watch, more than ever, has a future. That might sound like a trivial statement. But a mechanical watch is completely autonomous, requiring no more energy than that provided by the motion of the wrist. It can always be repaired, and it never becomes obsolete (by design or otherwise). In the maelstrom of instability in which we live, it stands out as a symbol of regularity and constancy. Its reassuring and imperturbable tick-tock won’t be silenced. Amid the omnipresent chaos it’s a small thing, this ability to capture time with metal gears. But it provides compelling evidence of humanity’s ingenuity, alongside its savagery. Maybe this is what makes a mechanical watch radical: its enduring uniqueness, and the fact that it is every bit as virtuous as it claims.