rowing up, Valérie Minassian was more aware than most of the backbreaking work that miners endure (her grandfather was a coal miner). When the founder of Iris Alt. - short for Alternatives - first heard about lab-grown diamonds, in 2019, it therefore planted an idea.
“We finally had an alternative to mined diamonds, thanks to this fantastic new technology,” she says. “I could see there was a possibility to develop a women’s watch. Iris Alt. grew from there.”
- Valérie Minassian, founder of Iris Alt.
The decisive encounter came when Valérie Minassian met Eliska Stepankova, a graduate of École Boulle, one of France’s leading arts and crafts colleges, with a twenty-year career in watch and jewellery design. The two women shared the same vision and values. Bucking the trend for non-gendered watches, they set out to create a timepiece that would be specifically for women and instilled with a creativity they felt lacked. Most importantly, they wanted sustainability to be embedded in the design through the use of environmentally friendly materials. Iris Alt. was ready on paper. Now the work could commence.
“We had to find the partners who could supply the recycled and recyclable materials for every stage in production,” Minassian recalls. “Initially we were aiming to source everything in France, but that proved impossible, so we started looking in Switzerland. That’s when we found Panatere [read more about the company here]. They now supply most of the materials and fabrication for our watches. Setting up a system for the components, the materials, the strap and the lab-grown diamonds took time, but we got there in the end.”
- Aëlla, the first model from the brand
The result is on a par with the two entrepreneurs’ ambitions. The case is in 4441 steel, made from waste metal collected from companies within a small radius of the production site in the Swiss Jura. This recycled metal has a carbon footprint six times less than that of conventional steel. The dial is manufactured by Panatere in ZEP 1510®, a recycled alloy produced by electrolysis of ashes recovered from the Kebag waste incineration plant in Zuchwil, which is then wire-drawn by Grillo in Duisburg. Its environmental impact is 0.3 kg CO2 equivalent (CO2e) per kilo produced; ten times less than for a conventional copper alloy (3 kg CO2e).
The strap is crafted from fish leather by Ictyos, a company based in Lyons, France, which produces the leather from fish skins that are a by-product of the agrifood industry. The diamonds - lab-grown, of course – are from Asia. Valérie Minassian aims to further reduce the watch’s carbon footprint by finding a supplier closer to home, although this is proving to be a complex task. This leaves the Swiss-made automatic movement, which is the well-known and reliable Sellita SW200B.
Elegance and circularity
What, then, is the watch’s environmental footprint overall? Valérie Minassian is quick to acknowledge that “we haven’t calculated the total footprint yet. A complete life cycle analysis is a long process. We’re working on it.”
Asked whether the watch is designed to be sustainable from inception to end of life, Minassian quips that “it’s an automatic, so it doesn’t really have an end of life!” before adding: “All the components can be recycled and it would be perfectly feasible to recover an old model and use it to make a new one.” In this respect, the company is an advocate for the circular economy.
The first model, Aëlla, was designed by Eliska Stepankova. A diminutive 26mm, it comes in two versions, both in steel, with or without baguette diamonds. Priced respectively at CHF 3,500 and CHF 4,500, they will be available for purchase from the beginning of 2023. Its elegant simplicity lends itself to daytime wear as well as more glamorous evening occasions. Most of all, it proudly displays the inscription “Circular Swiss Made” on its matte black dial. A symbol of everything its two creators wanted it to be.