The Time Is Right For Swiss Watches Made Of Repurposed Materials
Earth Day and Springtime 2022 is an ideal time to focus on how wearing a pre-owned, prestige Swiss watch is as environmentally friendly as it is stylish, smart and investment-savvy. According to Eugene Tutunikov, Atlanta-based owner of SwissWatchExpo.com, “Whether one collects pre-owned Swiss watches or purchases new timepieces made of recycled materials, it’s all good news for the planet and its people. The world of Swiss watches is growing greener with each passing season.” Pre-owned watch lovers and various watch brands, he observes, “are increasingly stepping up to the environmental plate and taking actions to reduce environmental impacts, clean up the industry and care for our earth. Eco- conscious watch shoppers, retailers and manufacturers,” he says, “are taking responsibility for how watch products and watch purchases impact the planet, and they’re educating consumers, as well, which benefits us all, especially the younger generations.”
As it’s growing greener, the market in pre-owned Swiss watches is also booming so strong that, as Tutunikov relates, “The global management consulting and research firm McKinsey estimates that pre-owned watch sales could reach $30 billion by 2025, up from $18 billion in 2019.” For casual customers and collectors, he advises, “Now is a very advantageous time to be collecting certain models from various prestige Swiss watch brands.”
As Tutunikov details, “Certain vintage or antique models from highly valued brands like Rolex, Cartier or Audemars Piguet are proven to appreciate in value over time, as long as they have been properly serviced and are in fine working order.” The mega- popularity of pre-owned Swiss watches is put into professional perspective by Nate Borgelt, Bonhams Head of Watches in North America. Since 2020, Borgelt relates, “There has been a large increase in bidding activity, registrants for our sales, and prices.”
A key reason behind this trend, Borgelt ventures, is “An increase in expendable cash for our clients who normally would be spending their money on experiences or travel.” During the pandemic, he continues, Bonhams clients “have been focusing on other activities such as collecting.” Additionally, supply chain obstacles and shutdown of manufacturing led, Borgelt reports, “to a desire for models which outpaced the ability of companies to create their sought after models, such as Patek Phillipe’s Nautilus and Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak, plus the majority of models from Rolex.” These sort of watches, Borgelt explains, “remain very bullish during this time with prices trading at multiples of their retail prices.” A Tutunikov tells it, “SwissWatchExpo.com sales of Patek Phillipe watches increased by 410 percent between January 2020 and January 2022, due to skyrocketing demand, and the site’s sales of Audemars Piguet watches rose over 2,000 percent in that period.”
While Bonhams clients are bullish on pre-owned Rolexes, so are some of Hollywood’s best and brightest, the stars and working actors who wear models on the red carpet and in everyday life. For example, actor Ryan Gosling has famously worn his extremely rare, stainless steel 34 mm Rolex Air-King to the Golden Globes and other awards shows. Ellen de Generes has sported a 1960s Paul Newman-model Rolex Daytona worth about $250,000 while hosting her television show and joking with Jerry Seinfeld in an episode of “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee”.
Hilary Shepard, who played the intergalactic pirate queen Divatox on the globally syndicated Power Rangers television show, swears by recycled Swiss men’s watches. “I prefer the way a man’s watch looks on my wrist,” she reports. “It’s larger than a women’s watch. I like wearing my partner’s Rolex,” she says, “as it reminds me of him throughout the day. There’s something comforting about wearing the watch of someone you love and respect. The sustainability aspect is an added bonus,” she concludes, “because let’s face it, it’s better for the planet to reuse and recycle rather than to keep buying new things.” Regarding the recent boom in Rolex sales, Tutunikov notes that on SwissWatchExpo.com, sales of timepieces from this brand increased by 277 percent between January 2020 and January 2022.
Like Ryan Gosling, Basel-based Nana Fink also wears a vintage man’s Rolex Air King. Fink, a jewelry designer and founder of the design-driven art jewelry show Jewels Basel, which runs this year from June 15 – 18 in Basel, switches out her Rolex Air King depending on the nature of her appointments and attire on any given day. “I highly value my 1950s Girard-Perregaux and my stainless steel IWC,” she says, “because the artisanship and technical excellence of the designers and watchmakers who made these continues as a living legacy.” Fink’s environmental stance sounds similar to that of Hilary Shepard’s. “The planet needs all the help it can get from us,” Fink ventures. “We’re living in a time during which it makes better sense to maintain and wear vintage watches rather than purchase new ones.”
According to Tutunikov, “The Harvard Business Review recently identified sustainability as both a primary driver of business and a key factor powering the growth of online pre-owned, prestige watch sales.” Tutunikov, who alternates between wearing a Rolex Sky Dweller and an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak chronograph, adds, “My sales staff reports that since Covid hit, more women have been purchasing men’s pre-owned Swiss watches from Cartier, Rolex and Omega. Among younger customers,” he continues, “watches from Tudor, which is owned and operated by Rolex, are also quite popular as they represent great value for money.”
Researching the environmental impact of luxury watches before purchase is an increasingly high priority among many watch shoppers, says jeweler and authorized Panerai watch dealer Oliver Smith. “We’re seeing the impacts of global warming every day in our home towns,” he begins. “Younger generations especially are aware of what we’ve done to our planet. They are creating as well as actively looking for solutions across all segments of life. Why not try to reduce the environmental impact of the watch industry?” Smith ventures. “I hope to see this become a top priority across the industry for years to come.”
Smith, who owns and operates eponymous boutiques in Aspen, Colorado and Scottsdale, Arizona, notes that Panerai is defining new standards in sustainable watch making by producing watches composed largely of recycled materials. Made of 98.6 percent recycled elements, Panerai’s Submersible eLAB-ID limited edition of 30 timepieces was priced at US$61,700 and delivered in early 2022.
The brand claims that 98.6 percent of the watch’s total weight comes from recycled elements. For example, the eLAB-ID’s case, sandwich-style dial and movement bridges are composed of EcoTitanium, an aerospace-grade recycled titanium alloy. (EcoTitanium was first used by Panerai on 2019’s Mike Horn edition of the Submersible.)
Besides the South African explorer Mike Horn, another advocate of Panerai’s recycled watch production is mountain climber and Academy Award-winning filmmaker Jimmy Chin, who notes on the Panerai website, “So much of my work has to do with storytelling that will broaden the understanding of the world around us. I am attracted to collaborating with Panerai because of the brand’s unique story and long heritage of creating tools that enable exploration.” The e-LAB-ID watches sold out to devoted Panerai collectors before authorized dealers could receive any for their customers. As Smith enthuses, “It is amazing to have a watch made of almost 100 per cent recycled elements. This could become a benchmark for all of Panerai’s watches, along with the rest of the watch community.”
Los Angeles-based jewelry publicist Andrew Nguyen of FELT Worldwide agrees, adding, “Environmental awareness among the entertainers I work with, including millennials and those in Generation Z, increases with each passing year. Culturally literate and younger demographic groups want to do right by the planet,” he continues. “I believe this is spurring them to buy pre-owned Swiss timepieces or new watches made primarily of recycled materials.” Nguyen points to luxury fashion designer Tom Ford as a leader in “eco-friendly, chic-looking yet reasonably priced timepieces.”
According to the Tom Ford website, the 40mm case of the Ocean Plastic Sport watch, priced at US$1,500 “contains no virgin plastics or non-ocean bound plastics and is traceable to the collection source.” Each watch embodies the equivalent of 35 plastic bottles of ocean waste while all packaging is also recyclable. Offered in semi-matte black or white and with straps in a choice of five different colors, these are purportedly the first watches to be made from 100% recycled ocean plastic featuring an automatic movement.
With a Swiss-made, quartz movement, this timepiece is water-resistant to 10 ATM. The stainless steel case-back is plated in black DLC, a.k.a. Diamond-Like Carbon Coating, a material that makes the watch case more resistant to environmental factors and has proven to be more robust than PVD (physical vapor deposition) coating. The Ocean Plastic’s stainless steel screw down crown is also plated with black DLC. The matte black dial features super Luminova numerals; diamond-cut white super Luminova-painted hands, plus a sapphire crystal with anti-reflective coating on top. The Tom Ford proprietary hand-braided strap is comprised of 100% ocean plastic and has a stainless steel buckle plated in black DLC.
Another luxurious Swiss-manufactured timepiece made of recycled materials is the deep blue Alpina Seastrong Gyre automatic dive watch, made from a composite of recycled fishing nets and fiberglass removed from the Indian Ocean. Retailing for US$1,595, its nato strap is made from recycled plastic bottles. According to Oliver van Lanschot Hubrecht, Brand Director, Alpina, “The Seastrong Diver Gyre Automatic watch embodies the main focus points of Alpina Watches. Heritage, innovation and sustainability are of major importance to our brand,” he says, “and Alpina has been innovating within the dive watch universe with its Seastrong collection since the 1960’s, when it brought out the Alpina10.”
From an innovation perspective, van Lanschot Hubrecht explains, “The development of the Seastrong Gyre material was challenging. We had to find the right balance between recycled ghost fishnet pellets and fiberglass in order for the case to be strong enough. We believe this watch is perfectly aligned with our “Shape the Change” environmental initiatives focusing on improving the way we develop our products, and how they function in the air, at sea and on land.”
Another new watch that’s made to endure arduous journeys through air, sea and land is Zenith’s new DEFY Extreme E “Desert X Prix” Edition 1/100th of a second chronograph. Inspired by the globe-trotting, off-road Extreme E electric car rally, the Extreme E is housed in a resilient carbon fiber case with titanium elements and is powered by the El Primero 21 1/100th of a second automatic high-frequency chronograph calibre. Its yellow strap is made from recycled race car tires and features a Velcro closure. With a Ref 10.9100.9004-1/23.I303, the Extreme E is available for pre-order with a June 3, 2022 delivery date and priced at $27,100.00.
The Extreme E off-road series launched in 2021 using all-electric SUVs for races in harsh environments such as the Saudi Arabian desert and the Arctic. Each race raises awareness of the impact of climate change in its given country and provides social and environmental support for those locations. (Having signed as the Official Timekeeper and Founding Partner of the series in 2021, Zenith is building on its association in 2022 with the launch of five limited edition Defy Extreme Carbon chronographs; one for each of the 2022 Extreme E races.)
While production of earth-friendly timepieces is certainly a step in the right direction, Tutunikov observes that global holding companies such as The Kering Group, which owns the heritage watch firm Boucheron, have taken even more significant actions by founding technically and artistically robust sustainable development divisions. “In 2020,” Tutunikov observes, “Kering launched the Sustainable Innovation Lab for Watches and Jewelry. I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of sustainable watch designs they come up with, and of course, to offering previously owned versions of these to our customers at SwissWatchExpo.com.”