At Panatere, you can’t have too much of a good thing. Earlier in the year, the company, which is based in Saignelégier in the Swiss Jura region, made news when it came up with a process for producing 100% recycled steel that promotes a circular economy and, because it is manufactured from scrap collected from local companies, shorter supply chains. This innovative solution was given its first practical application by ID Genève, whose Circular 1 watch is made from recycled steel supplied by Panatere.
Not bad for starters! In a country that consumes around 120,000 tonnes of stainless steel a year, this kind of credible and certified solution is welcome news for watch brands that want to make their production more sustainable. “Steel is the raw material that’s most used in the watch industry, at almost 9,000 tonnes a year,” says Raphaël Broye, the founder of Panatere. “But did you know that some 1,500 tonnes of waste from machining watch components are shipped to China to be melted and recycled into mediocre quality steel? It makes no economic or environmental sense whatsoever.”
Panatere’s response has been to set up a network of local suppliers to the watch and medical sectors, and recover their scrap steel. This same network is now being put to use to recover waste titanium. After successfully casting recycled titanium in laboratory trials, from the beginning of next year Panatere will be able to supply 100% recycled grade 2 and grade 5 titanium. Again, this is a welcome initiative as titanium watches gain in popularity. ”Demand for titanium is strong,” confirms Liselotte Thuring, project manager at Panatere. “Brands are following what we’re doing with interest. They know that the products they make have to be transparent and traceable, and also that they need to reduce their carbon footprint. In industrial watch production, the main factor associated with carbon emissions is the type of material used.”
Here, too, there is a convincing case for recycling. Recycled steel’s carbon footprint is ten times lower than that of virgin steel, and 165 times lower when produced using renewable energies: something Panatere has tested at a solar furnace in the French Pyrenees region. Now, in addition to its production of recycled steel and titanium – an offering that will be extended to other metals in the near future – the company is developing its own itinerant solar furnace. Why itinerant? Liselotte Thuring explains: “We’re currently researching the best final location for our solar-powered metals processing plant. The fact that we can move the furnace also enables us to test it in real-life conditions, so we can minimise noise and visual effects, as well as smoke emissions. Not to mention the communication opportunities for the regions where it will be successively installed. A number of local authorities have already expressed an interest.”
The furnace has a scheduled start date of September 2022. Panatere aims to produce 400 tonnes of recycled steel and 60 tonnes of recycled titanium by 2026. “We’re receiving more and more enquiries from potential clients. One of the main reasons is that our recycled steel is competitive compared with non-recycled steel whose price has risen considerably in recent months. Not to mention the benefits in terms of innovation and the environment.” Competitiveness is at the heart of the company’s business model, which also includes the development of tourism and educational activities for its solar furnace, the sale of other recycled products such as thread cutting oil for CNC machines and trading carbon credits through the Swiss Confederation, which also gives Panatere financial support. Early next year, Panatere’s first 100% recycled stainless steel ingot produced using solar energy will go on display at the Musée International de l’Horlogerie in La Chaux-de-Fonds. Next stop, an entire watch?