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Watchmakers measure their impact on the oceans – Part...

Watchmakers measure their impact on the oceans – Part two

Sunday, 07 February 2021
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Christophe Roulet
Editor-in-chief, HH Journal

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5 min read

For brands that have made dive watches a speciality, safeguarding the oceans is high on their list of commitments to sustainable development.

The sea is second nature for Panerai. How could it be otherwise, knowing that the Italian brand originated alongside its dive watches. That was in 1936, with the development of ten prototype Radiomir for Italian Navy frogmen. Almost 90 years on, Panerai’s catalogue continues to revolve around depth-defying watches. What has changed are attitudes towards the underwater world. A luxury brand such as Panerai — whose watches retail for an average CHF 12,000 and which generates close to half a billion in revenue — can no longer concern itself exclusively with the quality of its production, however technically advanced. As well as the watch’s intrinsic qualities, conscious consumers expect sustainability and responsibility from the brand whose name is on the dial. Put simply, making and selling watches is no longer enough; a brand must embody values that customers care about and identify with.

Mike Horn, Panerai Ambassador
Mike Horn, Panerai Ambassador

Panerai has clearly evolved in this direction. Alongside shots of its watches surrounded by the sea, its website describes at length the brand’s actions in favour of sustainable development. These include initiatives to reduce its carbon footprint, certify supply chains, encourage eco-responsible behaviour and make greater use of recycled materials. It also details the brand’s connection with adventurer Mike Horn or freediver Guillaume Néry, both Panerai ambassadors and environmental advocates working to protect the natural world. However, if a brand is to avoid accusations of greenwashing, it has to take its commitment out into the field. Or rather, underwater. As many brands now realise, the best way to get customers onboard with dive watches and their attendant imagery is to speak out in support of ocean preservation. Talk the talk and walk the walk.

Recovery of fishing nets © Ulysse Nardin
Recovery of fishing nets © Ulysse Nardin

And there is a lot going on in this underwater world. On the Surfrider Foundation Europe website, Guillaume Néry describes the harmony he experiences between himself and the ocean around him during his freedives. This, he says, is the relationship we must aim to have with the environment. Surfrider’s donating partners include Alpina Watches, a brand close to the foundation whose aim is to protect the world’s oceans and beaches for all to enjoy. Another organisation, Ocean Conservancy, is on a similar mission, for example through beach clean-ups sponsored by Breitling… which has also teamed up with Outerknown for a range of NATO straps in Econyl, a nylon yarn made from discarded fishing nets that can be broken down and recycled as new yarn an infinite number of times. Ulysse Nardin has pushed the cursor even further with its Diver Net. The case, middle, back and bezel of this concept watch are in a material produced by Fil&Fab, a company based in Brittany, France, that collects broken fishing nets and transforms them into polyamide pellets.

Gombessa IV - 700 sharks in the night © Laurent Ballesta
Gombessa IV - 700 sharks in the night © Laurent Ballesta

This isn’t Ulysse Nardin’s maiden voyage on the seas of sustainability. The watchmaker also partners with Ocearch, the leading scientific shark conservation non-profit. Other watchmakers are similarly involved with protecting marine creatures. Carl F. Bucherer is one, working alongside Manta Trust to conserve the habitat of manta rays. Certina is another through its partnership with the Sea Turtle Conservancy. Oris supports the Coral Restoration Foundation while other makers fund scientific research: IWC supports Cousteau Divers which gathers data on ocean warming. Omega, meanwhile, backs Nekton. This list would not be complete without mentioning Blancpain and Rolex, who are probably two of the watch brands most active in ocean preservation: Blancpain through its Ocean Commitment programme and Rolex with its Perpetual Planet campaign. The latter includes the Rolex Awards for Enterprise supporting early-stage projects in multiple areas including the environment, a longstanding partnership with National Geographic Society, and marine biologist Sylvia Earle’s Mission Blue initiative.

Sylvia Earle - Mission Blue Project, with support from Rolex
Sylvia Earle - Mission Blue Project, with support from Rolex

Details of these projects could fill volumes. This brief evocation nonetheless illustrates how watch brands, such as Breguet and its collaboration with Race for Water, have been moved to action with the firm intention of raising public awareness of an alarming situation. Next time we strap a dive watch to our wrist, we will be taking a “small step” for the environment. And perhaps one day “a giant leap for mankind”?

Why the ocean is everybody's business

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