Is Time Sustainable?

Kevin Pilley meets the watchmakers who believe that, given time, they can save the planet.

The UK’s Sustainable Watch Company has an ethical corporate mantra as well as a commercial clickbait catchphrase. “Why not buy Mother Nature some time?”

All the London-based company’s timepieces are hand-made, fashionable, planet-healing, eco-conscious and provide responsibly, clean and conscious wrist presence for those who know time is fast running out.  All the Quartz and mechanical watches from the pioneering Nottingham-based horological company are made from reclaimed wood.

Mansfield-born founder Richard Cawkill says:

“Our Rosewood watch is made from upcycled Mozambique Chacate Preto and olive wood, a sustainable resource. Its precision-engineered mechanical movement ensures accurate timekeeping, while the reinforced hardlex glass protects the skeleton watch’s face from scratches, ensuring its longevity. Our Willow watch is made from recycled maple and green sandalwood. The wood in the Sycamore is derived from sustainably sourced olive wood furniture and, like the whole range, embodies style, sophistication and environmental responsibility. The watch exudes elegance, concern and conscience.”

Also available are Rowan, White Cedar, Fir made from Sri Lankan and south Indian ebony wood with its close-grain hazel brown and black stripes. The Mahogany watch uses African blackwood heartwood.

Planned obsolescence is lessening. Waste is being managed and reduced. Zero Waste timelines are being set and compassionate corporate responsibility pledges are being made and honoured. “Greenwashing” notwithstanding, sustainability in fashion is no longer a buzzword. It has become an imperative.

Ethics are as important as aesthetics. The world’s well-known and not-so-well-known watchmakers are trying to make the Earth a better place.

The Sustainable Watch Company Gift Box

Chopard has used fair mined gold since 2018. Its Alpine Eagle watch uses 70 per cent stainless steel. Baume avoids problematic animal products and other top brands, such Seiko and Hublot are all doing their bit. Many watching making companies now support conservation. Oris supports Florida’s coral forest and cleaning up of south Korea’s Hangong River. Carl F. Bucherer supports Mantra rays.

As well as using materials like hemp and cork, many companies such as Canada’s Solios are also embracing solar power. Two hours sunlight can charge a watch for up to six months. The watches are charged by artificial light too. Every year. Three hundred million disposable batteries end up in landfill sites.

Many watchmakers are working with repurposed ocean plastic litter. Each Maurice Lacroix AIKON # Tide Swiss wristwatch is made from seven plastic bottles retrieved from the open sea. Others are using recycle ocean plastic litter. Breitling Outknown uses Econyl made from fishing nets.

Cawkill is a graduate of West Sydney and Leeds Beckett universities as well the EMLV (Ecole de Management Leonard De Vinci) in Courbevoie, France. He has worked as a gym supervisor, park ranger, media executive and in product management software.

He continues:

“The Sustainable Watch Company is built around creating a sustainable future both through our product and the impact of our brand. From the production of our watches and straps to the packaging and shipping process, everything has sustainability at its core. Our vegan, handcrafted watches generate minimal carbon during production due to the low energy production techniques making sure we play our part in slowing climate change.

“I never wanted The Sustainable Watch Company to be a preachy brand that becomes a negative voice around sustainability despite doing good, we’re all about achievable sustainability and offering an attractive high-quality product whilst doing it. Further from that, we help people give back through our brand by enabling people to plant trees, offset carbon and donate to charity through our operations without them having to go out of their way to do that. I want a marketplace where businesses do good on behalf of their customers, without their customers having to ask them to do it or break habit to have an impact. That’s why we plant 10 trees, offset 250kg of carbon and donate 1 per cent of every purchase to charity. Why not buy Mother Nature some time?

“The wood is collected from furniture scraps, we use high-quality off cuts from furniture manufacturing processes, and repurpose them into beautiful watches and straps by hand. This allows this perfectly good and beautiful wood to be upcycled rather than being discarded, reducing waste. This means that every single one of our watches and straps are unique. No two products are the same, each carrying their own grain patterns and colour.”

The Sustainable Watch Company wood watch

Rotterdam’s Wood Watch has just released its Legacy x Collection made from ebony and tigerwood to add to its best-selling men’s walnut Mariner and ladies’ Kosso Ocean Lights. The company was founded by Kevin van der Veer, Daniel Salimian and Jeroen Westerbeek. They plant a tree for every watch sold. On the back of each watch, the customer will find the coordinates where the tree will be planted.

CEO Jeroen says:

“We work with Trees for the Future. They plant fruit trees in different areas of the planet which is not only great to make the planet greener but also to help families with food and resource.”

Sustainable watches are not new. It began with straps. The British firm Votch uses apple skin and pineapple leaves. Some straps are made out of cactus leather. Watches have been made out of car parts and recycled boat propellers. REC makes them from old motorcycle and Spitfire parts, others with bio-ceramics, military ammunition boxes, bourbon and beer barrels and even unwanted sport stadium seats. Stockholm’s TRIWA (Transforming The Identity of Wristwatches) employs Humanium meal made from deconstructed illegal firearms from El Salvador. It has just launched its new TRIWA x SSAB, the world’s first fossil-free stainless steel wristwatch. Nordgreen uses conflict-free stainless steel and Jord wood with sustainable sapphire. Ksana repurposes its silicone straps into solar panels.

Cawkill adds:

“We aim to be a heavily climate-positive business. Our pledge is to forever play our part in slowing climate change, building a business with a focus on environmental impact and not solely profit. We’re proud to support reforestation through our partnership with Ecologi, planting ten trees with every order. For every order we receive we offset 250kg of Carbon through our partnership with Ecologi. Equivalent to 620 miles of driving in an average passenger vehicle. Alongside this we donate 1 per cent of our revenue through Stripe to carbon removal via Stripe Climate. We operate a Climate Positive workforce, use carbon-free shipping and eco-friendly packaging. We contribute to schemes accredited by the Gold Standard, the highest verification of carbon offsetting.

“Wood watches are lightweight, comfortable to wear, and resistant to wear and tear. They are hypoallergenic. Metal watches can cause skin irritation if exposed to extremely hot temperatures for a long time.

“That’s not the case with wooden watches. They’re breathable. Your watch is more than just a functional accessory. It reflects your style and your values. When it comes to choosing between wooden and metal watches, ultimately it depends on an individual’s personal style and preference. However, there is something special about wooden watches that makes them stand out. Wearing wood is a way to connect with nature, pairing the beauty of the natural wood with the brilliant engineering of the watch movements. A purpose-driven accessory serves as a reminder of the importance of sustainable practices, and with wooden watches you not only make a fashion statement but also a clear statement about your commitment to stopping climate change.”

The Sustainable Watch Company packaging

The Sustainable Watch Company’s mechanical watches for men, like The Hemlock, feature automatic winding mechanisms that power the watch’s movement through the natural motion of the wearer’s wrist. Cawkill claims a watch like The Banyan can rival and even surpass the precision of their quartz counterparts. High-end mechanical watches undergo rigorous testing and adjustments to ensure remarkable accuracy, often losing only a few seconds per day. The complexity of the automatic movement contributes to this superior accuracy, making them a reliable choice for those who value precise timekeeping.

“Our collection requires meticulous assembly and skilled labour. Choosing a mechanical watch preserves traditional watchmaking techniques and supports the artisans dedicated to this craft. Mechanical watches hold a distinct superiority when considering craftsmanship, enduring value, and captivating aesthetics. Choosing a mechanical watch is an affirmation of your appreciation for the artistry and heritage behind these remarkable timepieces. It is an investment in a handcrafted masterpiece that tells time and embodies the essence of luxury and sophistication. I wear the Rowan; I love the colour palette and the minimal clean watch face.”

Times are a changing. Once we looked at our watches to check the time. Now it is to check that its strap materials are free from PVC and phthalates and pass CAL 01350, have low VOC emissions, have no added antimicrobial chemicals, are PFC-Free, contain no flame retardants, bromine or heavy metals.

And that our wrists are green and our wristwear is planet-friendly and earth-conscious. It is important to know how much time we have left.

For more information on The Sustainable Watch Company’s range of timepieces, please visit:

Author Bio:

Kevin Pilley is a former professional cricketer and chief staff writer of PUNCH magazine. His humour, travel, food and drink work appear worldwide, and he has been published in over 800 titles.

Photographs courtesy of The Sustainable Watch Company

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