My Cart

Close

Eco-Friendly and Ethical Watch Brands - A Round Up of the Best

Posted on October 07 2020

Can you get an ethical or eco-friendly watch without compromising on all of the things that you love about watches?


Can you get the style, the history and the innovation that you’re used to? Importantly, are ethical business practices and a positive environmental impact reserved just for luxury brands - or can you make an ethical purchase when buying an affordable timepiece? Yes, you can - so let’s start with the basics.

 

Mamba Wood Watch

What is an ethical watch?

I’m using quite a broad brush when referring to ethical watches. Depending on your world view, your reaction to the moral code and ethos of a business may vary widely. It could be that a brand funds anti-war initiatives or that another brand takes pride in working closely with the military. I’m including a variety of companies that are vocal about the ethical side of their business.

Eco-friendly watch brands.


Currently the major ethical concern of customers, and by extension companies, is the environmental impact of the business. This can include the sourcing of materials, production and the life span of the finished product.

In some of these areas, watches can do well. A well looked after mechanical watch can last more than a century. Watches are almost unique in fashion, in that they can and are often passed down through generations. Watch collectors will regularly have watches serviced and repaired to extend their life. For most watch aficionado’s, watches are for the long term.

Watches aren’t disposable.

Watches are the opposite of fast fashion. They’re designed with history and lineage in mind, slow to market and kept by the customer for decades. Mechanical automatic watches don’t use batteries and by their very nature use a green energy source - the movement of the wrist.

In other areas, watches don’t do as well. They use precious metals and jewels, both of which can have questionable origins. Also, with China as one of the world’s major watch producers, ethical working practices haven’t always been a major concern.

How have watch companies responded to ethical and environmental issues?


Among the luxury brands, there has been an attempt to use ethically mined precious metals and experimentation with alternatives like eco-titanium. Coupled with this has been an effort to partner with environmental groups and initiatives as the companies have funded conservation work.

As I’ll demonstrate below, there has been a mixture of technical innovation, a change in production materials, updated business practices and money generated from sales used to fund anything from the planting of trees to the care of Sea Turtles.

As always, I’ve stuck to the affordable end of the watch market and made a real effort to include brands that I’d normally highlight - watches that I’m already a fan of. The ethical and eco-friendly watch niche is overwhelmed by uni-sex and minimalist fashion watches and I’ve mostly stayed clear of them. I’ve also made a specific choice to not just fill the list with a collection of wooden watches by young brands.

This list concentrates more on the types of watches that are styled as we’d normally like - from brands that have incorporated new ideas into their range - not replaced it. But there are a couple of surprises too - brands that might be new to you.

 

Citizen Eco-Drive Sports Watch

 

Japanese giants Citizen have been at the forefront of the development of eco-friendly watch movements. Their eco-drive line is among the most well-known brands of solar-powered watches.

The concept of Eco-Drive watches is simple. The watch movements are designed to convert both natural and artificial light into energy to power the watch. Initially developed in the 1970s, this technology has allowed Citizen to produce watches that never need a battery change.
This environmentally friendly technology has proven popular and has won the brand environmental protection awards. It has been estimated that the Eco-drive technology has meant that 10 million less watch batteries have been produced for the US market alone.

 



What I really like about the Eco-drive collections, apart from the variety, is that most of the watches retain regular watch designs. They have eco-drive watches that are heavy-duty divers, aviation watches and tough military pieces. They haven’t created fashion watches for a young demographic, rather they’ve taken the watches we’re already buying and updated the internal technology.

The Brycen is a great example of this. It’s a very stylish, mid-sized stainless steel piece, with a sporty aesthetic. The colour and design are both reminiscent of a Rolex Submariner ‘Hulk’. You need to be reminded that this is an eco-friendly watch.

As I noted here, Citizen have a large range of watches, so you may need to dig a little deeper to find the gems. But when you do, you're rewarded with some very nice watches, with decent specs that represent good value for money.

  • Citizen Brycen Sport AW1598-70X
  • 43mm Diameter
  • 12mm Thick
  • Stainless Steel
  • Eco-drive movement
  • Mineral Crystal
  • 100M Water Resistance

 

Geckota E-01 2nd Generation Watch

 

From a massive Japanese company we come to a young British upstart. Geckota is one of those cool smaller brands that I love to discover. Like a lot of these niche businesses, the brand’s story is the founder’s story. In this case, self-confessed watch geek Jonathan Quinn.

Based in Tewkesbury, Jonathon began as Watch Gecko, selling unbranded watch straps. From there he quickly grew the business to the fully-fledged watch brand it is today.

Part of the brands mission was to become a carbon-neutral business, achieved through carbon offsetting projects.

The brand’s range of watches is quite broad and includes divers, aviation and racing models.

This model is a beauty. It manages to mix real vintage styling with modern watchmaking technology. The movement is a self-winding Miyota engine - a company owned by Citizen.

It’s quite a small watch by todays standards, but that just reinforces the authentic vintage feel. It’s a good example of a company releasing a traditional, mechanical watch and making the positive impact on the environment through other areas of the business. The watch itself never needs a battery and should have a life span measured in decades.

  • Geckota E-01 Generation 2 Exploration
  • 36mm Diameter
  • 12mm Thick
  • 20mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Miyota 9039 Automatic movement
  • Domed Sapphire Crystal
  • 100M Water Resistance

 

Mondaine Essence MS1.41110.RB Watch

 

In a previous post about watches and railways I mentioned this brand (more here). They are known primarily for their railway inspired watch. In 1944 engineer Hans Hilfiker designed a simple, minimalist clock for the Swiss railways. This iconic design was licensed by Mondaine, and from 1986 has been at the core of their watch lines.

The design is instantly recognisable and the Essence is one of the 41mm models. The dial is unmistakable and easy-to-read. With distinctive straight hands and a red seconds hand Mondaine’s take on Hilfiker’s design has become world renowned.

The difference with the Essence, and why it’s of interest to us, is the materials used in its construction. The case is made from renewable materials - for example, castor oil, wool or cork. The strap is rubber and the packaging is made from recycled plastic bottles. The whole product is also vegan.

  • Mondaine Essence MS1.41110.RB
  • 41mm Diameter
  • 20mm Lug Width
  • Renewable Raw Materials
  • Swiss Rhonda 513 Quartz movement
  • Mineral Crystal
  • 30M Water Resistance

 

Jason Hyde Uno Watch

 

Miami based fashion brand Jason Hyde built their whole business around the idea of sustainability. Working from an office with beach views inspired the team to make the protection of the environment a central concern.

They make both jewellery and watches, with both being manufactured from recycled materials.

This model, the Uno, is styled very similar to a Rolex Perpetual or Date-Just (more here). It’s a classically styled dress watch with a distinctive fluted bezel and a recycled plastic strap.

  • 40mm Diameter
  • 11.2mm Thick
  • 20mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Quartz movement
  • Mineral Crystal
  • 50M Water Resistance

 

Awake La Bleue Watch

 

Awake are French brand consisting of a small team of creatives including founders Fred and Lillian. They’ve built a collection of watches where as far as possible the components and movement are environmentally friendly.

In practice this means that the watches are solar-powered and therefore don’t need replacement batteries. The construction is a mixture of recycled materials - this model’s case is made from recycled fishing nets. Other models use recycled steel. The strap - a Nato style - began life as plastic waste in the sea. By reclaiming and reusing this waste, the sea is cleaned up and the plastic given a new life.

The result is a tidy watch. Powered by a well-tested and reliable Seiko movement, this particular model was presented to world leaders at 2019’s G7 summit. It’s modestly sized, and like the Mondaine, works as a Unisex piece.

  • Awake La Bleue G-7
  • 38mm Diameter
  • 7.7mm Thick
  • 20mm Lug Width
  • Recycled Fishing Nets
  • Seiko AS01 Solar-power movement
  • Mineral Crystal
  • 50M Water Resistance

 

Vincero Altitude Watch

 

I will win’. That is the meaning of the brand's name. This young American company is built around the ethos of self-reliance. They design the watches in-house, source their own materials and release the watches in small batches. It’s an approach I like and similar to how I structure Northwind Watches.

What this has meant for Vincero is that they have individually sourced their materials from different manufacturers. The movements are Japanese, the leather straps Italian and the case and glass Chinese.

In addition, since 2019 they have ran as a carbon neutral enterprise. It’s probably best if I quote their own explanation of the process

“For every tonne of carbon we emit as a business we will pay to take a tonne of carbon out of the atmosphere. We'll do this by reducing the amount of carbon we’re responsible for emitting, then zero out the rest by investing in projects that reduce greenhouse gasses”.

Are Vincero watches any good?

The Vincero range consists of a number of collections that range from fashion styles, to more rugged sports and military influenced models. There are both mechanical and quartz powered watches. At the top there are the Italian Marble Automatics - limited editions that use real marble on the dial and bracelet.

The watch I’ve picked out to highlight is this quartz chronograph, that is roughly the middle price-point for the brand. As I explained in my article about chronographs here, I have a soft spot of vintage styled chronographs. The Altitude has an attractive aviation-style, particularly this model that has the contrasting deep blue dial and stainless steel case. The distressed leather strap really strengthens the impression of age.
It's a very nice piece that does the little touches well. I really like it when the sub-dials don't cut through the numbers on a chronograph, and I prefer this symmetrical structure of the dial.

The specs are as you’d hope for a well-made watch around the £180 mark. It has a Citizen Miyota movement, a sapphire coated crystal and 100M water resistance.

  • Vincero Altitude
  • 43mm Diameter
  • 12mm Thick
  • 22mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Miyota Quartz movement
  • Sapphire Coated Crystal
  • 100M Water Resistance

 

Certina DS Action Sea Turtle Watch

 

Often described as an entry-level Swiss luxury brand, this Certina watch is the most expensive on the list. Today, like a large portion of the Swiss watch industry, the brand is now owned by Swatch Group.

The company has a longer history than the others in this post. It initially grew from three employees in 1888 to an operation that by the 1970s was producing over half a million watches a year.

The DS-Action collection is inspired by the brand’s iconic designs of the past. The DS stands for Double Security, a range of protective measures Certina created for a mechanical watch. It’s a concept the brand is proud of and is now 60 years old. This particular model was released as a special edition that raises funds for Sea Turtle conservation.

It’s a very well-made, high quality tool watch. It is is powered by a Swiss ETA based movement that boasts an 80hr power reserve.

Certina’s logo is a turtle, but on this special edition the case back includes the Sea Turtle Conservancy turtle, and the pale blue accents give a nod to the organisation's own colour scheme.

Technically, this is the best watch featured. Very much a step towards a Swiss luxury timepiece.

  • Certina DS Action Sea Turtle Conservancy Special Edition
  • 43mm Diameter
  • 13mm Thick
  • 21mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Powermatic 80.111 Automatic movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 300M Water Resistance

 

Zeithholz Frohnau Zebrawood Watch

 

Wooden watches aren't my favorite. But in the small space of eco-friendly watches, models with wood cases are prominent. It took a bit of research to find wooden watches that didn’t compromise on style and weren’t just aimed at fashion buyers. Then I stumbled on Zeithholz.

What I find appealing about this brand is that they sell the craftsmanship of their products just as much as the low environmental impact. Based in the Eastern Ore Mountains in Germany - a region renowned for its woodworking skills - there’s no compromise in the design. What is more, they’ve taken the local wood working knowledge and used that to create handcrafted watches.

Each watch is handmade from sustainable, natural hardened wood with the lowest carbon footprint. There is no paint or chemicals. Not only are they eco-friendly, but like the titanium watches I looked at here, they are also hypo-allergenic.

The Frohnau comes in two variations - Zebrawood and Sandlewood. Of the two I prefer the slightly lighter Zebrawood. It has a reasonable sporty dial, with a neat chapter ring, date window and day sub-dial. With the 44mm case and substantial wooden strap, the impression is of a legitimate men's watch, that also happens to be eco-friendly.

  • Zeithholz Frohnau Zebrawood
  • 44mm Diameter
  • Wood
  • Japanese Miyota JP27 movement
  • Mineral Crystal
  • 30M Water Resistance

 

Nordgreen Pioneer Black Watch

 

Scandinavian brand Nordgreen are one of the more well known green watch brands, due to a strong social media presence and features in traditional media.

Let’s jump straight to one of the brands main selling points. Their watches are created by famed Danish designer Jakob Wagner. Wagner has previously designed products for Bang & Olufsen and other big-name brands. Specifically, he’s designed for brands who are renowned for their strong designs.
The Nordgreen collection has quite an emphasis on minimalist designs. Of the three base models - the Philosopher, Native and Pioneer - it’s the final watch that drew my attention.

At 42mm it’s a little larger than many of the minimalist Scandinavian watches out there. It’s not only a little larger, but also thicker and benefits from the gun metal finished case. It all adds a little to the minimalist aesthetic, keeping the design interesting and unique. Something I don’t always see with minimalist watches.

The domed sapphire crystal is a good addition, and the chronograph sub-dials and pushers are neatly done and unobtrusive. The tips of the hands are red, a reference to wind turbines - which brings us to the ethical credentials.

Nordgreen has an active Giving Back Program. Revenue from each watch sale is donated to a good cause - the unique serial number on your watch indicates where your donation went. As well as the donations, the brand has achieved carbon neutral status for their Copenhagen headquarters, uses sustainable packaging and has foreign partners adhere to Danish labour practices.

  • Nordgreen Pioneer
  • 42mm Diameter
  • 11.9mm Thick
  • 20mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Japanese Quartz movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 50M Water Resistance

 

Eone Bradley Classic Watch

 

The final watch is a different take on what it means to be an ethical brand.

Hyungsoo Kim, the company’s founder, stumbled across a problem with watch designs.

What watches are available for the blind and the visually impaired?

His blind friend had pointed this out to him. Watches designed for those with visual impairment were either loud talking watches, or fragile models. There wasn’t really much in the way of stylish, well-designed timepieces for the blind.

Universal or inclusive design, aims to create products that can be used by everyone. Kim made it his mission to create fashionable watches for everyone.

The Bradley is named after company spokesman, Bradley Snyder. Bradley is a Paralympic athlete and former naval officer, who lost his sight defusing bombs in Afghanistan.

The watch takes a little time to get used to. It’s a unique design that uses two magnetized ball bearings to tell the time. They travel around the watch face in separate, recessed tracks. One track around the centre of the watches face shows the minutes, and the track around the outside edge of the watch displays the hours. Using these and the raised number markings the user can ‘feel’ the time.

It’s a quirky, but valuable and elegant design, that is a fitting way to round out this list.

  • Eone Bradley Classic
  • 40mm Diameter
  • 11.5mm Thick
  • 20mm Lug Width
  • Titanium
  • Swiss Quartz movement

 

 

Conclusion

 

There are five main ways that watch companies can create businesses that have ethical and eco-friendly credentials.

Firstly, they can make watches with a long life and low maintenance. This could be automatic watches or solar-powered models for example.

They can use recycled and renewable materials in either the watch or it’s packaging.

Reduce the business carbon emissions, or offset those emissions.

Donate to environmental sustainability projects or other causes.

As with Eone - design innovative products to include all customers. Give everyone a chance to wear a great watch.

The companies featured here have attempted to have a positive impact on the world.

 

Each has found their own way to run a profitable business that trades with responsibility and has at its centre a well defined ‘why’.


For Updates and Offers Please Subscribe Here

 

Related Posts

The 10 Best Sturmanskie Russian Watches (Watches Worn in Space by Cosmonauts)
The 10 Best Sturmanskie Russian Watches (Watches Worn in Space by Cosmonauts)
Sturmanskie is a Russian watch company that has supplied the Russian military with timepieces. In the West, watch fan...
Read More
Rolex Submariner Hulk - The Affordable Alternatives
Rolex Submariner Hulk - The Affordable Alternatives
The ‘Hulk’ is one of the most popular variations of Rolex's iconic divers watch, the Submariner. It’s so desirable th...
Read More
Fossil Watches Overview - Are Fossil Watches Good?
Fossil Watches Overview - Are Fossil Watches Good?
Fossil Watches Fossil is a young brand founded in the mid-1980s. The Fossil Group owns a handful of other brands wit...
Read More
Victorinox Swiss Watches Overview - Are they a Good Brand?
Victorinox Swiss Watches Overview - Are they a Good Brand?
Is Victorinox a Good Watch Brand? Victorinox is a Swiss brand who make a variety of watches - both mechanical and qua...
Read More
Tissot Watches - Overview of the Swiss Entry-Level Watch Brand
Tissot Watches - Overview of the Swiss Entry-Level Watch Brand
Tissot - A Brand Overview   Tissot is often described as an entry-level Swiss luxury watch brand. The brand’s owners,...
Read More
Jaeger LeCoultre Master Control Alternatives - The Best Affordable and Homage Watches
Jaeger LeCoultre Master Control Alternatives - The Best Affordable and Homage Watches
JLC Master Control Date Alternatives   The Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Control Date is a classic dress watch. A restraine...
Read More

0 comments

Leave a comment

All blog comments are checked prior to publishing