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Watches, unusual names and social responsibility

When Alexander Mehdi Bennouna, former Managing Director of Victorinox Swiss Army, co-founded a new watch brand last year, he neither gave it his name, as many watchmakers have, nor chose something which underlines the Swiss roots of the company.

Instead, the collection, which featured its first timepieces on Kickstarter in June, was called DecideAndAct.

Mr Bennouna said the unusual name had a deliberate purpose: to underscore the brand’s emphasis on social responsibility. “It’s a call to action,” he said in a telephone interview from his office in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. “It’s not something that has to be taken for granted. It is something that must challenge and generate interest.

It is true that it is a mouthful. “It’s a long name,” he said. “When you read it without the spaces, you say to yourself, ‘What is this? »» An abbreviation that the brand also uses, d & a, is equally enigmatic.

DecideAndAct isn’t the only watch brand promoting environmental concerns as its main distinguishing factor, rather than, say, a complicated proprietary movement or water-resistant construction. Several new companies are offering watches made only from recycled and sustainable materials; often donations to like-minded organizations are part of their business plans. And yes, their names are usually unconventional too.

Take Triwa, whose name stands for Transforming the Industry of Watches. (The brand’s slogan, Time for Change, is a more concise expression of this decidedly ambitious goal.) Based in Stockholm, the line was launched in 2007 and initially aimed to change the status quo in a number of ways: unconventional distribution (it was sold to Colette, the Parisian concept store that closed in 2017, and Urban Outfitters) and relatively low prices, starting at around SEK 800 (now $ 83).

A few years ago, its leadership changed. “We had a moment of soul searching and decided that the new way to transform the industry was to make the industry sustainable,” said Ludvig Scheja, its creative director and one of the founders.

Since then, Triwa has sold watches made from materials like recycled ocean plastic and salvaged metal from guns. On its website, the carbon footprint of each timepiece is listed, determined by a digital calculation tool from the Swedish technology start-up Doconomy. What we want to achieve is for people to wear a watch to show that they care not only for themselves, but for everyone around them, ”Scheja said.

The collection ranges from a simple 28-millimeter round gold watch on a metal strap (1,195 crowns or $ 146) to a limited-edition 39-millimeter chronograph (nearly 4,000 crowns, or $ 460).

Montreal-based brand Solios offers equally classic designs, with clean silhouettes. “Sustainability shouldn’t be a style,” said Samuel G. Leroux, co-founder of the brand. “It should be a feature, or a way to produce the item.”

Every Solios watch has a solar battery instead of the typical quartz battery that should be replaced (and discarded) periodically. The most expensive coins in the collection are 350 Canadian dollars ($ 276).

Late last year, the brand was certified as a B Corporation, a social responsibility accreditation issued by B Labs of Berwyn, Pennsylvania. Mr Leroux said Solios – its name a nod to Helios, the Greek sun god – was the only watch brand that had received this certification.

As the brands ‘watches are touted as having a lighter environmental footprint than traditional watches, they also capitalize on what appears to be consumers’ growing interest in social responsibility.

“In fact, we realized that there are very few brands in the watch industry that have this very strong responsible positioning,” said Vasilij Brandt, founder of Nordgreen, a Copenhagen-based brand introduced in 2017. “C ‘that’s why we decided to say,’ You know what? It’s a great opportunity for us to do that and fill a gap in the market. ‘ “

The company’s simplified watches are priced at DKK 1,195 to 2,095 ($ 190 to $ 333) and sold in stores in countries like Japan, Taiwan, Germany and Canada, as well as online.

Nordgreen’s watches seem to have resonated with buyers: Its sales last year topped DKK 100 million (nearly $ 16 million), Mr Brandt said. While Solios declined to offer full revenue, Mr Leroux said 52 of the brand’s 92 styles sold out for part of the year. And DecideAndAct surpassed its Kickstarter goal of raising 30,000 Swiss francs ($ 32,580) in less than three weeks and plans to introduce a new range this fall that will be sold on its website.

The positioning seems to be aimed squarely at buyers aged 40 or under and concerned about the ecological impact of what they buy. “When you now look at young consumers – millennials and Gen Z – they’re much more interested in the emotional side of making sure they don’t leave this planet worse off, and that can be translated into n ‘ any product. Said Claudia Pardo, partner at Innosight, a business consulting agency, based in its office in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Perhaps with this audience in mind, established brands have also introduced watches with enduring characteristics. Cartier, for example, introduced the SolarBeat Tank Must, a solar-powered version of its quartz watch, which is expected to go on sale this fall. In June, Shinola began selling the Detrola Sea Creatures collection, with cases and bracelets made from plastic salvaged from the oceans. There are options from other companies as well, including Omega, Breitling, and Panerai.

Environmental responsibility has simply become part of what many consumers expect from companies, including those specializing in watchmaking, according to experts like Frederick Martel, founder and CEO of the Chronos agency, which advises companies to luxury. He is also senior vice president of MycoWorks, a company that provides a vegan alternative to leather to brands like Hermès.

As he put it, “the end customer looks at their favorite brands and says, ‘What are you doing to help transform the world or to make the world a better place for the next generation? “”


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Rodney N.

The author Rodney N.