How Ulysse Nardin Made a Watch Out of Recycled Plastic Fishing NetsBy Revolution
As a pioneer in the realm of marine chronometers in the 19th century and a pioneer again in the use of silicon in horology, since the establishment of Sigatec and the launch of the Freak in 2001, Ulysse Nardin’s unique place in horology is indisputable. And in recent years, the watchmaker has taken it upon itself to add yet another definitive chapter to its legacy by joining the charge towards environmentally responsible and sustainable luxury watchmaking, from the front.
To this end, rather than attempting to reinvent the wheel, Ulysse Nardin is turning to those that have travelled the mile in the research and use of waste materials in industrial processes, to inform its watchmaking. The first innovation to have been birthed from this ideology was the late 2020-announced R-Strap. This forward-thinking watch strap is weaved from an innovative polyamide yarn fully recycled from fishing nets and has been made to be compatible with Diver 44mm, Diver 42mm, Diver Chronograph, Marine Torpilleur and Freak X watches. Essentially, all the brand’s most desirable timepieces today.
The R-Strap is Ulysse Nardin’s first 100% waterproof fabric. It is interwoven on the edges to prevent fraying and withstand abrasion (Martindale test). The manner in which these are colored is as well environmentally conscientious: a dying technique is used before extrusion by the supplier JTTi for its YTT+ yarn reels (100% recycled from fishing nets) that gives a uniform black color and has the non-negligible environmental advantage of not using water during production. The true underlying intention here was to involve the use of recycled plastic Ulysse Nardin’s watchmaking to address plastic pollution in the oceans at its very source.
But towards the close of 2020, Ulysse Nardin announced a partnership with FIL&FAB that took this concept even further. FIL&FAB’s prime intention focuses on the recovery of decommissioned fishing nets from harbors and the transformation of these into polyamide pellets, a raw material that can then be used to manufacture various items, for example, parts of a watch case.
Ulysse Nardin launched the Diver Net concept watch, with this in mind. A 44mm Diver X timepiece that has its case, middle, back and bezel decoration made of 100% recycled plastics from fishing nets. The research invested around the Diver Net concept watch required a rethinking of how its strap and crystal could further the use of recycled plastics. For the wrist strap Ulysse Nardin turned to the Swiss company TIDE, which turns PET plastic from the sea into reels of thread. TIDE’s larger mission is to stop the production of virgin plastic at its source and reuse the huge resources already available. Ulysse Nardin used a novel transparent ceramic glass for the watch’s crystal, produced in the Swiss Jura. The transparent ceramic glass is a material used with the goal of having a lower environmental impact by limiting energy when it is manufactured.
Thing to note is that while it can be suggested that this is a lot of trouble to go through for a concept watch that the brand isn’t even making available for purchase, the lessons learnt from the exercise will no doubt bear impact on Ulysse Nardin’s future watchmaking.
There is another reason why going through all the trouble for a concept watch is necessary. With its heritage intertwined with the oceans, Ulysse Nardin understandably feels a deep sense of responsibility for the big blue yonder. And there is today undeniable scientific evidence that the issue of plastic pollution in the oceans is one that has traveled a lot further than anyone could have imagined.
Mathieu Crepel, a “Ulysses” (Ulysse Nardin’s term for its friends of the brand ambassadors), of the brand and world champion snowboarder, Olympic medalist and surfer shares, “When you surf, you are faced with the problem of plastic on the beach, in the water and so on. It has harmful effects on marine fauna and flora. I am proud to be able to support Ulysse Nardin in a reflection that leads them to use recycled materials. They are at the forefront in working with the noblest and most durable materials. This recycled plastic in turn becomes a raw material that can be used for an exceptional product. This is an important brand statement: manufacturing luxury goods now requires a global approach.” Crepel is as well a spokesperson with The Water Family, an organization dedicated to the education of water protection and health of the planet.
On the occasion of the launch of the Diver Net, Crepel was charged to embark on a mission to go and retrieve a piece of ice from the top of the Pic du Midi in the Alps and present it as irrefutable proof that microplastic can now be found on mountain tops, and has entered the cycle of the elements. That is, nanoparticles evaporate into the clouds and it snows plastic. Crepel’s intention was to highlight the crucial importance of this land-ocean relationship and the fact that snow and ice are no longer pure.
As dire as Crepel’s message may be, it is important to celebrate that industry leaders, such as Ulysse Nardin, are purposing themselves to rediscover watchmaking in a way that it can be sustainably progressed without compromising our home planet. Therein, Ulysse Nardin also does not mean to keep the knowhow garnered from the Diver Net project as a close guarded secret. Rather it is openly offering all to share learning points with the watch industry. Says Patrick Pruniaux, CEO of Ulysse Nardin, “The sea has always been part of our brand’s DNA and exploration has always been our spearhead. There is generally a strong willingness and interest of the staff members to support initiatives to improve the brand’s environmental performance. Our intention is not to be the first to innovate with sustainable materials, but rather to show the watch industry that it is possible to make our customers aware of recycled materials, even for luxury items. We would be very happy if our innovations were somehow ‘open-source’.”
Ulysse Nardin and the Sustainable Development Goals
Ulysse Nardin’s environmental commitment follows the United Nations’ guidelines and their 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) – set to be achieved by 2030. The Ulysse Nardin brand, naturally focused on the sea world, its primary territory, has chosen to concentrate its efforts on SDG 14, which sets out what actions need to be carried out as a priority for sustainable management of the ocean.
By finding a new outlet for fishing nets and other plastic waste, as well as supporting scientists and sub-aqua whistleblowers, Ulysse Nardin is engaging in two priorities of SDG 14: reducing marine pollution and acquiring greater oceanographic knowledge. As the world enters the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030), this period focusing on the ocean is a window of opportunities for initiatives and engagement.