“Going into the unknown is one thing, but going back, and knowing what to expect, is a completely different ball game,” said Sébastien Destremau, a Ulysse Nardin ambassador and sailor in the upcoming around-the-world solo yacht racing expedition, the Vendée Globe, beginning November 8. While he was describing his expectations of competing in the arduous competition, sponsored by Ulysse Nardin, for the second time, his comments could have easily described Ulysse Nardin’s latest adventure.
The Swiss watchmaker has sailed into unchartered territory with its new Diver Net made with upcycled plastic components. “Exploration also applies to what we do today, which means exceptional, luxury manufactured timepieces,” said Ulysse Nardin CEO Patrick Pruniaux during the unveiling with Destremau. “When we explore, we also support another one of our values, which is sustainability and how we can better protect the environment.”
The new concept watch, which was three years in the making, has an inverted unidirectional bezel, as well as the middle and back of the case, constructed in a material sourced from the plastic of discarded fishing nets. According to the United Nations, 640,000 tons of fishing nets are lost or abandoned at sea every year. The company partnered with French startup, Fil&Fab, which takes discarded nets (which have been used by fisherman for around eight months before being discarded) and shreds and melts them before putting them through a machine that turns them into polyamide pellets. The resulting material can be used to create a variety of products that can be continuously upcycled into new ones once they are no longer of use. “Funnily enough, when we were researching companies to partner with to create product from these recycled nets, we found Ulysse Nardin and we wanted to reach out to partner with them, but they ended up contacting us first,” said Yann Louboutin, the 25-year-old co-founder of Fil&Fab. “In a way, we were interlinked from the beginning.”
The strap, including the buckle, has also been made from upcycled materials derived from PET plastic bottles, and was created in partnership with Swiss startup Tide, while the sapphire crystal glass (an industry standard used to protect the dial) has been replaced with transparent ceramic glass that is machined in the Swiss Jura. While the latter is not recycled or upcycled, Ulysse Nardin says it does reduce its carbon footprint because, while the process is similar, it takes less time to make a ceramic glass dial than a saphhire crystal one. The brand declined to go further into detail as it’s still working with specialists to develop the process for series-produced timepieces.
“My belief, as a product manager, is that when you try to innovate in a new field, it’s a little bit like trying to walk for the very first time,” said Jean-Christophe Sabatier, Ulysse Nardin’s technical director. “The first steps are always the most difficult. This watch, in my opinion, is already an achievement. We are known in our industry for constantly trying to push the limits and we are used to presenting our innovations through specific technical windows called concept watches.” Those innovations include the Freak DIAMonSIL, introduced in 2007, that combined the use of silicon and diamond, on a patented dual escapement—an innovation that eliminated the need for oil to lubricate a watch, a concept now widely used by the watch industry. The UN-118 movement housed in the 44 mm Diver Net upcycled case, which can be seen through the caseback, also incorporates this silicon technology.
In terms of sustainability, Ulysse Nardin already introduced a new R-Strap last month, made from recycled fishing nets, that is compatible with its Diver, Marine and Freak X watches. The Diver Net is still a concept, but the brand says it has plans to make it a production piece soon, although they declined to offer an exact date. Kering, the parent company of Ulysse Nardin, is already known for making major strides towards making its brands sustainably viable, so you can expect more to come from the watchmaker in the future.
The watch industry hasn’t always been the fastest to catch up with wider consumer trends, but if this year is any indication, it’s beginning to make strides with environmental concerns. Just last week, Breitling introduced a new upcycled watch box made from PET plastic bottles, following an earlier announcement in October that it would be replacing physical certification papers with a new digital authentication process. And, word has it, a Richemont-owned brand also has a sustainable watch concept up its sleeve that is set to debut sometime next year.