This article is generously sponsored by Mondaine. As always, EcoCult only works with well-vetted brands doing good work. Support our editorial by supporting them!
It’s clear André Bernheim is serious about building thoughtful and innovative traditions in the traditional business of watchmaking.
“Ecology played a role in our foundation,” says Bernheim of Mondaine Group, a portfolio of four Swiss brands, led by the namesake watches and Luminox.
A 2018 WWF report highlighted the myriad environmental and social impact issues inherent in Swiss watchmaking. But Mondaine Group has a multi-decade head start in bringing sustainability to its operations, making the company a leader above and beyond even the high-priced names in the business. Founded in 1951 by the father of today’s owners Ronnie and Andre, the company produced the first-ever solar-powered analog wristwatch in 1973, and began making cases from recycled scrap metal in the early 1990s, an early example of true upcycling at a large scale. Considerations around impact have always been at the core of Mondaine’s efforts, especially when it comes to transparency in production.
Success in Achieving Carbon Neutrality
The company is one of the first in the industry to reach carbon neutrality, through a combination of verified offsets and photovoltaic panels on the roof of the company’s main facility in Switzerland, which helps create up to 80% of the building’s energy needs (and the primary energy needed for watch production). The remaining amount of energy is covered by renewable energy—water, solar, and bio-gas.
“Carbon neutrality is a huge achievement for us, and we’re working to become carbon-negative for both the Group and its brands in the next two to three years,” Bernheim says.
Also unique to Mondaine is its drive to target Scope 3 emissions for reduction, and include them in its environmental balance sheet. These are tied to raw materials and their transportation to component production, getting finished products to various markets around the world, employee business trips and other externally-created emissions. Most brands only look at Scope 1, which accounts for emissions from owned and operated facilities—like an office or distribution center—and Scope 2, which are linked to purchased resources like electricity or water. Across most industries, Scope 3 emissions are the toughest to reduce and offset.
While some of this switch toward things like train transport was stalled by the pandemic and the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, “For us, transportation creates the most emissions, and we’re trying to reduce this as much as possible and offset all remaining emissions,” he says.
Selling a Responsible Watch
Mondaine’s Essence Collection, which pays tribute to the iconic 1944 clock design of Swiss railway stations, is the result of years of research and development, and a compelling move for Swiss watchmaking. The multi-style range uses a castor oil compound for the case and strap, along with other non-fossil fuel-produced materials like cork, recycled PET and cotton. The collection also features watch boxes made out of recycled PET, which can be used again as a cell phone pouch.
At a time when “sustainable” often equates to “pricier,” the Essence line features Mondaine’s most affordable watches.
Mondaine is also experimenting with various ways to reduce its use of traditional cow leather in straps, including using the remnants of Italian wine production to produce a similar material primarily from grapes. In early 2022, the company launched the material on straps on the Mondaine Classic series. A use-case in showing how sustainability can respect animal life, Bernheim says that grape leather can perform as well as cow leather, with no additional cost.
“We are producing less and reusing constantly,” Bernheim says. “Sustainability is a way of living that has been true to our core since our inception, not just today, when it has become trendy.”
A Leader in Sustainable Watchmaking
Building with more sustainable materials from the start means Mondaine has more opportunities to recycle parts like stainless steel cases. Mondaine’s watch recycling program will take back your watch once it has reached the end of its useful life. The main goal is to dismantle returned watches and try to recycle and reuse what they can, recuperating movements and other parts and producing new high-quality products.
Bernheim explains that they’ve had some success with the program inside Switzerland, and there’s plenty of potential for growth elsewhere.
“Don’t ask me why we’re the only ones offering watch recycling,” he says. “We want to roll this out on other continents and in other countries, especially in those that are more ecologically-minded.”
Mondaine is open about the process in their annual sustainability report (another rare find in Swiss watchmaking) and it’s clear they’re taking steps to build a pathway for larger recycling success in the future.
Overall, Mondaine is proving that in an aesthetically-minded industry like watchmaking, they’re finding a balance between superior style and better business. The company is making considerable progress toward tightening the loop in watch production. Five years in, the Essence Collection, with its classic, minimalist Swiss station clock design that it licenses from SBB, the federal Swiss railway, is a good measure of that, helping connect the same classic designs seen in Swiss train stations with buyers who want a reliable watch that syncs with modern values. And all at an incredibly good price.
“If a small/medium enterprise [like Mondaine] can be climate neutral, without big budgets and several specialized sustainability staff like the big brands in our industry, then others should be able to follow,” Bernheim says. “I am proud of being in the lead as a carbon-neutral company and sharing our achievements with consumers.”