Discover which sustainable watches are best for you, and what to look for in a high-quality sustainable watch
A new trend has recently been taking the entire watch industry by storm: the rise of so-called “sustainable watches” – timepieces that are better for the environment than traditional watches.
In a context of mounting climate urgency, thousands of people have decided to acquire their first sustainable watch, hoping to elevate their style while making a positive impact on the environment. In fact, according to the latest Deloitte Swiss Watch Industry Study, 60% of customers now consider sustainability aspects when buying a watch, and 71% of millennials are looking for sustainable watch features.
To address this growing demand for sustainable timepieces, over 72% of watchmakers are now investing more in sustainability, focusing on ethical sourcing and the environmental impact of materials. As a result, a lot of well-designed “sustainable watches” have flooded the market recently, with many models looking just as good – if not better than – traditional watches, according to hundreds of users.
The problem is: many brands are now using “greenwashing” marketing just to profit from this strong eco-friendly consumer demand, without actually taking any concrete actions towards sustainability…
So the question that many people have been asking is: how do we know what is really “sustainable” from what is not? How can we find a watch that is both high quality and truly good for our planet?
In this article, our experts will explain how to differentiate between watches that are genuinely sustainable and good quality, from watches that are pretending to be sustainable at the expense of the end consumer. We also expose a handpicked selection of five top-quality sustainable watches, to help our readers get a clear idea of what can be trusted on this nascent market.
A Look Into The “Dirty Business” Of The Mainstream Watchmaking Industry
It’s no secret that the mainstream watch industry is fraught with environmental degradation, dubious lack of transparency, and unethical working conditions – including among the most popular brands that we keep hearing about every day…
First, the mining of raw materials for watches, such as gold and diamonds, is causing severe pollution and deforestation.
Every year, the watch and jewellery sector uses more than 50% of global gold demand (>2,000 tonnes), and 67% of the newly minted rough diamonds produced globally.
The issue is: gold mining is one of the most destructive industries in the world. It can displace communities, cause dramatic air and water pollution, and destroy entire forest ecosystems irreversibly.
According to a major geological study, producing gold for one wedding ring alone generates 20 tons of contaminated waste. Given that over 500,000 gold watches are produced annually, we let you imagine how many tons of toxic waste are being poured into the Earth’s soil every year…
Second, according to an alarming report from the World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF), most mainstream watch brands are not willing to show where their raw material came from.
That means any traditional watch that we wear could be made of unethical material, extracted by workers living in unethical, dangerous conditions.
In fact, many mainstream watch brands were accused of human right violations, due to extremely low pay and poor working conditions.
The International Labour Organization estimates that at least one million children work globally in artisanal and small-scale mining, and are exposed every day to dangerous substances and hazardous underground events. This is in direct violation to international human rights law, and several high-street watch brands have been suspected for being involved in small-scale mining.
In this context, many consumers have decided to opt for ethical watch brands, which have a minimal impact on the environment, ensure safe working conditions and fair pay, while giving back to local communities.
Can Sustainable Watches Look As Good As Traditional Watches?
Sustainable watches are almost a no-brainer for people who want to elevate their style while producing a positive impact on the environment and local communities.
But someone who’s never worn a sustainable watch before may ask: Will it look good on my wrist?
The short answer is yes, if you choose it well. The truth is: many sustainable watch models have the exact same look, design and feel than the most popular mainstream watches. It’s really hard to tell just by looking at a watch if it was made in a sustainable manner or not, even for experts…
The only difference is that unlike mainstream timepieces, sustainable watches are usually:
- Made of recyclable material with a minimal carbon footprint
- Made by a brand that gives back to charities to promote education, reduce environmental degradation, or fight malnutrition
- Made by a manufacturer that treats its workers ethically, with fair pay and safe, healthy working conditions
- Made by brands who are very transparent about the way they produce and distribute their watches
Many users report that not only these eco-friendly watches make them look stylish and confident on the outside, but also make them feel good about themselves. That’s because wearing a sustainable watch reminds them every day that they are making a genuinely positive impact on the planet.
At the end of the day, acquiring a well-made sustainable watch is not just about buying an object that will make us look good. It’s about making a statement, and becoming an active defender of our planet.
At this point, you may wonder: what should I look for in a watch to make sure it’s both sustainable and of the highest quality? How to differentiate truly sustainable watch brands from green-washed fast-fashion labels?
Our experts share below four main selection criteria to guarantee that what you buy is truly sustainable and high-quality.
4 Expert Criteria To Choose A High-Quality Sustainable Watch
Criteria #1: Uses high-quality eco-conscious materials
You know if a watch is truly sustainable if it’s made of eco-conscious, recyclable materials that have the least environmental impact possible. For instance, the best sustainable watches are typically made of 316L stainless steel, because it is 100% recyclable, more durable and anti-corrosive than other types of steels and metals. On top of that, 316L is highly resistant to shocks, and is fully hypoallergenic.
If you’re looking at watches with leather straps, it’s good practice to check if the strap is made of “vegan leather” – a clean, recyclable type of leather that contains no persistent organic pollutants and no toxic by-products.
Finally, look at the watch’s packaging. Make sure that the brand uses FSC-certified cardboard, a type of cardboard approved by the Forest Stewardship Council as being sustainably sourced. That way, you can be sure that everything about the watch, from the material it’s being made of to the package that contains it, is truly sustainable.
Criteria #2: The watch brand clearly shows social responsibility and transparency
As mentioned already, one of the biggest issues with mainstream watch brands is they don’t disclose much about the nature of their operations and are reputed for using questionable labor practices. When choosing a sustainable watch, it’s important to have a look at their website, and see if they are enforcing fair labor standards to manufacture their watches.
High quality sustainable brands tend to apply ethical European labor standards in the country of production, even if the watches are being made outside Europe – in Asia for example (where most watches are being produced today, including high-quality ones). If you can’t find any information on that, then the brand may use practices that are not socially responsible, and potentially unethical.
Another thing to look for in sustainable brands is how much they disclose about their carbon footprint. All the best eco-conscious watch manufacturers usually have concrete programs in place to offset their carbon footprint, using, for example, carbon neutral offices, plastic offset programs, and manufacturing plants that reuse solvents to reduce pollution to a minimum.
Criteria #3: The brand has a giving back programme to demonstrate it’s willing to take concrete actions towards sustainability
It’s one thing to say that we want to have a positive impact on the environment, but it’s another to actually take concrete actions towards making the world a better place…
Stay away from brands that religiously use positive keywords like “sustainability” on their website, without giving concrete examples of how they are engaging in sustainable practices.
Instead, only look at brands who have “giving back programmes” in place – programmes that are usually designed to distribute profits to established charities to fight pollution, promote education, or alleviate malnutrition, among others.
The more specific they are about what actions they take to solve environmental or societal problems… the more you can be sure that these brands are truly sustainable (and not just another “greenwashed” watch shop that is playing with consumer feelings to grow their profits).
Criteria #4: Watch parts need to be distinctive and show high attention to detail
While it’s good to choose a sustainable watch, it’s also very important to make sure that what you buy is of the highest possible quality, so that your watch can last for years, even decades.
One of the best ways to appraise the quality of a watch is to look at the level of detail of each of its parts (including the case, the crown, the hands, etc.). If you look at a watch and see that each of its parts has been precisely crafted, using a very distinctive shape, then you can be confident this watch was made by a quality watchmaker.
For example, high-quality sustainable watches tend to have unique engravings on the crown, like the signature of the watchmaker. They also usually use unique and very distinctive shapes for the hands – specifically the second-hand. In other words, high-quality sustainable watches have a distinct design “personality”.
On the other hand, poor quality watches are often designed exactly in the same way, with no distinctive elements. They use very basic crowns, unoriginal hands, and undifferentiated cases. Many well-known high-street brands are selling these poorly designed watches for over $200, so it’s very important to look for these details when you buy a sustainable watch.
OUR SPECIALIZED RANKING SYSTEM
This specialized ranking system follows a unique and comprehensive process in which we measure the value of the products by carefully evaluating the design, quality of materials, value for money, craftsmanship, and customer satisfaction. These factors, combined with the insights from reputed watch makers and designers, make it easy to choose the best quality affordable watches available on the market under $200, saving you both time and money.
The Top 5 Affordable Watches On The Market Today
After extensive research, in consideration of professional watch advice, combined ratings and verified online reviews from customers just like you, we’ve compiled a curated list of the top five, best-quality sustainable watches on the market today.
1. Nordgreen – Philosopher
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Philosopher is a very high-quality, elegant-looking casual watch made by the renown Scandinavian watchmaker Nordgreen. This sleek, smart and modern timepiece was designed by Jakob Wagner, a world-class designer acclaimed for designing collections for Bang & Olufsen, Hay, and Capellini. He is also a five-time recipient of the IF Product Design Award and Designer of the Year.
This Nordic watch is a textbook example of a timepiece that combines the highest quality with sustainability. First, the case is entirely made of premium, 100% recyclable 316L stainless steel, carefully polished to give the watch a sharp and robust look. It also comes with a high-quality, Greenguard-certified vegan leather strap that contains no organic pollutants and no toxic by-products.
But what truly distinguishes this watch is its asymmetric second-hand: it is shaped like a blade, slicing through the minutes and hours of the day. According to the Chief Designer Jakob Wagner, this unique shape serves as a metaphor to illustrate how we are constantly slicing through time.
Aligned with the best sustainable practices, Nordgreen only uses FSC-certified cardboard for packaging, reuses at least 99% of manufacturing solvents to minimize waste, and completely offsets its office carbon footprint. The company manufactures its watches in Danish-owned factories in Hong Kong, where it enforces European labor standards to ensure fair pay and an ethical working environment.
Finally, the company is extremely transparent about its sustainability commitments, with the launch of its Giving Back Program: a charity that has established several partnerships with three leading NGOs in the health, education, and environmental sectors.
For every Nordgreen watch purchased, you can either give two months of clean water to one person in the Central African Republic, one month of education to a child in India, or preserve 200 sq ft of rain forest in Latin America. Therefore, people who buy a Nordgreen watch not only get a fine piece of craftsmanship: they also make a positive and measurable impact on the world.
Overall, many wearers of the Philosopher can vouch for its superior quality, sustainable impact, and exceptional value for money. The company Nordgreen has a score of 4.8 out of 5 on Trustadvisor based on 3,000+ reviews.
Taking all these into our consideration easily places Nordgreen – Philosopher at our #1 spot.
– Unique, one-of-a-kind design that makes the watch really stands out
– Robust and sharp-looking steel case using premium, 100% recyclable 316L stainless steel
– Incredible level of detail, with engraved crown, distinct case shape, and blade-shaped second-hand “slicing through time”
– Comfortable and high-quality “vegan leather” straps 100% free of pollutants and toxic by-products
– Giving Back Program offers the ability to give back to a charity of your choice, for every Nordgreen watch purchased
– Follows ethical European labor standards
– Exceptional price-quality ratio
– Unconditional 30-day money-back guarantee
– Can run out of stock quickly
– Limited “heritage” compared to other more established brands
2. Solios – Solar White
THE BOTTOM LINE
Made by trusted Canadian watch brand Solios, the Solios Solar White is an original, distinctive watch that ticks many boxes of the ideal sustainable timepiece. The watch is made of high-quality green technology and durable materials to offer a clean and elegant look, while making a positive impact on the environment.
The particularity of the watch is that it uses a solar cell to recharge itself, meaning that the watch can keep functioning for years without having to change the batteries. The case is made of recyclable 316L stainless steel – a clear sign of high-quality and robustness.
The brand only uses 100% recycled and recyclable FSC-certified cardboard to limit its carbon footprint. The Solios Solar is also resistant to dust, ink, heat, and has a water-resistance rating of 30m.
Further, unlike many other brands that don’t have concrete commitments towards sustainability, the company is taking very practical steps to ensure that every watch purchased is serving environmental causes. Every year, Solio allocates some of its profits to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the David Suzuki Foundation, and the Rainforest Trust.
On the minus side, we may find the watch a bit too simplistic compared to other sustainable models, as it doesn’t have any clearly differentiated features (the case, crown, and hand are all quite basic). That said, this remains a strong choice for those seeking a high-quality and sustainable watch with a simple design.
– Unique solar mechanism that is both distinctive and good for the environment
– Clean and elegant look
– No need to recharge the batteries thanks to solar powered battery
– Only uses green technologies and 100% recyclable packaging
– Strong water resistance
– Clear commitment towards environmental and social causes
– The watch looks relatively undifferentiated
– Limited disclosure on labor practices
– Slightly expensive considering the lack of visual differentiation
3. TIVC – Pinatex
THE BOTTOM LINE
TIVC stands for “Time IV Change”, a watch brand well known for designing excellent selections of eco-friendly watches.
The TIVC Pinatex is a clean sustainable watch using a strap made of Pinatex – an innovative natural fabric which is a by-product of pineapple harvest. This material is entirely biodegradable and hypoallergenic. It is obtained from pineapple leaf fibres gathered by farming cooperatives in the Philippines.
The watch’s case is made of 100% recycled aluminum to reduce the carbon footprint (although we note that the disclosure on the case material is somewhat limited). We also highlight that the brand provides limited information on packaging.
In terms of environmental activism, the brand is taking very concrete actions to prove its commitment towards sustainability. TIVC donates around 10% of its profits from its vegan watches to support seven high-impact charities promoting the protection of the environment and animals’ welfare.
The company also displays strong social responsibility, as each TIVC watch is produced in a Hong Kong factory that is SA8000 certified – which ensures fair labor practices. The TIVC Pinatex is vegan friendly and cruelty-free.
Although this watch model aptly combines good quality with sustainability, we do note that its design is extremely simple – not to say simplistic. Therefore, it may not appeal to those looking for a distinguished timepiece with unique “signatures” of craftsmanship.
– Only uses recyclable, eco-friendly material
– Uses unique “Pinatex” strap, which is both original, comfortable, and good for the environment
– Clear commitment towards environmental and social causes, including generous giving back programme
– Strong social responsibility. Made in SA8000 certified factories.
– Limited disclosure on packaging
– Lack of disclosure on the type of metal used for the case
– Extremely basic design. No visible sign of unique craftsmanship
– Might seem expensive given lack of clear differentiation
4. Tense Watch – Small Hampton
THE BOTTOM LINE
No selection of sustainable watches is complete without… a good-quality wooden watch! Among all wood watch brands, we think Tense Watch is one of the best, most reliable ones.
The Tense Small Hampton is one of their flagship models, made from 100% natural wood reclaimed from Africa, America, and Canada. The good thing about this watch is that the wood it uses is never extracted from living trees, but instead comes from recyclable wood. Further, it uses a high-grade Japanese movement made of stainless steel, unlike other comparable wood watches that use plastic. This gives a nice, healthy weight to the watch, on top of increasing its durability.
The company is also taking active steps towards sustainability, by being a member of the 1% For The Planet. That means that the company has pledged to donate 1% of its sales to global and local organizations acting to create a healthier, cleaner planet. Each watch is manufactured in ethical working conditions, completely by hand, in a workshop in Vancouver.
We do note, however, that the company is very shy about disclosing information on the type of packaging it uses – which we find surprising for a brand that seems to position itself at the forefront of sustainability.
Finally, although the watch does stand out just because wood watches are not that common, it doesn’t display any clear sign of truly unique craftsmanship. We find this absence of “watch personality” slightly disappointing, especially for a timepiece of this price range.
– Manufacturer has 50 years of experience crafting watches by hand
– Made with 100% natural wood and other eco-friendly materials
– Clear commitment towards environmental and social causes
– Strong social responsibility
– Very limited disclosure on packaging
– Watch may look a bit “chunky” for users with small wrist
– No visible sign of unique craftsmanship
– Expensive considering the limited level of craftsmanship
5. Ksana – Jet Black
Trustpilot review non available
THE BOTTOM LINE
Another good quality timepiece allying sleek design with sustainability is the Ksana Jet Black. Ksana is a very young watch brand providing a fresh and stylish range of sustainable silicon watches.
The Ksana Jet Black is an eco-friendly watch with a minimalistic design. It uses a black strap made of silicon, which is lightweight, durable and 100% recyclable (as silicon is made of sand). The case is made of stainless steel (no disclosure on the specific type of stainless steel).
The company also follows strong sustainable practices: it offers a recycling program where the straps are recycled into insulation and coating for solar panels. The watch’s packaging is made of recycled and recyclable cardboard, to minimize its carbon footprint. Ksana is also a member of 1% For The Planet, donating 1% of all revenues to environmental charities.
In terms of labour practices, we only know that watches are made by a manufacturer in Asia that is frequently audited. This audit guarantees no use of child labour, fair wages, and no unfair labour practices.
We do however find that the company is not as transparent as other sustainable watch brands – such as Nordgreen and Solios for example. As a rule of thumb, we always prefer watch brands that are fully transparent on that front, and who enforce European labor standards to guarantee a healthy and fair working environment.
Finally, we may object that the design of this watch lacks a clear distinctive feature – although it might not matter that much for someone looking for a very simple sustainable watch.
– Made with quality, eco-friendly materials
– Clean, minimalist design
– Clear commitment towards environmental and social causes
– Very young brand. Limited track record
– No disclosure on the type of stainless steel used
– Low transparency on labor practice in Asia