ID Genève turns a new page with sustainable watchmaking materials
Leaves might not seem like an obvious part of a luxury Swiss watch, but they are the basis of an innovative strap unveiled today in Geneva. The local watchmaker ID Genève occupies its stand at The time of watches show to launch what co-founder Nicolas Freudiger calls the “world’s first circular bracelet”. The strap is made from Treekind, a plastic-free and leather-like material created from green waste, which has also caught the eye of luxury goods group LVMH.
Start-up Biophilica makes Treekind in its east London workshop by cleaning and drying the lignocellulosic material – mostly leaves – and breaking it down into powder. This is then mixed with a natural binder to create flat sheets, which are dried, rolled and treated with a 100% organic coating to make the material waterproof.
The use of this “next generation material,” as Freudiger calls it, is the latest development from a brand launched via crowdfunding in 2020 in an effort to be circular. The cases of ID Genève watches are made of 100% recycled stainless steel, made from waste collected from medical and watchmaking companies in the Swiss canton of Jura. Its automatic movements are refurbished by other watchmakers. And its Mushroom packaging is compostable at home.
Customers receive Circular pieces – digital tokens that can be redeemed for discounts on new parts and services – to help extend the life of their watch.
“We are forward-thinking and our mission is to stay at the forefront of circularity in the world of watchmaking,” says Freudiger. He left his position as digital and ecommerce manager at Coca-Cola HBC to found ID Genève with his childhood friend Cédric Mulhauser, who worked for Vacheron Constantin and assembles watches, and designer Singal Depéry. The brand has sold 300 watches so far and plans to sell another 700 to 800 this year.
The first ID Genève wristbands were made from 80% grape residue from winemaking and 20% polyurethane, which according to Freudiger was “a good first step. . . but we already had in mind that it was not enough”.
The new wristbands, which have a durable cork backing made by Swiss company Ono Collaborations, are launching for pre-order today. They will also be standard on ID Genève’s new Solar collection, whose watch cases are made of 100% recycled steel produced in a solar oven. The price of the bracelet — SFr150 ($160) excluding taxes — includes the cost of end-of-life industrial composting in Switzerland. ID Genève is setting up a European network of watchmakers who will replace customers’ bracelets and return redundant ones to the brand for composting.
According to Freudiger, tests carried out by the bracelet’s manufacturer, the Swiss leather goods company Multicuirs, show that its lifespan – about a year of constant use – is comparable to that of a leather bracelet.
The material has withstood fairly heavy abrasion tests, both wet and dry, on par with leather, says Mira Nameth, founder of Biophilica and one of 38 entrepreneurs recognized by government agency Innovate UK’s Women in Innovation Awards last month. However, Biophilica calculates that Treekind, which is pending vegan certification, needs less than 1% of the water used to produce leather.
Biophilica was born out of research that Nameth, a former creative director of a digital agency, did for her master’s degree at the Royal College of Art in London. The start-up has won £45,000 in grants from Innovate UK to test Treekind’s flexibility – primarily for use in shoes – with the National Physical Laboratory, and a separate feasibility study to explore scaling up production .
The ID Geneva collaboration is the first commercial use of Treekind. The Swiss company has agreed to a six-month exclusivity with Biophilica on watch straps, but then wants to open the material to other watchmakers. “We know that ID Genève will not be a game-changer if we go there alone,” says Freudiger.
Biophilica is already on the radar of other brands. It is one of 23 start-ups participating in the seventh season of The House of LVMH Startups, a business accelerator that facilitates collaborations between start-ups and the 75 houses of the luxury group, including watchmakers Hublot and Tag Heuer. During the six-month program, Nameth will present to targeted audiences and have meetings with key stakeholders.
The Deloitte Swiss Watch Industry Study 2021 revealed that 72% of watch brands invest more in sustainability. He said brands looking to launch new products “will need to consider recycled or upcycled materials” to make up for the insufficient supply of raw materials.
“It’s very marginal overall. . . recyclable or recycled material currently in use,” says Karine Szegedi, consumer sector leader at Deloitte Switzerland and co-author of the study. “Nevertheless, it is a trend that is growing strongly.”
Freudiger wants ID Genève to “take the leadership of eco-innovative watches” and “push the industry” towards change.