Human beings are a funny bunch. While we often plug the process of reinvention, we truly are creatures of habit, settling into our daily rituals and going through the motions without ever stopping to take stock of our surroundings. Often, until it’s too late. In many ways, we simply do things the way we’ve always done them because, well, we’ve always done them that way, but tradition without challenge breeds complacency and never has this been more evident than in the world of fine watches. An industry built on legacy, watchmaking prides itself on history, regularly calling back to past triumphs, but there is a new obstacle at hand and time is ticking down to address it.
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The global impact of climate change is redefining manufacturing industries at a rapid rate. With emissions targets constantly up for debate and the global response to the climate crisis under intense scrutiny, brands are being forced to reassess their procedures like never before. We’ve seen fashion labels such as Everlane launch collections made from recycled plastic bottles and automotive giant Ford manage to recycle the paint fumes from its Michigan plant into fuel. When it comes to watchmaking, the uptake of sustainable practices has been slow, but Italian marque Panerai is taking the lead.
A brand intrinsically linked to the coastal environment in which it was born, Panerai has steadily been bolstering its green credentials, and it isn’t just carbon offsetting and tree-planting. For Watches & Wonders 2022, the brand unveiled the all-new Submersible QuarantaQuattro eSteel collection, a stunning 44mm take on its signature dive watch complete with the impressive P.900 calibre and a three-day power reserve. Best of all? More than 50 per cent of the total weight of each piece is crafted from recycled materials, predominantly Panerai’s eSteel alloy, a proprietary stainless steel alloy that gives materials a second life. According to Alessandro Ficarelli, Panerai CMO, the decision to move towards sustainable practices wasn’t just a smart business decision, it was a necessity.
“Sustainability should be key, not only for the brand but for everyone,” he tells us. “You know that the watch industry is not that quick. When you want to change the rules, as we are trying to do…you have to challenge yourself every year, every month, every week, every day. Always inspire an evolution in terms of design, without creating a revolution, because the objective is to respect the brand roots, the aesthetic codes, and the collection. Panerai comes from the sea world and the ocean is the natural playground of the brand. So we said, ‘Okay, we have to do something’.”
That something started in 2021 with a play on the Submersible Ocean, a project that saw Panerai develop a new bracelet crafted from PET material sourced from the sea, but it wasn’t enough. The watchmaker then set its sights on recycled packaging, before tackling recycled titanium as a potential material base. It was a series of trial and error, with Ficarelli noting more failures than successes in the early days, but the end result of the drawn-out process is a stunning collection of timepieces that speak to a higher purpose.
“For the craftsmen, I set a challenge. We have to be the first to present a watch that has to be 100 per cent recycled. They say, “Come on. It’s impossible. Impossible. But with the case, we did it. The bracelet, we did it. The movement, however, that is impossible.”
Coming agonisingly short of the 100 per cent target, Panerai unveiled a timepiece that was 98 per cent recycled in 2021, but the latest eSteel iteration, while not quite the ‘impossible’ standard Ficarelli originally outlined, takes things further. The new Panerai Submersible QuarantaQuattro eSteel collection arrives in three variations; Verde Smeraldo, Grigio Roccia and Blu Profondo, similar to the Luminor Marina eSteel collection we noted last year. Specifically, 72g of each timepiece has been crafted from recycled materials, correlating to 52 per cent of the total weight. While the eSteel addition accounts for most of this, both strap options for the Submersible are made of repurposed materials, namely PET fabric and recycled rubber.
For Panerai fans, the new Submersible eSteel release marks a welcome change of size as well, representing the first time in a long time that the lineup has arrived in a 44mm case, as opposed to the recent 42mm and 47mm iterations. Originally designed for the Egyptian Navy in 1956, the modern lineup embodies the brand’s ultra-light, impeccably durable dive watch philosophy to the nth degree, with water resistance down to an incredible 300 metres. This time around, the foundation comes by way of Carbotech, a composite based on carbon fibre that is lighter than titanium and highly resistant to corrosion that pairs nicely with the titanium DLC crown.
Naturally, the new Panerai lineup is adorned with all the bells and whistles that make dive watch fanatics tick, from the uni-directional rotating bezel to the metallic appliques filled with white Super-LumiNova for legibility. Inside and on the dial, it’s a similar story, with P.900 calibre featuring a seconds sub-dial at 9 o’clock and dishing out a three-day power reserve.
However, for all the new lineup’s ingenuity, the key takeaway isn’t that Panerai is pushing boundaries, it’s simply a reminder that watchmaking’s boundaries needed to be pushed. Ficarelli has confirmed that the brand hasn’t filed any patents relating to the new technology, instead offering free availability to all other brands looking to create in-roads in sustainability.
The Italian icon has even shared the name of the supplier, revealed supply chain information and pushed for greater uptake, all in the hopes of pushing watchmaking a little further into the modern era. It’s an admirable cause, highlighted by a stunning collection, but as he rightly explains, “if we do something for our planet and it’s just Panerai, it’s nothing. It’s a drop in the ocean.”
The new Panerai Submersible QuarantaQuattro eSteel collection is available now through Panerai boutiques and online. You can read more about the lineup via the link below.