Second Life: Nine Watches Featuring “Upcycled” Materials

More so than any other consumer product, watches are intertwined with history. Whether it’s your grandfather’s Elgin pocket watch or Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona that broke the record for most expensive wristwatch ever sold, it’s these relationships between time and personality that allow watches to retain a sort of indefinable sense of humanity on the wrist. Some brands embrace this ideological stance and put a focus on bridging the gap between historical perception and modern tastes, while others take the watch as an archival item onto itself and build it out with historically significant objects of the past. Is this taking it too far? Does adding a piece of the Titanic onto a watch provoke a moral quandary or make it more valuable? What about adding human blood onto a watch’s dial? What’s the limit to these “special-edition” timepieces? That’s up to you.

Here are nine remarkable examples of mechanical watches utilizing upcycled materials.Brent Wright Flyer

Bremont is a modern British brand founded by a pair of brothers that have been flying for a whole lot longer than they’ve been making watches. Because of this, they’ve always applied a distinct aviation aesthetic to their timepieces. Released in 2014, the Bremont Wright Flyer is the ideal application of this historic appeal. The Wright Flyer takes a small piece of muslin fabric from the original 1903 airplane built by the Wright Brothers and applies it to the watch’s rotor. The muslin fabric is then set between the period-decorated rotor plate and a sapphire crystal window. Most recently, the brand came out with the 1918 Chronograph that uses metal from three different World War II fighter planes and wood from a World War I-era Royal Air Force biplane in its rotor.Bremont Wright Flyer

The most philanthropic of these sorts of watches is a line of timepieces utilizing melted down AK-47s taken from Africa. Founded in 2009, Fonderie 47 is now responsible for the destruction of over 55,000 assault rifles in Africa. The brand’s limited-edition timepiece, called the Inversion Principle, comes in white or rose gold and features jumping hours, retrograde minutes, and a three-minute tourbillon. Each watch funds the destruction of 1,000 rifles and you can actually see the serial number of the AK-47 from which the steel was wrought on the watch.

Fonderie 47 Inversion PrincipleRomain Jerome (later known simply by its initials, RJ) was not known for subtlety. Before its recent bankruptcy, the brand produced timepieces that feature cement from the Berlin Wall, lava rock from the Eyjaallajökull volcano in Iceland, and fragments from the Apollo 11 space flight. However, the most controversial of its timepieces would have to be the Titanic-DNA watch featuring pieces taken from the iconic sunken ship. This watch, which initially came into the public’s eye in 2006, stirred controversy among typically passive watch collectors worldwide. Many tossed about the sanctity of the dead as a reason to oppose the Titanic-DNA, while others were intrigued by bringing the world’s greatest maritime disaster back to life. Regardless of your opinion on the afterlife — or whether or not Rose had room for Jack on that floating door — the most exciting part of this watch for us was the natural decay/patina that RJ’s team was able to play with at the time. The bezel is produced with actual metal retrieved from the Titanic combined with metal from the Irish shipyard that built the doomed passenger liner.

Romain Jerome Titanic-DNAAt SIHH 2017, Roger Dubuis debuted a number of watches produced with Italian tiremaker Pirelli. The most horologically impressive of these was the Excalibur Spider Double Flying Tourbillon Pirelli. Powered by a hand-wound double tourbillon movement, the watch comes on a strap crafted from Pirelli tire rubber. However, this isn’t the same kind of Pirelli tire you can buy at your local Pep Boys, it’s taken from tires used by Lewis Hamilton on his winning car during the 2016 Monaco Grand Prix.

Roger Dubuis Excalibur Spider Double Flying Tourbillon Pirelli

Meteorites, fossils, and even ultra-rare spirits have all found their way into Louis Moinet watches. Such is the case with the Whiskey Watch, a limited- run timepiece of just 50 models, each containing a drop of old Vatted Glenlivet 1862– the oldest whiskey in the world. Depending on your palate — or age for that matter — Louis Moinet’s Jurassic Tourbillon may be more appealing. The dial of the Jurassic Tourbillon is made entirely from the skeleton of a large herbivore related to the Diplodocus. The bone itself is not the brownish-eggshell you might expect from going on field trips to the Natural History Museum but instead a strong red-brown that has vein-like tracks running across the dial. Louis Moinet followed up the limited-to-12 Jurassic Tourbillon with the time-and-date only Jurassic Watch.Louis Moinet Jurassic Watch

While Louis Moinet takes the title for oldest whiskey placed inside a watch, Armin Strom beats it by using the world’s longest-aged cognac in a timepiece. In 2016, the brand introduced the limited-edition Cognac Watch that included a drop of 1762 Gautier. A sealed sapphire crystal disk at 5 o’clock holds the rare cognac while an Armin Strom in-house caliber provides a five-day power reserve. The watch was limited to 40 different pieces when it was released in 2016 and came in three different case materials: stainless steel, 18k rose gold, and titanium.Armin Strom Cognac Watch

Ever since the Calypso sank in 1996 and its legendary owner, Jacques Cousteau, died the following year, its reconstruction has been marred by familial drama, a lack of funding, and total confusion about its future. In 2006, IWC Schaffhausen jumped into the funding mayhem with a chronograph that boasts a sliver of wood from the ship inlaid in the case- back. Each watch sold benefited the reconstruction of the ship to its former glory. Limited to 2,500 pieces when it was released over a decade ago, the watch has surely traversed as far as the original Calypso did during its 46 years of service to Cousteau.

IW378203 Aquatimer Chronograph "Cousteau Divers" in stainless steel with black rubber strap historic watch Reference 3782 Limited edition of 2500 watches | Mechanical movement | Self-winding | 44-hour power reserve when fully wound | Day and date display | Small hacking seconds hand | Screw-in crown | Mechanical rotating inner bezel | Luminescent elements on hands, dial and rotating inner bezel | Sapphire glass, antireflective on both sides | Water-resistant 12 bar | Case height 15 mm | Diameter 44 mmWerenbach is without a doubt the smallest brand on this list. This microbrand got its start in the vast steppes of Kazakhstan where Russian Soyuz rockets are launched into space. After months of negotiating with the Russian military, the brand was able to secure aluminum used in the outer shell of the rockets and steel from its steam turbine to use in its watches. The brand finished its first collection in 2014 and is the first watch to have been built from a rocket that was once in space. All the watches produced by Werenbach use movements produced by ETA. In 2015, a Danish astronaut purchased a Werenbach timepiece and successfully wore it back into outer space during a flight to the ISS — returning the watch to its place of origin. How’s that for a moonwatch?

WerenbachOne of Yvan Arpa’s favorite quotes is, “Guns don’t kill people, time does.” This idea directly ties into ArtyA’s Son of a Gun series of watches that he designed with real bullets and cartridges. The juxtaposition is clear and it shows Arpa is not one to back away from a potentially political subject. It’s worth mentioning ArtyA’s latest endeavor that was released last Halloween: a watch with real blood in its dial.

ArtyA Son of a Gun

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  1. GaNavy

    Oris Aquis Clean Ocean…? Fits the bill and way more affordable than any of these. Maybe not high horology, but neither are the Bremonts. Full disclosure: I love and own Bremont so my comment relates to the article, not the watches.

  2. David Kendall

    And this somehow makes the watch preform better? Nonsense akin to hustlers marketing mumbo jumbo.

  3. John Ross

    Wow – cognac.. prehistoric skeletons..!? Certainly an interesting perspective on customer desires, from these companies..
    Your list didn’t mention the (Swedish) Triwa Humanium 39 – available with an automatic or a quartz movement. Similar to the principles held up by the Fonderie 47, this looks to re-purpose the metal from weaponry siezed from terrorist organisations. Simple but consciously stylish, with a Miyota movement inside. Worth a simple internet search, to see what they’re about, whether or not this is a watch for you.

  4. Stewart Novinger

    Great article but would be nice to see the backs of the watches which had the unique material like the Bremont and IWC.

  5. John A Socarraz

    The most amazing watches I believe your team has ever featured. The IWC and the Louis Moinet-wow!

  6. Debashish

    Enjoyed reading about those unique timepieces immensely!

    Thanks a lot Logan! Keep it up!

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