Like many other industries, the luxury watch world has embraced environmentally friendly manufacturing processes and sustainable materials in recent years, particularly brands strongly associated with diving and the sea — from Breitling’s use of ECONYL straps crafted from recycled fishing nets, to Oris’s recycled PET casebacks on its Clean Ocean Limited Edition, all the way to Ulysse Nardin’s Diver Net concept piece with its world’s-first case made entirely of recycled material. At Watches & Wonders 2021, Panerai upped the sustainability ante to a heretofore unattained level with its Submersible eLAB-ID, a concept watch boasting “the highest percentage of recycled-based material ever made.”
According to Panerai, which developed the Submersible eLAB-ID at its Laboratorio di Idee research-and-develoment workshop, fully 98.6 percent of the watch’s total weight “comes from materials integrating a high rate of recycled elements.” Breaking that number down to specific elements, the eLAB-ID’s case, sandwich-style dial, and movement bridges are composed of EcoTitanium, an aerospace-grade recycled titanium alloy first used by Panerai on 2019’s Mike Horn Edition of the Submersible. Its dial is the first to use recycled Super-LumiNova on its hands (made of recycled gold) and hour markers. Even the sapphire crystal over the gray-tone dial comes from a recycling process. The Grigio Roccia fabric strap with light blue stitching is derived from recycled PET and attaches with an EcoTitanium buckle. To source all of these materials, Panerai needed to build an entirely new supply chain, working with partners many of whom had never previously worked with such high levels of recycled content. “When you enter a business like this one, you are addressing a whole network of potential suppliers,” Panerai CEO Jean-Marc Pontrué told WatchTime. “What has taken the most time is knocking on the doors of new suppliers who were not used to working with the watch industry. It was surprising to learn how small we were as an industry in terms of quantities compared to giant companies asking for hundreds of tons of such material for boats, planes, and cars. In terms of weight, our output is very small, even though Switzerland makes millions of watches.”
Panerai has, of course, not missed a step in presenting the eLAB-ID as a true luxury timepiece with a high level of finishing, despite its overwhelming use of recycled raw material, including for the movement. The 44-mm EcoTitanium case has a brushed finish, its unidirectional rotating bezel has polished knurling and a micro-sandblasted, engraved surface with a relief diving scale. Like all Submersible models, it is equipped with the telltale, patented bridge-shaped, safety-locking crown protector device that Panerai introduced (and patented) way back in the 1950s.
Like the case, the movement inside the eLAB-ID, called Caliber P.900e and made up of 161 total components, has been essentially rebuilt with repurposed materials to the furthest extent possible; even 17 of the jewels are recycled. In every important aspect, the self-winding movement offers the same attributes as the standard “built from scratch” version — a 28,800-vph frequency, Incabloc shock protection, and three days of power reserve in a single barrel. The movement beats behind a screwed caseback of EcoTitanium, helping ensure the watch’s water resistance of 300 meters.
Significantly, Pontrué emphasizes, despite Panerai being the first watchmaker to incorporate this level of recycled-based features into a watch model, the company encourages its peers and competitors to follow suit with the “blueprint” the eLAB-ID has provided. In service of this, Panerai has made a point of being fully transparent in where all of its components are sourced. These suppliers include companies both inside the watch industry — like Sigatec, which provided recycled silicon parts, Pro Cadrans, which produced the titanium dials, and RC Tritec, which achieved the recycling of luminous material — and outside it, like EcoTitanium producer Albert & Duval and recycled steel manufacturer Ugitech. “It’s an ecosystem that we had to build from scratch, but an ecosystem that is open to as many companies as possible, not just within [parent company] Richemont but all our competitors within Switzerland and abroad,” Pontrué says. “The more of us that take part, the stronger impact we’ll have on making it a cleaner environment.”
Despite its description as a concept watch, Panerai is producing 30 pieces of the Submersible eLAB-ID and offering them for sale at $61,700, with delivery expected in early 2022.