Swatch, the brand that defined cheap plastic watches, has gone eco-friendly with its latest throwback designs. The 1983 is a remake of the original Swatch’s original disposable watch that is made entirely out of “bio-materials.”
While the watch is still made of plastic, the version for this watch is from “bio-sourced materials extracted from the seeds of the castor plant” rather than oil. The plastic, first popularized in 2017, is a super-strong polymer that is impact resistant and surprisingly light. Castor beans are the basis for a plastic called Polyamide 11.
Companies greenwashing their products is nothing new, and the plastics industry is generally a nightmare. A recent report chronicled the huge toll plastic takes on the environment and our health—and also why the end is near. Bioplastics are eating into the traditional oil-based plastic industry, though they come with a whole host of issues as well, ranging from land used to grow food being turned over to plastic production to the inability of our current system to recycle them. The latter, at least, shouldn’t be a problem for a watch since it’s not exactly a single-use item.
Nevertheless, the melding of a unique new plastic and a classic watch scratches a few of my design itches. Swatch was Switzerland’s reaction to the Quartz Crisis, a period when quartz watches almost destroyed most classic mechanical watchmakers. Watchmakers Ernst Thomke, Elmar Mock, and Jacques Müller saw the Swatch as the “Second Watch”—an alternative to fancy timepieces—when they noticed young people weren’t going to the beach in their Rolexes and Omegas. The resulting product was a cheap Swiss watch that caught fire and kept the company afloat for decades.
Swatch using alternative materials, even eco-friendly ones, is not new. Watchmakers often use unique materials like titanium, ceramic, and liquid metals and this is one more example of a staid industry trying something new just to get you to strap something to your wrist besides an Apple watch.
The new watches will cost about $80 and go under the goofy moniker “bioreloaded.” Sadly, the movement itself is still made of metal and silicon, so while the case will degrade the guts probably won’t. But it’s certainly more incentive to fix our broken recycling system.