An ID Genève watch with Treekind strap
An ID Genève watch with Treekind strap

Leaves might not seem an obvious element of a luxury Swiss watch, but they are the basis of an innovative strap being unveiled in Geneva today. Local watchmaker ID Genève is using its stand at the Time to Watches fair to launch what co-founder Nicolas Freudiger calls the “world’s first circular strap”. The strap is made from Treekind, a plastic-free, 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 lignocellulosic material — mainly leaves — and breaking it down into a powder. That is then mixed with a natural binder to create flat sheets, which are dried, rolled and treated with a 100 per cent bio-based coating to make the material waterproof.

The use of this “next gen material”, as Freudiger refers to it, is the latest development for a brand that launched via crowdfunding in 2020 with circularity in mind. ID Genève’s watch cases are 100 per cent recycled stainless steel, made from scrap collected from medical and watchmaking companies in the Swiss canton of Jura. Its automatic movements are refurbished stock from other watchmakers. And its Mushroom packaging is home compostable.

Customers receive Circular Coins — digital tokens that can be exchanged for discounts on new parts and services — to help extend the life of their watch.

Treekind fabric samples © Charlie Bibby/FT
Treekind is created from green waste © Charlie Bibby/FT

“We’re avant-gardists and our mission is to stay at the forefront of circularity in the world of watchmaking,” says Freudiger. He left his job as digital and ecommerce manager at Coca-Cola HBC to found ID Genève with his childhood friend Cédric Mulhauser, who has worked for Vacheron Constantin and assembles the watches, and the designer Singal Depéry. The brand has sold 300 watches to date, with plans to sell a further 700-800 this year.

ID Genève’s first straps were 80 per cent grape residue from winemaking and 20 per cent polyurethane, which Freudiger says was “a good first step . . . but we already had in mind that it was not enough”.

The new straps, which have a sustainable cork backing made by Swiss company Ono Collaborations, launch for pre-order today. They will also be standard on ID Genève’s new Solar collection, for which watch cases are 100 per cent recycled steel produced in a solar furnace. The strap price — 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 that will replace straps for customers and return redundant ones to the brand for composting.

Nicolas Freudiger
Nicolas Freudiger

Freudiger says tests by the strap’s maker, Swiss leather goods company Multicuirs, show that its lifespan — about a year of constant use — is comparable to that of a leather strap.

The material has withstood quite heavy abrasion testing, both wet and dry, to the same level as leather, says Mira Nameth, founder of Biophilica and one of 38 entrepreneurs recognised by government agency Innovate UK’s Women in Innovation Awards last month. However, Biophilica calculates that Treekind, which is awaiting vegan certification, needs less than 1 per cent of the water used to produce leather.

Biophilica grew out of research that Nameth, a former digital agency creative director, did for her MA degree at London’s Royal College of Art. The start-up has won £45,000 in grants from Innovate UK to test the flexibility of Treekind — mainly for use in shoes — with the National Physical Laboratory, and a separate feasibility study to explore scaling up production.

Mira Nameth in Biophilica’s workshop
Mira Nameth in Biophilica’s workshop © Charlie Bibby/FT
Biophilica’s workshop
© Charlie Bibby/FT

The ID Genève collaboration is the first commercial use of Treekind. The Swiss company has agreed six months’ exclusivity with Biophilica on watch straps but then wants to open up the material to other watchmakers. “We know ID Genève is not going to change the game if we go 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 La Maison des Startups LVMH, a business accelerator that facilitates collaborations between start-ups and the luxury group’s 75 houses, which include watchmakers Hublot and Tag Heuer. During the six-month programme, Nameth will pitch to targeted audiences and have meetings with key stakeholders.

The Deloitte Swiss Watch Industry Study 2021 found that 72 per cent of watch brands were investing more in sustainability. It said brands looking to launch new products “will need to consider recycled or upcycled materials” to alleviate insufficient supply of raw materials.

“It’s very marginal overall . . . the recyclable or recycled material that is currently used,” says Karine Szegedi, consumer industry leader at Deloitte Switzerland and co-author of the study. “Nevertheless, it’s a tendency that’s strongly growing.”

Freudiger wants ID Genève to “take the leadership in eco-innovative watches” and “push the industry” toward change.

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