Tags: Knowledge

German company upcycles coffee capsules into watch faces, whisky barrels coming up next

Call it creative thinking or lateral thinking, if it is buttressed by environmental awareness and a desire for conserving and prolonging the availability of natural resources — energy and materials — it would lead to recycling (upcycling or downcycling), and this would be as entrenched in global economies and societies as brushing your teeth in the morning and enjoying your cup of coffee thereafter.

While closed-loop recycling would entail the redirection of materials for the same uses/ applications, open-loop upcycling would mean looping waste materials to ‘better’ uses (higher-quality/greater value/longer-lived).

Blancier handmade watches, a German company, has since 2005 been upcycling Nespresso coffee capsules into watch-faces. As if this alone were not enough to make the timepieces sustainable environmentally, the company’s watches are hand-wound, relying on mechanical energy provided by the user. No batteries and, thereby, no wastes generated by way of disposing off used batteries. The owner, Kamerman, told this writer that he got the idea while waiting his cuppa at a Nespresso boutique. He was impressed by the fact that the employees of the boutique were wearing smart corporate outfits, with matching shoes and also their ‘own’ watches.

Kamerman started wondering why every employee should not wear a matching watch; and a sustainable one to boot. The seeds of the Grand Cru series of watches were thus sown. To make the product fully sustainable, the company also convinced people that they could cooperate by not disposing off the capsules. The watch dials are made in-house. The Nespresso coffee capsules are made of anodised aluminium; this makes the colours on them wear-resistant and they remain intact even if the capsules are flattened with a mass of 1,000 kg. Owing to the fact that every watch-face is formed differently, the resulting products are exclusive. Kamerman says these days people wish to have an influence on the designs of the products they use. Blancier fulfils these wishes by making watches with personalised dials.

The output on date is about 200 watches per year. While environmentally sustainable, the upcycled-capsule watches are also affordable (starting at $890), as the company operates without dealers and the profits which dealers would have earned, are passed on directly to the customers. When quizzed about the demand for hand-wound watches in this century, Kamerman says these have become popular over the last 15 years the world over. In the 1980s, they were challenged by the introduction of battery-powered and digital variants by Japanese watch-makers. There is something about a hand-wound watch that gives the user a sense of controlling it and powering it by twirling this thumb and forefinger around the knob on the side.

Literally, as Kamerman explains: “Every time you look at the watch you’re made aware that you don’t have to throw everything away.” Not to be left behind, Johnie Walker has entered into a contract with Blancier. The products? Watches made with wooden dials from upcycled whisky barrels.

(G Venkatesh is a postdoctoral researcher at the department of hydraulic and environmental engineering of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway)

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