“I wouldn’t say green is a new trend,” replied Franz Linder. The chief executive of Mido was speaking at a video press conference in late March, held to unveil the Swiss watch brand’s latest collection. The two standout pieces of the range were symptomatic of a runaway craze that has hijacked the watch industry this year. For the first time in its 103-year history, Mido released one watch with a brilliant, jade green dial and another piece in a muddy shade of khaki. “It’s new for Mido, but many brands have used green before,” Linder insisted. “There’s no strategic reason for it.”
How, then, to explain the sea of green that’s sweeping the watch world like a tsunami of pea soup? Among this year’s new releases there are at least 35 watches with green dials or heavy green accents. Whether it’s the Patek Philippe Nautilus in a metallic shade of olive or the shamrock hue of the TAG Heuer Monaco, green has gone from making the odd wrist- bound cameo to blanket coverage. Mint, emerald, moss, astroturf, moss — the colour has seized the imaginations of watchmakers at every price point, from the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak ($154,000) to Swatch’s The Dream ($150), which takes inspiration from Henri Rousseau’s famous painting. The rapidity of this green contagion is unusual, too, because the watch world is generally a conservative business where trends filter down at glacial speed.
It is difficult to say what is behind all this greenery. No colour has a fixed meaning, but green is a particularly treacherous hue to pin down. On the positive side it can represent spring, regeneration and natural beauty. Yet it’s also associated with naivety, envy, putrefaction and money. Trying to decode its significance is therefore something of a mug’s game. But it is hard to divorce this greenwash from the context of a Covid-blighted year.
At a time when many have languished under lockdown, green may convey the appeal of pastoral escape. For those who live in the city, green suggests an antidote to urban confinement, triggering images of rolling fields and verdant hills that feel a world away from our cooplike apartments. Many brands specifically cited nature
as an inspiration for their watches, whether it’s Jaeger-LeCoultre introducing a Reverso in a deep green reminiscint of pine forests or Rolex introducing a textured dial inspired by tropical forests with a distinctive palm motif.
In his book “Green: The History of a Color”, Michel Pastoureau traces the cultural evolution of this lovechild of yellow and blue. He explains that in ancient and medieval times, green was believed to be imbued with soothing properties and it was thought that looking at emeralds could “rest” an eye under strain. Aside from these calming attributes, from late antiquity onwards green was also perceived as the colour of hope. Newborn babies were regularly swaddled in it to bring them good luck while young women wore it to boost their chances of getting married. Perhaps some subliminal residue of this spirit continues to inform our sense of the colour today. Certainly hope, luck and regeneration are defiantly optimistic concepts and, after a challenging year, most of us could do with a generous top-up.
In the modern world, of course, green’s most immediate association now lies with the environmental movement. At first glance this might not feel like the most comfortable fit for Swiss watches. Sure, many brands engage in some form of ecological philanthropy, whether it’s Rolex’s Perpetual Planet campaign that includes work with the National Geographic Society to study the impacts of climate change or Oris’ partnership with Everwave to develop technology to stop plastic entering the ocean. But viewed from another perspective, luxury watches also carry an inevitable whiff of late-stage capitalism and the relentless consumption that has put the planet in such a fix in the first place. But a good watch is more ecologically sound than you might think.
As Deloitte’s “Swiss Watch Industry Study 2020” reported: “The Swiss watch industry recognises the increasing importance of sustainability and ethics across its entire value chain, be it in the form of recycling/ upcycling materials, responsible sourcing, looking into animal product alternatives, or reducing their overall carbon footprint.” Beyond all the ethically sourced materials and sustainability drives, it should also be noted that a luxury watch remains the antithesis of a throwaway product. It’s a potential heirloom that, with the right care and servicing, is built to tick away for multiple generations. Green might not be a brand new trend for watches, but its renewed acceptance perhaps shows the watch world’s true colours.