World Environment Day: Are we doing enough? Opinion about The Ocean Race, Ulysse Nardin and the latest Diver collaboration Part 2

Notes and interviews with responsibles from the Ocean Race, Ulysses Nardin and FIL&FAB at the launch of the Ulysse Nardin Diver The Ocean Race

World Environment Day
Anne-Cécile Turner (Sustainability Director at The Ocean Race), Jean-Christophe Sabatier (Head of Product at Ulysse Nardin), Théo Desprez (FIL & FAB)
Reading Time: 19 minutes

After the presentation of the Ulysse Nardin Diver The Ocean Race, I would like to present to you today the launching event that took place in Alicante, Spain and the discussion around it. These articles are a tribute to the World Environment Day and the involvement of several groups toward a better future for Earth. Worth mentioning that this was not a requested article, and it is realised from my own initiative as a display of support and respect for those actively fighting the world’s pollution.

World environment day
Observing one of the Ocean Race (the Mexico team) sailing boats from the Austrian team boat

Initial thoughts

We leave in a world full of hypocrisy. We see every year marketing campaigns about brands “going green”, governments swearing to do the right thing and high-level meetings (where people fly high class and private jets) to discuss climate change. A painful and utterly bullsh!t, mud thrown in the eye of the gullible. We cut trees for paper bags instead of recycling plastic and creating eco-friendly materials, we buy fruits and vegetables in plastic nets instead of picking the two products we really need. Because we are producing not only pollutants, we also throw lots of food – “we come from the land of plenty”. We afford to buy more than we need, we afford to spill water, and we afford to leave unnecessary lights on (especially since Germany, the land where I live, uses coal to produce energy).

Alicante's Santa Bárbara Castle seen from the water
Alicante’s Santa Bárbara Castle seen from the Ocean Race headquarters

And here comes my personal dilemma: am I not one of those hypocrites evoking the wish to save the planet while travelling in beautiful places to talk with people about the environment? Partly I am… But there is an issue that needs to be addressed. Some things cannot be done in other ways. People need to meet and talk directly, face to face, observing, noting and learning from one another. What I have experienced in Alicante and the live discussion I had could not be realised in writing via email or through a zoom meeting. Not in almost two full days, but maybe in months… So the question that really remains, where the line must be drawn (or makes sense to)? How much one must travel, talk and meet for everything to make sense? Finding the compromise is harder than imagined…

Ulysse Nardin party
Ulysse Nardin party: Patrick Pruniaux (CEO UN), Richard Brisius (Race Chairman of The Ocean Race) and Théo Desprez (FIL & FAB)

Let’s party but also let’s talk serious stuff

On the eve of the official launch of the Ulysse Nardin Diver The Ocean Race, journalists were invited to spend the evening in the company of Anne-Cécile Turner (Sustainability Director at The Ocean Race) Patrick Pruniaux (CEO UN), Richard Brisius (Race Chairman of The Ocean Race) and Théo Desprez (FIL&FAB), Jean-Christophe Sabatier (Head of Product at Ulysse Nardin), enthusiasts and friends of the brand. Partly to get acquainted, partly to start the ideas exchange.

Ulysse Nardin Party
From the German press: Wolfgang Winter (Uhrenkosmos), Antje Heepmann (ITP Media Group/Watchpro), Jean-Christophe Sabatier (Head of Product at Ulysse Nardin), Stephanie Nickl-Krieger UN) and yours truly

Ulysse Nardin is the official time partner of the Ocean Race and also the timing partner of the “Racing with Purpose Program

Patrick Pruniaux, CEO of Ulysse Nardin
Patrick Pruniaux, CEO of Ulysse Nardin

Our values go beyond the quest for excellence… The best way of characterising a luxury brand is by its values and for a brand that is 175 years old, values mean a lot and we must assure that our products are inlined with that. The quest for innovation is very strong and I am proud that we have been working on this (r.n.: the Diver The Ocean Race) for years and that reveals not only the strategy of Ulysse Nardin and the different types of innovation but also what is happening in the rest of the world and watch industry and we are very happy and proud to be part of that movement toward sustainable timepieces. For me, there is no other more sustainable product than a mechanical watch…” – Patrick Pruniaux

Patrick continues: “...beyond that, there is the willingness to go and embrace the challenges and bring to the market timepieces that are relevant… and have a purpose. And we are proud to be associated with “Race with Purpose”. Again, whatever we do, it needs to be a purpose and do the right thing. The new diver watch reveals what is going to be happening with the brand’s watches overall and our actions and commitment as a brand toward society. We made the promise a few years back to bring a real sustainable product to the market: wearable high horology, a true pro diver.

What we share with the Ocean Race, with FIL&FAB is a lot more – is the vision of the world.” Patrick concludes

Richard Brisius
Richard Brisius – CEO The Ocean Race

Richard Brisius, CEO of The Ocean Race noted: “We are proud to be partners of Ulysse Nardin’s passion and commitment towards the ocean. The Ocean Race is about connecting the world… As sailers, we have seen the ocean in many ways and we have learned to respect it and be friends with it. But most importantly, we learned that we need to give the ocean a voice…

We are currently putting together several sustainability initiatives to make this happen. For us, the Ulysse Nardin Diver The Ocean Race is the perfect example of excellence, a perfect example of sustainability that can be handed down from generation to generation, and a talisman of everything we represent as human beings.”

The new watch is not only made from upcycled materials such as the fishing nets, but it will also allow us all the stay on course, which is now very important. It will serve us as a constant reminder that is the right time to act and put into practice the core values,” said Mr Richard Brisius

Anne-Cécile Turner (Sustainability Director at The Ocean Race)
Anne-Cécile Turner (Sustainability Director at The Ocean Race)

Anne-Cécile Turner (Sustainability Director at The Ocean Race) mentioned: “The Race For the Ocean is the right name… Our sailors are the first witnesses to what is happening with the ocean. They have sailed in the most remote part of the globe and they have seen the degradation, in many ways, but visible… Many time is also invisible, like the acidification (r.n.: of the ocean water)”

The essence of the race is to use the platform of the Ocean Race, to be the voice and to actually raise awareness of the issues and act concretely on this.”

Maybe the most exciting project at The Ocean Race is the science program… It contributes to the understanding of what is happening with the oceans like the microplastic concentrations, the water acidification and creates global maps. We basically testing the vitals of the oceans and we use this data to influence policymakers, world’s leaders, science academies and to inspire the young generations

To make such a global event sustainable is quite a challenge. We have annalised every sort of impact we have and we reducing and optimising everything possible: waste, weather, energy, single-use plastic… Where it is not possible, we create industry workshops for brands to address the issues – an industry legacy...” concludes Ms Turner.

Théo Desprez (FIL & FAB)
Théo Desprez (FIL & FAB)

Théo Desprez is co-founder of the French start-up FIL&FAB, the brand that puts the spotlight on a “less noble” materials, making the objects as desirable as if it were designed in a more conventional material than polyamide.

We are the generation of change. We have seen the damages of the climate changes and we have a responsibility to do something… everything we can!” mentioned Théo

For us, at FIL&FAB, the main values are coherence and transparency, to keep the link between the fishermen and the plastic industry in order to transform (r.n.: the plastic) in a good manner. We’ve been working with Ulysse Nardin for the last two years and we are grateful for that. It is very interesting to see how waste can become such a beautiful product… ” – Théo Desprez

Jean-Christophe Sabatier (Head of Product at Ulysse Nardin)
Jean-Christophe Sabatier (Head of product at Ulysse Nardin)

Jean-Christophe Sabatier (Head of Product at Ulysse Nardin) shared some of the issues and difficulties encountered in the path of producing the Diver but also the reasons for being proud of the brand’s achievement: “The product is highly consistent, a consistent proposal – luxury timepiece and sustainable product with a nice design – a sporty diving watch. It is also coherent in terms of packaging and it is promoted, supported through a consistent commercial and communication platform.

With the Ocean Race, we have the racing side, at UN we love the world of sports and the sea, and the purpose side with the sustainability. For all these reasons, what makes in fact the value of the product are these additions of things that are complementary and create a picture that tells a story.”

It took 4 years… It started with Patrick asking me and my team to develop a sustainable watch. It was a completely new area in which I had no experience. At my age, I have another way of seeing life as Théo (Desprez) and at the question of what is a sustainable watch I had to turn and study all our industry… And I reached two conclusions: our industry is already sustainable – our movements are automatic and the metals used, it was at the beginning, but it was partly recycled; on the other side, the watchmaking industry is quite conservative and we did not find solutions with our common/regular suppliers, so identifying the right sources was two years of work. We discovered FIL&FAB through a podcast.” – Jean-Christophe

The main issue is the sourcing, all the suppliers we found are startups. To bring this product to life we had to face many problems in terms of industrialisation, some of them can be anticipated through laboratory tests but some of them were just learning by doing.

At the beginning of this project I had a discussion with my daughter, she is 19 years old. I told her: «you know, I have doubts… we are developing a product that represents an upcycling of a few dozens of kilograms of recycled fishing nets, do you think that this is something that is valuable?» And from my discussion with her, I understood that in fact, the new generations are giving value to the effort. From all people I met, young influencers, and young journalists are going to spend all their life with these issues and they recognise where you spend some effort. A few brands are leading the way / the stream, we are part of them and I believe that these brands and their suppliers should collaborate, share the know-how, the information, post the open-source info for the new generations…

We work with our supplier to increase the level of recycled materials in all the collections. When I am visiting a supplier I ask them questions I was not asking before: where is this material coming from or where it will go? How can you help us, or how can we help you improve? I am trying to understand the entire chain of suppliers… It is a new mindset that one must have in the industry.

Asked about the new Diver, if the collectors will buy this watch because is sustainable, Jean-Christophe answered: “honestly, I think the answer is no… I think this watch, the customer who will select it will do it because is nice… But all the values that it carries will be considered…

Concluding the evening, Patrick Pruniaux said: “It is pretty easy to make a watch in titanium, steel, carbon or in gold, but this is the new gold. It is much more complicated to make this watch than to make a gold watch. What we strive to be is even more than that…

Launch event
Niall Myant-Best (sailor and commentator), Théo Desprez (FIL & FAB), Anne-Cécile Turner (Sustainability Director at The Ocean Race)

The next article will present a group interview with Anne-Cécile Turner (Sustainability Director at The Ocean Race), Théo Desprez (FIL & FAB) and Jean-Christophe Sabatier (Head of Product at Ulysse Nardin), some words with the Ocean Race skipper Gerwin Jansen (The Austrian Ocean Race Project) and my personal experience at the bord of the Austrian Ocean Race Project sailing boat.