“Sustainable” is a hot word right now. For better or worse, every industry (including petroleum) is bandying about the “s” word in hopes to jump on the bandwagon and attract as many customers as possible. But some companies are being environmentally conscious for sustainability’s sake (though increased sales don’t hurt). Oris is one such company. And, as the modern saying goes, they were doing it before it was cool.

Visit the Oris website (on phone or computer) and you’ll see a page layout unlike that of any other watch company. At the top, there’s a slideshow banner displaying the newest releases and promotional videos. Directly beneath that is a selection of self-produced articles about Oris. Almost every single one of them is about the brand’s involvement in environmental activism. It is beneath those articles that one can explore Oris watches. The watches sit beneath “the fold” of the page, as the web-design biz calls it. If you imagine the homepage of a website as a newspaper, beneath “the fold” is the backside, below the visible screen before scrolling. On a phone browser, the articles are still above the fold. This means Oris thinks its environmental activism is more important information to access than its catalog of watches.

Oris Change for the betterOris — selling watches or ideas?

Oris isn’t wrong to do so. The watches sell themselves. Putting its other work front and center on the site is an “oh, since you’re here” pull-aside to build brand loyalty. In a global economy that is frantically trying to market “sustainability”, it’s easy to become cynical. I even suspect “sustainable” could fast become a trigger word driving potential customers away. But, like with its watches, Oris remains transparent and un-hyped about the extent of its activism.

Oris is betting that reasonable consumers will increasingly value sustainability….

It’s a two-pronged approach — the watches and sustainability. If you’re in the market for a solid Swiss watch with a balance of economy and impeccable specs (10-year service interval, anyone?), Oris is a contender. If you’re environmentally conscious and looking to buy a watch, Oris may be the contender (though there are plenty of brands selling ocean-plastic watches). Oris is an independent, reasonably priced brand without the prestige of many other Swiss names. As such, it is marketing to similarly oriented customers, who are independent, uninterested in prestige, and reasonable. Oris is betting that reasonable consumers will increasingly value sustainability, actual sustainability, which is what they’re participating in.

Oris Aquis Date Upcycle

What are they changing for the better?

Oris’s modus operandi is increasing awareness about what are relatively obscure (at least to this Yank) environmental and social efforts. The brand’s hottest-topic partnership with Everwave involves efforts to recover the immense amount of plastic debris that makes it into the oceans. It also led to one of Oris’s most striking watches to date, the unlimited Aquis Date Upcycle with a recycled PET plastic dial. The limited-edition Everwave Aquis watches featured recycled PET on the case back only.

The brand’s other partnerships involve significant environmental protectorates and efforts that aren’t as “sexy” topics as ocean plastic. The Common Wadden Sea Secretariat (CWSS) and Lake Baikal Foundation are just a couple of Oris’s partners. The CWSS is an international effort to preserve the Wadden Sea. It’s the largest tidal flat system in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Lake Baikal Foundation monitors man-made pollution at Lake Baikal, one of the world’s largest reserves of available freshwater and a delicate ecosystem. Both collaborations resulted in limited edition watches — the Wadden Sea moonphase Aquis Dat Watt is a personal favorite.

Aquis Dat Watt Limited Edition

Oris Dat Watt Limited Edition

Oris watches for an ocean

Every partnership results in a (typically) limited edition watch. Coral restoration, protecting whales and dolphins, and the efforts above have all resulted in Aquis models. Dive watches for water efforts is a fitting theme. A percentage of profits from each partnership watch goes directly to the non-profit organization involved. If you do the math, the sum generated is humble. But Oris isn’t trying to do all of the heavy lifting itself. By selling watches that are in no way cheap (though still very far from exorbitant), Oris is engaging a customer base the brand knows has significant purchasing power and some amount of disposable income. Oris puts the environmental efforts it’s engaged in front and center by wrapping specific issues up in striking and desirable watches. In doing this, Oris is participating in a conversation with its customers about sustainability.

Aquis Dat Watt Limited Edition

The Wadden Sea

The Unspoken Partnership

I think Oris implicitly expects a level of participation from its customer base. The brand has done its fair share, selecting causes and organizations in need of recognition and support. Oris’s goal is not to perform immense fundraisers for these causes, though funds are raised. It is to use its own literature and especially watches born from these efforts to spark and continue the conversations regarding these issues out in the public.

No reasonable amount of PET plastic-dialed watches are going to eliminate ocean trash — we all know that. But an unseen-before-now striking swirled dial of plastic on a handsome watch like the Aquis may initiate a conversation among friends, colleagues, or strangers that leads to further efforts or reduced plastic consumption. Wearing a cause on the wrist is a way to push sustainability into the public’s consciousness (and conscience). These watches increase awareness, planting seeds in the minds of the people exposed to them to grow when the time is right.

Oris Aquis Upcycle pocket shot

Cynics can wear ’em too!

Virtue fatigue is real. In a world that has become rapidly sensitized to transgression, activism, and manipulation of hot-topic issues to make a buck, there’s always room to roll one’s eyes. But before anyone accuses Oris of “virtue signaling” — aligning oneself with movements in order to make money or protect their standing — let me remind you that Oris has been at this in earnest for the better part of a decade. It’s fine if you can’t see past the potential profits to be made by a brand’s efforts towards sustainability; Oris makes remarkable watches at the price points it operates in, charitable partnerships aside. For the record, Oris doesn’t include links to the watches attached to the causes in their sustainability articles.

I think there’s no contradiction in happily doing business with a company that, by almost any metric, is trying to make the world a better place. I can’t expect Oris to take it to the extreme end and file for non-profit status. I’m hardly non-profit myself. And, unlike myself, Oris is now climate neutral. For a man that likes watches and loves trees, there’s nothing sexier out there than Oris.