This particular limited-edition ID Geneve Circular S Sun timepiece is a bit famous for being pictured on the wrist of actor Leonardo DiCaprio. In 2023, the still-fresh Swiss watchmaker ID Geneve announced that DiCaprio was among a group of investors who put money into the brand. His interest in the boutique watchmaker seemed to focus on its multiple climate-friendly initiatives, including the production of carbon-neutral luxury items, as well as its claim to be the first timepiece company to only use “solar steel” for its cases. It can be perceived as a hallmark of legitimacy when big names believe in your vision enough to invest in it. DiCaprio and many other wealthy celebrities (who, like them or not, are still highly visible and thus influential), are understandably uncomfortable with the reality that a lot of their spending and activities negatively contribute to our current climate crisis.

To feel more comfortable about their lifestyles and footprint, a lot of celebrities are keen to become “spending activists” (voting for change with their dollars, for better or worse), and they are trying to encourage the mainstream to follow. Much of the efforts of luxury brands to be environmentally friendly and focus on “sustainable” practices are just that — efforts more than current realities. Below I try to explain where ID Geneve falls into that spectrum, but in general, they do seem sincere about their activist goals. While business practices exist that can lower the carbon footprint and other environmental damage caused by sourcing and manufacturing, very few of these practices result in truly innovative processes or outcomes that have much impact on environmental health. All that companies in this space can do is keep investing and bringing attention to their cause so that a critical momentum of change and new manufacturing practices will, in aggregate, make a difference. Buying a wristwatch will not heal the environment, but you can spend money on companies that are trying to move things in a more positive direction.

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One of those companies that outwardly cares about environmentalism in the watch space is ID Geneve, but it isn’t alone. Switzerland, in general, is among the most advanced places in the world when it comes to environmentally friendly practices. Many companies in the watch industry are proud of various practices or parts they use that limit their impact, not only regarding the products they make but also the activities of the employees and the status of factories themselves. Not all companies make their messaging a core tenant of their brand, as ID Geneve does, but it would be incorrect to say that ID Geneve is alone in its efforts to merge luxury timekeeping with sustainable environmental practices and carbon neutrality. ID Geneve probably feels that it has a distinctive message and strategy in this arena, and it will have to demonstrate over the course of running the business how its objectives are met by reality.

An important part of ID Geneve’s environmental claims involves the manner in which the steel for its watch cases is produced. Forging steel is an energy-intensive process because it must be heated up to a very high temperature. Creating such high heat for metallurgical purposes is historically a large source of carbon emissions and is, indeed, a very real area in which watch production creates a negative environmental impact (although this volume is tiny compared to many other industries). So, what ID Geneve chose to do is work with a company called Panatere, which helped the brand find a steel producer in Mont Louis, in the south of France, that uses a solar furnace to forge steel. ID Geneve now claims to be the only watch producer that makes all of its cases from solar-melted steel. This makes sense given that the process is relatively inefficient at this point and does not allow for meaningfully high production levels. You can imagine how long it takes a solar furnace to heat up (hours), and how much available time during the average day (it obviously requires sunlight) the oven can even operate (about four hours, as I understand it). No doubt, it is very cool that we even have solar furnaces that can get hot enough to forge steel, but this technology is clearly incapable of replacing traditional steel production techniques any time soon.

There are instances when environmentally friendly claims can be a bit manipulative, and ID Geneve does engage in a little bit of that in addition to its important claims. By this, I mean brands may make claims about their products and practices that may be true but are not special or unique to their company. A good example is the constant talk about “recycled” steel. Some brands like to advertise their steel as being “recycled” because the concept is trendy. Most steel, however, is already recycled, and it has been for a long time. When companies make steel, they often melt down metals or steel that were not freshly pulled from the ground. So, all these claims about companies wanting accolades for using recycled steel are a bit misplaced in my opinion. Then, of course, there are all the supposedly environmentally friendly straps not made from animal hides. Not long ago, it was considered a sign of low quality for a product to have “fake leather.” Now, many of those same materials that excited no one are being touted for their planet-saving qualities. Upon further inspection, what you’ll find when interviewing the people who produce these materials is that they might be made from plants or recycled plastic, but they use just as much or more energy to produce. The hope (again) is that with continued investment, these materials and manufacturing practices will fulfill people’s beliefs that they are lower-impact or actually prevent environmental damage. I find it humorous when marketers capitalize on these concerns to make us believe that a better world is just a few wise purchases away.

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Speaking of humorous, the ID Geneve Circular S Sun watch comes with a few strap options (between two brands of straps), and they both sound hilarious. You can either opt for one of four “VEGEA” straps or try out a brown or black “TREEKIND.” ID Geneve also allows you to choose an ardillon (buckle) or deployant clasp for the strap. This is a far more sensible set of options (I like ardillon buckles on straps), but certain consumers like deployant clasps. That said, given that the straps have a proprietary lug-attachment design, you will have to use ID Geneve straps with a Circular S timepiece.

Another interesting option for the ID Geneve Circular S watch is related to the case. The entire watch is themed around the sun, and that includes the laser-engraved sunray effect on the dial, as well as the case itself. ID Geneve seemed unconvinced that everyone would want its sunray case, so it decided to offer the Circular S watches (including this version, which is actually called the Circular S Sun) with two types of case edge “decoration.” One option is the “fluted” case decoration (meant to look like sunrays) that you see in the pictured watch. You can also opt for a simpler “brushed” side decoration similar to that on the bezel. The case shape is interesting because it layers shapes in a novel way. The dial and bezel are round circles, the middle case is a tonneau shape, and then there is an added side section which is a wider tonneau shape. I actually think it is pretty cool-looking. Overall, I am taking the ID Geneve Circular S watch seriously because of its good looks and interesting style.

The watch case itself is in “Solar” steel and is water resistant to 50 meters with a flat AR-coated sapphire crystal over the dial and another over the caseback. The case is 41mm wide but wears a bit larger thanks to the wider lug structure. The case is 9.65mm thick. I think it feels comfortable on the wrist, and I like the overall look of this product. The dial’s most conspicuous design elements are the yellow color for this “Sun” version of the Circular S product family, as well as the interesting geometric take on the solar ray’s face texture. The applied hour markers and bold hands have a sporty quality to them and are painted with Super-LumiNova for darkness visibility.  The dial also has a window for the date, which I don’t really think was necessary for this overall design. I really like the 12 o’clock hour marker, which is the ID Geneve shield logo — a clever example of putting “ID” on its side. Finally, ID Geneve claims that the hands are also “100% recycled,” which, given that they are metal, really surprises me and is potentially another claim that might not be all that impressive.

Inside the Circular S watch is a Swiss Made ETA 2824-2 automatic movement. This is a bit simple for a watch at this price category, but ID Geneve has a marketing spin on it. For the most part, Swatch Group-owned ETA does not sell to newer watchmakers like ID Geneve. ETA has a relatively compact list of current companies and suppliers it sells watches to outside of the Swatch Group. What many smaller companies that use ETA movements do (at least until recently when alternatives were available) was purchase them from resellers or companies that originally purchased from ETA but didn’t use all of the movements they ordered. ID Geneve purchased its ETA 2824 automatic movements as unused older stocks and even tries to make that part of the brand’s sustainability message by positioning them as “refurbished.” Most of the time, companies do not wish to advertise the fact that their movements were indirectly ordered from the original movement supplier. In any event, I am a fan of the reliable ETA 2824, but I think the price point of the Circular S is pushing the limits of what consumers in the know are willing to pay for this machine. The 2824 automatic operates at 4Hz with about two days of power reserve.

“One Step Closer To Zero Carbon Steel” is a statement in the ID Geneve website and a good way to sum up the ethos of the brand. A nicely designed Swiss watch is meant to encapsulate the hope of the sun with the fears of our times. The product itself calls attention to a cause while attracting personalities who feel strongly about it. Wearing a cool timepiece that signals your values is the result, though climate protection is still pretty far off. If you get an ID Geneve Circular S watch (this limited “LAB” edition Sun in yellow of 300 pieces is sold out, but other dial colors are available), don’t get too attached to the packaging, as it is apparently designed to decompose in compost. Prices are ambitious and vary depending on the particular Circular S wristwatch configuration you choose. Price for the ID Geneve Circular S watch is between 4,380 and 4,930 Swiss Francs. Learn more at the ID Geneve website.

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