Plastic G-Shocks and other similar, affordable watches made using polymer-based synthetic and semi-synthetic materials are great, in part because of the many beneficial properties of plastic — one of which is affordability. But it's typically assumed that spending more means you're graduating from that material and its "cheap" associations.
This is why five-figure watches making extensive use of plastic, like the new Ulysse Nardin Diver X Ocean Race, are interesting — and a little controversial.
The high-end Swiss watchmaker, of course, isn't simply using plastic as a cost-cutting material: no, it's all for the benefit of the planet, and specifically, the oceans. Partnering with the yachting competition The Ocean Race, Ulysse Nardin made a watch with a 44mm wide case 60 percent made of recycled polyamide (a kind of plastic) from recovered ocean fishing nets. The remaining 40 percent is the brand's own carbon composite material called Carbonium, which the brand also notes is environmentally friendly.
The material should be very light, like other carbon watches (and, hey, plastic ones, too), and durable as well. It seems nearly every part of the watch has incorporated recycled material, and that includes its in-house UN-118 automatic movement inside. This movement is where much of the cost/value of such high-end watches come from, and it includes other technical materials Ulysse Nardin is particularly known for such as silicon. Parts of the case using steel are also 80 percent recycled material.
The strap is 100 percent made from recycled fishing nets, and the packaging is completely made from other ocean plastics.
Ulysse Nardin isn't the first watch brand to start using recycled ocean plastic in watches, but it is the most upscale example that we know of. You'll find affordable watches using it from Nixon to Luminox, and Swiss watchmaker Alpina even made a recycled plastic version of its $1,700 diver featuring a Sellita SW-200 automatic movement inside.
Ulysse Nardin has dabbled in this space in other ways, too. It previously made the likes of recycled plastic straps and, in 2020, it produced a not-for-sale prototype in the material. It's now finally bringing such a watch into wider production and making it available as a limited edition of 200 examples.
With the Diver X Ocean Race, Ulysse Nardin packs an impressive amount of sustainability into a product that can fit on your wrist. Plastic might not sound sexy, but its use here brings it into the realm of the exotic. Think about it: it surely required significantly more technical research and development than making the same watch from a traditional material like steel.
Does that justify its $11,500 price tag? That's your call, but you get a 300m water-resistant dive watch from a prestigious brand that's also chock full of talking points.