Bringing Circular Economy to the Swiss Watch Industry: WeTalk with ID Genève

WeTalk. Pop Culture. Swiss-Made is a social media campaign of the Embassy of Switzerland in the United States. WeTalk promotes the diversity of Swiss culture and innovation by featuring prominent Swiss stakeholders from these fields. Sharing perspectives from artists, athletes and entrepreneurs, WeTalk provides its audience with fascinating insights into the diversity of contemporary Swiss culture. Watch Nicolas’s 1-min WeTalk interview here!

When you think of Switzerland, you likely think of watches — one of the three biggest export sectors in Switzerland. So this month, in WeTalk, we take a closer look at ID Genève, a start-up company determined to modernize the watch industry and place transparency, traceability, and respect for the environment at the center of its work. Though the brand name itself may be open to interpretation, it’s important to know that spelling “ID” out loud in French sounds like the word “idée” = “idea.” To learn more about ID Genève, we met with one of its co-founders, Nicolas Freudiger, a Geneva-born entrepreneur, of Swiss, French, and Venezuelan origins. Growing up, Nicolas’ family was keen on recycling as much as possible, and this sensitivity has stayed with him throughout the years. Nicolas himself will soon be a father, which reinforces his hopes that his work will have a positive impact on future generations.

Nicolas’ favorite summer job during his student years was volunteering at “Baselworld,” a global trade show for the international watch, jewellery, and gem industry, organized each spring in the city of Basel, Switzerland. He first studied the service industry, marketing, and entrepreneurship at the Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne, before building his professional experience at the Swiss headquarters of Coca-Cola in Zurich, where he learned to appreciate the values of collective intelligence, the enhanced capacity created when people work together. Yet this experience lacked the focus on sustainability and entrepreneurship he hoped to bring to his work. In 2020, Nicolas decided to co-found “ID Genève” with his childhood friend Cédric Mulhauser, and designer Singal Depéry. Now, the team works to build their dream: “A self-winding watch one hundred percent sourced from the circular economy.” To achieve this, they focus on making watches made exclusively of recycled stainless steel (a world first), co-partnering with a company specialised in recycling local steel based in Jura, Switzerland, a traditional region for watchmaking. For the wristbands, the start-up relies on the Italian taste for fashion and design and works with a start-up in Milan, Italy, where the bands are made of vegetal (non-animal) leather.

To get to know Nicolas a bit better, the Embassy recently sat down with the Swiss entrepreneur over video chat to talk about what attracted him to the watch industry, his interest in the circular economy, and the challenges ahead for the team.

Swiss Embassy: When did your passion for watchmaking begin?
Nicolas: My passion goes back a long way! My best friend Cédric is a watchmaker, he’s the reason I first started to get into the watchmaking world. When we were teenagers during the summer, we would take care of other people’s gardens and cut grass to earn some pocket money, and we used to talk about creating a watch brand. Fifteen years later, in December 2020, we made it a reality thanks to the more than 200 founding members who supported us in our first crowdfunding campaign.

Swiss Embassy: What are the pillars of the circular economy and how is it compatible with the luxury industry?
Nicolas: I like to divide this answer in two parts. “Circular” is a reminder that everything around us in nature goes through a life circle, nothing is wasted in that process. Regarding the “Economy” component, it’s important for us to showcase that there are economic opportunities in pursuing business models that also consider social and environmental impacts. In practice, we focus on re-using all the materials we work with: everything is recycled and recyclable. We don’t use any plastic for example, because it pollutes oceans, impacts biodiversity, and affects human health: it cannot be part of the ecological transition. Second, we have conceived the watch in an ecological way: our customers can extend its lifecycle to the maximum thanks to its modular and evolutive design. Last, but certainly not least, though a watch is small, it’s a highly symbolic object. It’s a luxury accessory that crystallizes the values of the wearer. By re-using waste in a luxury piece, we contribute to changing the perception of waste by the public, and that’s really something that motivates us. Eventually, we believe that the word “waste” will no longer exist.

Swiss Embassy: What made you take the leap and decide to create your own start-up company?
Nicolas: I would be lying if I told you everything happened overnight. It took me about ten years to conceptualize my dream and learn about the industry before creating our company. Also, it was challenging to figure out when would be a good time. At some point, you just do it because you see yourself in the future having the biggest regrets for not trying to make it happen. Now that I think about it, that might actually be one of the major reasons that led me to finally get out there and go for it.

Swiss Embassy: How do you build your team?
Nicolas: I look for people smarter than myself and with different backgrounds and profiles to complete the team. The baseline is that we share the same values and come together with one mission: to influence the watchmaking industry toward more sustainability. We have this ID Genève tagline: “maximum responsibility and full transparency”, a motto that goes for the team as a whole.

Swiss Embassy: How do you and your team keep learning about the circular economy?
Nicolas: We are currently working on a five-year-impact roadmap to make ID Genève even more circular with defined and measurable milestones. One concrete example is the fully recycled stainless steel we use: the stainless steel of our watch case is local and traceable; it comes from the waste of the watchmaking companies in the Jura. The waste center recovers this surplus, and it’s then melted down less than 200 kilometers from the Jura. This new « Jura gold » has never been used in watchmaking until now. The carbon footprint of this steel is ten times lower than standard steel and it allows us to eliminate any further extraction of new raw material.

Swiss Embassy: Tell us about the challenges for a young watchmaking company entering an industry based largely on longevity and tradition?
Nicolas: We often communicate using the hashtag “#zeroheritage.” Unlike established brands, we don’t have any heritage to rely on, but I think it’s also part of our strength. In 2020, we felt the responsibility to change the status quo and move towards more sustainability and rethink the entire value chain. In the very beginning, we met many people from the watch industry. We always asked what suppliers had in stock and if it could be re-used. We were given funny looks, but we persisted, and that’s how we found the right partners. Together, we co-developed those innovative materials sourced from the circular economy.

Curious about ID Genève? Visit their Instagram page here!

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