Last week, the luxury brand Hublot announced a very special range of wrist watches, called the “Hublot Big Bang Unico Nespresso Origin”. What makes these products unique is that they are the first watches to be made of recycled Nespresso coffee grounds and capsules. The coffee grounds from used Nespresso capsules are transformed into the straps of this watch — a rubber version as well as a velcro-fabric version. In addition, the recycled Aluminium capsules of Nespresso are used to create the metal parts of the watch — the case, bezel and crown.

I was intrigued by this marriage of two very different products — coffee and wrist watches. Quite coincidentally, during my long career with the Tata group, I have worked in both the watches and coffee industries. Hence, this news held my attention with twice the intensity, much like a double espresso. But it was the insight behind the creation of this watch that fascinated me.

Not only is this a very novel product that triggers consumer attention, it represents a commitment to recycling material ranging from coffee grounds to aluminium. Therefore, it demonstrates that environmental responsibility and luxury can go hand in hand. This is very likely to have a positive impact on how two big Swiss brands — Hublot and Nespresso — are perceived. Such perception is particularly valuable in our times, when environmental consciousness is fast becoming a key driver of consumer choice.

Moon dust and hair

Yet another aspect that leapt out at me was the use of unconventional material like coffee grounds and Nespresso capsules to make a wrist watch. This provides the product with such an interesting and memorable story. My curiosity led me to study this subject further, and I soon discovered that many other wrist watches had used surprising materials in the past.

For instance, some years ago, Romaine Jerome, another brand of luxury watches, created the Moon Dust-DNA watch. These watches use real moon dust as well as rocket and spacesuit parts from Soyuz spacecraft and NASA’s Apollo 11 moon mission. The moon dust was in tiny craters on the face of the watch, and was certified as real and authentic. The strap of the watch was composed of fibres from a spacesuit worn during the International Space Station Mission. This was a limited edition of the 1969 watches, to reflect the year in which man first landed on the moon. The watches were highly priced, but they were also highly prized by connoisseurs who desired to own a piece of the moon. This also strengthened Romaine Jerome’s position as an innovative and exclusive brand.

Yet another example of unusual material in watches comes from the DeWitt brand, which launched watches that contained real strands of Emperor Napoleon’s hair. DeWitt had purchased Napoleon’s hair at an auction in France in 2014. Each watch in this limited edition line contained a small piece of this “precious” hair on the dial. The hair was varnished, to ensure its preservation.

Moving on from watches to other product categories, there are many interesting examples of unconventional material being used by brands. Ikea has begun replacing Styrofoam with mushroom-based packaging. The key driver here is clearly a move towards environment-friendly material. There are famous paan sellers in some cities of India who use gold foil and silver sheets in their premium paan offerings. These are exclusive after-meal products which signal prosperity, status and privilege. Despite their high price (₹750 and upwards), I am told that they command a loyal following. In 2016, Bajaj launched a new 150cc motorbike called Bajaj V, with the byline “Part motorbike, part war hero”. Each motorbike in this range contained metal sourced from India’s first aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant. Brand attributes such as solidity and invincibility got quickly transferred to this motorbike from our cherished memories of INS Vikrant.

The use of such unusual materials present wonderful opportunities for brands and marketers to make unique points about their products. Whether a brand wishes to emphasise sustainability or exclusivity or national pride or some other important attribute, there is new material waiting to be discovered. Watch this space !

(Harish Bhat is Brand Custodian, Tata Sons. These are his personal views. )