Are Mechanical Watches More Eco-Friendly? Ethical Considerations Explored

Written by: Maz P
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Watch Movement

With the modern watchmaking industry having a heavy focus on sustainability, the debate over the impact on the environment of watches has gained traction. Amidst the growing concerns, there are discussions on the manufacturing processes and materials involved in producing mechanical timepieces. Questions have been raised across the industry, are mechanical watches more eco-friendly? If sustainability is also at the forefront of your mind as a watchmaker, you may be wondering which watch type is the most eco-friendly. However, sustainability in watchmaking has many complexities and the answer has a lot of factors.

What are the Sustainability Concerns in the Watch Industry?

The watch industry, like many others, faces significant sustainability challenges in modern society. With concerns raised across various stages of production, distribution, and consumption, manufacturers are seeking new ways to make exquisite timepieces in a more eco-friendly way. However, the future of sustainability in the watch industry is a long game with no quick solution and some issues will be a factor for many years to come.

Material Sourcing

The extraction of raw materials for watch production can have negative environmental impacts. Unsustainable mining practices, including deforestation, habitat destruction, and water pollution, tear through nature and harm local communities. Precious metals and gemstones are two popular watch materials that need consideration. However, the major concern is the use of lithium in batteries used for quartz watches.

Manufacturing Processes

The manufacturing of watch components involves energy-intensive processes that heavily affect the planet. These processes produce greenhouse gas emissions and chemical pollution while the use of hazardous substances in watch manufacturing poses risks to both the environment and human health.

Packaging and Logistics

The packaging and transportation of watches contribute to carbon emissions and waste generation. Excessive packaging, single-use plastics, and inefficient logistics systems further exacerbate environmental impacts.

Lifespan and Disposal

In the 21st century, we have a culture of disposability leading to increased waste. The short lifespan of fashion watches and the lack of repairability in some designs contribute to this problem. While the luxury watch market is typically an investment hub, cheaper and lower quality watches are getting thrown out and in many cases, are improperly disposed of. Even in the luxury space, lithium watch batteries are frequently disposed of.

Addressing these sustainability concerns requires collective action from not only watch brands and manufacturers but also consumers. In contrast to the environmental impact in other industries, the watch manufacturers contributions are minimal but we all have to play our part. Although we may have no control over how the watch industry operates, as consumers, we are the ones who fund it. Our money and purchasing choices speak volumes, significantly impacting the future of the watch industry.

Why are Quartz Watches not Eco-friendly?

Casio Quartz Watch

Quartz watches were a huge technological advancement when they were introduced. Their convenience and availability continue to make them a popular watch choice. Yet, quartz watches are renowned for having a huge environmental footprint. The batteries that power watches contain lithium, a chemical element that is extracted from the Earth. Extracting lithium for battery production has significant environmental consequences, adversely affecting local ecosystems and wildlife. The extraction also uses heavy water consumption that heightens water scarcity and the chemicals used for this process are a heavy pollutant.

When it comes to disposing of these lithium batteries, there are further issues. It is extremely rare for these batteries to be disposed of correctly and these batteries typically end up in landfills. It takes hundreds of years for them to decompose and during this time, they release harmful toxins into the environment.

Issues with Battery Disposal in the Watch Industry

Battery disposal is one of the most significant environmental challenges in the watch industry. The lithium-ion batteries, commonly used in quartz watches, contain toxic substances such as lithium, cobalt, and nickel. The elements can contaminate ecosystems and pose health risks to humans and wildlife.

Improper disposal methods are the leading factors in the release of hazardous chemicals and heavy metals into the environment. When these batteries end up in landfills, they contribute to pollution and ecosystem degradation through the release of harmful chemicals over hundreds of years. These batteries also pose fire hazards if not handled and disposed of properly.

The disposal of these batteries primarily lies with the consumer who will throw out a lithium battery from a quartz watch every 4-5 years on average. A lack of awareness about proper disposal practices contributes to high levels of electronic waste that contains valuable materials that could be recycled.

Watch Batteries

Addressing the environmental issues of battery disposal in the watch industry requires comprehensive waste management strategies that prioritize recycling and safe disposal practices. The promotion of battery recycling initiatives and raising awareness will help the environmental impact but it is expensive and will not resolve the entire solution. Mechanical watches are a great alternative as there are no batteries to be disposed of.

Are Mechanical Watches Environmentally Friendly?

Many argue that mechanical watches, with their intricate craftsmanship and longevity, offer a more eco-friendly alternative to battery-powered quartz watches. Mechanical watches are powered by a renewable energy source which not only provides them with a longer lifespan but is better for the environment than a quartz battery. There are many concerns surrounding the use of batteries and mechanical watches make this concern irrelevant. Powered by the wearer’s wrist, mechanical watches are self-powering and do not require batteries. This means that the environmental impact of manufacturing mechanical watches is cut in half in comparison to quartz watches. Without batteries, there are also no battery disposal issues.

Rolex Submariner Watch

Due to this operating system, mechanical watches also have a longer lifespan than quartz watches. They are designed to be repaired rather than replaced, limiting the disposal concerns surrounding watches. While there are many budget-friendly mechanical watches for fashion, the majority of mechanical watches fall into the luxury watch category. This is an investment industry and watches of this value are not typically disposed of as they are high-ticketed items.

However, mechanical watches do still raise some sustainability concerns. Primarily, the materials used and how they are sourced. Many mechanical watches are crafted from premium materials such as precious metals and gemstones. The mining processes that go into sourcing and extracting such materials have a significant environmental footprint that cannot be ignored. Yet more sustainable materials are on the rise and there has been great development in the production of mechanical timepieces made from sustainable materials.

The Most Eco-friendly Mechanical Watches

While sustainability in the watch industry is in development, the options for eco-friendly watches are limited. At present, there is no timepiece that is 100% sustainable but in recent years, great steps have been taken forward. Panerai, Mondaine, and Swatch are the pioneers of sustainable watch development but many other renowned watch brands are stepping up to the table.

Mondaine

Creators of the first solar-powered watch, Mondaine is a leader in the sustainable watch space. They use primarily recycled materials, no diamonds, and only a few grams of gold per year. The Mondaine factory is also 80% solar-powered and their Essence collection features some of the most eco-friendly watches on the market.

Panerai Submersible Mike Horn Edition

Panerai was the first producer of an eco-titanium watch. Panerai Submersible Mike Horn Edition is crafted from recycled titanium and addresses many environmental concerns in the industry. Featuring an automatic P.9100 caliber movement, this timepiece is both premium and eco-friendly.

CIGA Design Series U Blue Planet

Designed in collaboration with Earth Day, the CIGA Design Series U Blue Planet has taken sustainability seriously. With a mechanical movement, recycled titanium case, and recycled packaging, this timepiece’s slogan is ‘Our home, our responsibility’.

Timex Expedition North Field

This Timex watch is one of the most environmentally friendly currently on the market. The mechanical timepiece boasts an Ecco Dritan leather watch strap, designed from eco-friendly materials.

Swatch Bioceramic

Although the Swatch brand is famous for its quartz-powered digital watches, its automatic line is a great step forward in sustainability. Their mechanical movements are a step away from the battery-powered timepieces they are renowned for and the introduction of their Bioceramic range is a further step towards eco-friendly timepieces. Crafted from a blend of ceramic and bio-sourced plastic, these watches are made from more sustainable materials.

Are Mechanical Watches More Sustainable FAQ

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AUTHOR

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I started WatchmakingTools to share my passion and knowledge with those already bitten by the watchmaking bug. I’ve often spent hours searching online for answers on a specific issue, and even though there is a wealth of information out there, it hasn’t always been very useful, hence why I wanted to share my own findings.

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