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Is my watch green?

by Jordan Ficklin

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Rolex Anniversary SubmarinerNo, I don’t mean is it an Anniversary edition Submariner. I’ve written on this topic before. Is your watch friendly for the environment. I am always on the look out for hard facts that support or dispute the idea that mechanical watches are more environmentally friendly than quartz watches.

The Jewelers Circular Keystone focused on environmental concerns in the jewelry industry this month and they claim “Watchmakers Lead the Green Charge” but they don’t back themselves up with any hard figures. After reading the article I felt that since watch companies are moving away from Mercury based batteries and because most watch batteries are recycled the industry is green, but I think there is much more to it.

I’ve been on the hunt for figures and here are a few things I’ve considered.

The metal your watch case is made out of may have more to do with how green your watch is than who made it or what it has inside. The Danish Friends of the Earth (NOAH) have written a paper describing the “ecological rucksack” of certain materials. This describes how much material must be mined to produce one kilogram of a certain product. I’ve selected some common watch materials and here’s what you get:

Material MI (amount mined per kg)
Ceramic 27
Secondary Stainless Steel 53
Secondary Carbon Steel 54
Primary Carbon Steel 68
Secondary Zinc 78
Secondary Copper 79
Primary Stainless Steel 235
Moulded Plastic <250
Primary Zinc 335
Nickel 414
Primary Copper 751
Silver 7,500
Platinum 527,100
Gold 540,000

Jasper Rado Secondary Metals include recycled material. Brass is about 70% copper and 30% zinc. These numbers don’t include materials mined to create energy needed to form the cases, but it is a glance at what goes into these materials. These numbers do reflect the material mined to create the fuel to perform the mining operation. Remember, mining materials doesn’t just mean your moving around dirt and likely making a big ugly hole in the ground, you are also burning fossil fuels to run the machinery and releasing those into the atmosphere. It would appear that this Rado’s ceramic watch case (on Watchismo) is the greenest and steel fairs way better than Precious Metals. In fact plastic (that evil petroleum product) could be way better than the solid gold Day-Date when it comes to its environmental impact. You could make about 2000 plastic Timex watches and move the same amount of dirt as you would for one solid gold watch.

World Changing has a good article about how much of these mined (and refined) materials the average American uses.

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  1. Posted April 16, 2008 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    When it comes to mining, there are also issues of human rights to be considered, and not simply green issues. While it didn’t dive into the human rights side of things too deeply, the most recent issue of Robb Report featured an interesting article on Vacheron Constantin’s use of platinum in their watches and all that goes into mining and refining that. Refining being another issue altogether in burning fossil fuels. Not to mention transporting it all that distance from places like sub-Saharan Africa.

    The ultimate green: keeping your heirloom mechanical or garage sale find well alive and ticking, serviced locally by a skilled, well trained and equipped watchmaker.

    The horrendous amount of shipping done through service centers is by no means green at all. Hundreds of “defective” movements – full of many still perfectly good parts – get sent back to Switzerland from service centers almost daily. Recycling these parts and pumping them back out locally, even nationally, would earn major “green” kickbacks, not only in reducing the use of fossil fuels for shipping, but also by enabling parts-starved watchmakers to pump new life back into old movements. By simply doing that, all of a sudden, you’re reducing fossil fuel consumption shipping back and forth from jewelry stores to service centers and from service centers to Switzerland, you’re re-using perfectly good parts, and you’re recycling that beautiful mechanical watch or lithium cell powered hybrid watch you’ve always loved.

    I give kudos to Suunto for their efforts. Tissot’s similarly featured T-Touch could learn a lot from that article.

    My applause to Audemars Piguet for their new “green” facility now in the works, and Golay-Spierer for their efforts as well.

  2. Posted April 16, 2008 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    Woops! Emphasis on “effort” in respect to Suunto. It was some time ago that I had read that press release and I convoluted it somewhere along the way. I would love to see them take a more local approach to their recycling efforts. Nevertheless, kudos to their recycling old movement parts (and materials?) at the very least.

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