What Should I Do with Old Watches?

Broken wrist women’s gold watch. Close up. Isolated on white background.

The hour has come—that beloved watch on your wrist has finally given up the ghost and you are at a loss: What to do with the remains? Is it possible or worthwhile to save it? Recycle it?

Old watches can be recycled for their parts, repurposed for other projects, or sold to pawn shops or online. If the watch is name brand, well made, or vintage, it will definitely be worth selling. Otherwise, it is still better to recycle or repurpose the watch rather than throw it away.

You might be surprised at the value of your old watch, or at least at the creative potential within those tiny little gears and that worn-out old strap. Whether you sell it, donate it, or recycle it is up to you—it all comes down to whatever makes you tick.

Selling an Old Watch

Antique analog pocket watch with hands and numbers. Vintage pocket watch

A good watch is like an old friend. You can never get back the time you spent together—but you can get back some of the money if you’re persistent.

If you bought the watch from an esteemed seller and it is particularly well-made, you might have something in the early stages of being vintage quality. Unlike other items that suffer wear and tear over years of use, watches often increase in value over time. Contact a local jeweler or pawn shop to get your watch appraised before selling it or listing it anywhere online; you might be surprised to find out what it’s actually worth.

If the watch was unnecessarily expensive and good quality (we’re looking at you, Rolex, Cartier, and Tag Heuer), it might be worth considering it a family keepsake. Or convince someone in your family that your dead watch is a precious heirloom and should be passed down from one generation to the next. Nobody needs to know that you actually got it at Walmart on a whim. Nobody needs to know. How are they going to know?

Alternatively, your watch has simply gone out of style and you’re buying a new one soon, or you’ve stopped wearing the watch altogether and forgot it even existed until you found it in your junk drawer. (We know you have one. Everybody has a junk drawer.) Even if it’s not a fancy, expensive watch, it can probably still be sold. Sometimes all a watch needs is a bit of repair and quick cleaning and it’s geared up to go!

Still, if all else fails and no one wants to give you money for the sad old thing, donating the watch is always a conscience-friendly route.

Donating an Old Watch

macro of replacing a watch battery with watchmaker tools

Because cell phones and digital watches are taking over the timekeeping industry, the watch-making industry is shrinking. This means manufactured watch parts are becoming increasingly rare; watchmakers and jewelers will gladly take them off of your hands. Or wrists.

If there are no professionals in the area who would use your old watch for parts, sometimes you can contact the original manufacturer. Often, manufacturers will accept old watches via shipping and scour them for reusable parts. If neither of those options works for you, then there are dozens of charity organizations that accept watch donations, regardless of their condition, and either sell them to raise money or clean them to reuse the parts in new timepieces and jewelry.

I realize we’ve spent all of this time talking about watches as if you’ve walked straight out of the 1970s—it’s been all tick and no talk. So what about smartwatches? Well, lucky for Apple users, Apple will accept many of its devices back from customers who no longer use them or have upgraded to a new product. If the smartwatch is in good condition, it may even give you credit toward your next purchase. Fitness trackers and other fitness watches typically can’t be returned to the seller, but there are plenty of buyback websites that will take them. For other smartwatches, your best bet is to sell or donate them.

If you have a generic smartwatch that no longer works and cannot be repaired, donate it online to a site like RecycleHealth or take it to the proper local facility for electronic waste.

Recycling an Old Watch

Recycling trashcan with analog digital watch, 3D rendering isolated on white background

Alright, if you’ve read this far you’re probably determined enough to be environmentally friendly while dealing with your old watch. It is possible to recycle an old watch, but it can be a meticulous process since each of the parts is made out of different materials (rubber, silicone, plastic, copper, etc.) so often recycling facilities won’t accept them. That being said, if you’re determined to recycle your watch, the best thing you can do is upcycle it. Here are a bunch of creative ways to give your old watch new life:

  • Take it apart and build something new. – There are dozens of ingenious ways to make new toys and contraptions out of watch parts.
  • Use it as a bookmark. – No, I’m not making fun of you. A watch really can make a nostalgic, practical placeholder in a book! Think of it as bookmarking the chapter of life you left off on. Okay, that’s a bit of a stretch but you get the idea.
  • Make ornaments out of it. – Using the face of the wristband, you can make all kinds of artistic Christmas ornaments out of an old watch.
  • Use it as a clock. – Wait, what? The whole reason you’re reading this is that you can no longer do that, right? WRONG. You can separate the watch from the band and use it as a mounted clock in a dollhouse! You’re welcome.
  • Make jewelry. – This work especially well if the watch was a beautiful piece, to begin with. Consider making it into a pendant for a necklace, or a pair of earrings if you have more than one watch to get rid of. On the other hand, it could make a glamorous bracelet; bedazzle the face or the band with a few beads and you’ve got a one-of-a-kind accessory.

The possibilities are endless. Just don’t let your watch go to waste!

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