Let's see if Chinese watch brands can replace Swiss watches for us

Watches marked “Made in China” have long conquered the world market, but at the same time, many of us are still not taken seriously - the long-established stereotype that goods from China are of poor quality, consumer goods, and the country’s reputation as a leader in the production of fakes does not help change image. However, this country has a lot to offer.

Being the world's largest watch manufacturer, China, among other things, is a fairly reliable supplier of high-quality components that Swiss watch brands do not hesitate to use - after all, as we remember, to be called swiss made, it is enough to have only 60% of labor and parts in the cost of goods Swiss origin. So the remaining 40% in your favorite watch may be very much made in China - which doesn't make it any worse, but definitely more affordable.

It is logical to assume that good watches in China are produced both for export and for domestic consumption, so let's see what the PRC watch industry is proud of. Let's start with a lyrical digression.

On November 4, 2021, much to the amazement and outrage of some and the delight of a few others, CIGA Design became the first Chinese brand to win the Geneva Watch Grand Prix award, beating five other contenders in the Challenge Watch category. The first prize in this category (models whose retail price does not exceed 3500 Swiss francs is accepted) was received by CIGA Design for the Blue Planet watch, a model in a 46 mm titanium case, on a self-winding movement, with an original dial and no less original decision on time indication. Price? 1800 francs. CIGA Design - have you heard of these? Here's a 100% Chinese brand number one.

The CIGA Design watch saw the light of day in 2013 – and the first model released, a minimalist quartz watch, won the Red Dot award from an international design competition for “the aesthetic expression of exclusivity and straightforward character.” To date, according to the brand's website, Red Dot has been awarded CIGA Design 8 times, which is probably not surprising - the founder of the brand, Chang Yanmin, is a graphic designer with architectural experience, who has also been passionate about watches for many years.

Blue Planet is a price exception, with watches in the brand's main collections priced between 200 and 400 francs, so the stated goal of making CIGA Design watches accessible to young buyers seems achievable. 90% of sales of CIGA Design are provided by native China, since 2019 brand watches are sold in Indonesia, Russia, Great Britain, Malaysia, Switzerland and other countries. The original appearance of watches produced by CIGA Design is not necessarily to your liking, but look and agree that they are not badly made.

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CIGA Design may have received a prestigious award, but no matter how many Chinese you ask which native watch brand to consider #1, the answer will always be Sea-gull.

Chinese watch factories are a relatively young business, especially in comparison with Swiss manufactories. Most of the latter were created by watchmakers and entrepreneurs, as they say, from scratch, and the Chinese watch industry is akin to the Soviet one - it was created by the state, and acted, as it should be for the state, on a grand scale: in the mid-1950s, Goths in China Swiss models, having built three large factories for this, in Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin - this is the so-called "big three".

Sea-gull, originally from Tianjin, among other achievements (first place in the country in terms of output), is also proud of the fact that it was here that the first 100% Chinese mechanical watches were designed and manufactured. It is noteworthy that since the 1990s, the brand has not produced quartz models, producing exclusively mechanical ones. To put it bluntly, most of what Sea-gull brings to market are blatant examples of an uninspiring range, but a few models have resonated with consumers internationally.

We are talking about the Chronohraph 1963, Dual Time, Bauhaus, Ocean Star and Tank Commander models. Of course, all these “bright samples” have nothing to do with watchmaking art, but, like “Komandirskie” in their time, for some reason they are dear to enthusiasts. If you want to be part of this community, start your Chinese collection with the Sea-gull Chronograph 1963 watch.

The Chronograph 1963 is a very good remake of a watch made for the People's Liberation Army Air Force in the 1960s. The legendary “aviation” watch was reproduced with attention to detail, but placed in a slightly larger case (40 mm), retained the simple round chronograph buttons, emphasized the “vintage” spirit with the design of the dial: gold-colored numbers and indexes, blue hour and minute hands, red chronograph hand. On the reverse side, a transparent cover opens up a view of Sea-gull's own in-house movement. Price? From 229 USD.

Beijing Watch Factory, that is, the Beijing Watch Factory, is another pillar of the Chinese watch industry. The history of the plant is inextricably linked with the history of the country, anyone who is interested in watchmaking should spend a little time studying it. We have a slightly different task, so let's go straight to the heights of watchmaking art, to tourbillons - namely, it is these complex designs of Beijing Watch Factory's own production that stand out from the rest of the companies today.

Work on China's first watch with a tourbillon was started by Beijing Watch Factory watchmaker Xu Yaonan in 1995, the prototype was launched in 1996 and was ready for serial production in 1997, but the financial crisis that broke out changed these plans, the project was postponed until better times. Better times came with the beginning of the new, 21st century: the Beijing Watch Factory revised its position in the market and aimed at producing higher quality products at a higher price, and promoting its own brand, while previously the factory mainly produced high-quality movements for third parties. customers (for example, for the American Stocker & Yale, which supplied watches to the US Army).

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In 2004, the Beijing Watch Factory launched its TB01-2 tourbillon into production. Although it was not the first Chinese tourbillon, it was the highest quality at the time. In 2006, the Double Tourbillon Watch (TB02) was announced for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. 2008 was also the year of the debut of the Beijing Watch Factory at Baselworld, where the brand introduced the TB01-2 model, adorned with amazing engraving. In the same year, a prototype MRB1 watch with a minute repeater was created.

Tourbillon watches from the Beijing Watch Factory are not cheap: a quick Internet search turned up a tourbillon watch for 15000 USD and even 140000 USD. Designed for a wealthy domestic consumer, the models are made of precious metals, decorated with engraving and enamel, imitating the best examples of Swiss companies. This desire to create at home, in China, something that is made and recognized as high-quality and unique somewhere outside the country, is easily explained by the Chinese handicraft tradition: there is no shame in creating an ideal copy of something. On the contrary, it is an encouraged evidence of skill.

Of course, this noble desire should not be confused with the desire to satisfy demand and capitalize on the desire of the masses deprived of critical thinking and consumer culture, but this is a topic for a separate material.

Before designating a couple more Chinese "folk" watch brands, you need to pay attention to this. Of course, desired by a billion Chinese are Rolex, Omega и Patek Philippe, but there are far fewer people who are able to fork out for a premium Swiss brand than those who want to own a watch in general.

It is also important to note that the slogan proclaimed at the state level "love China - buy Chinese" finds an incredible response from the population, traditionally accustomed to listening to the voice of the party. With that said, here are the brands that have been on the lists of the most popular Asian brands (in Asia) for many years.

Rossini - the brand is very young, appeared in 1984, named after the famous Italian composer, and its products should continue his "clear style and creative spirit." To what extent the watches from the Rossini collections succeed - judge for yourself, there are men's and women's watches, there are pair watches - this is when they look the same, but the sizes in a pair are different. In terms of price / quality ratio, I must admit that many copies of a similar price range that consider themselves Swiss or European brands lose, sometimes at times.

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Of the men's models, the quartz ROSGB027 and mechanical self-winding ROSGS038 stand out from the crowd thanks to the work done on the design of the dial, but still the watch looks rather modest and as if it were not 2022 in the yard, but the 1990s. "Time always follows me" is the slogan of Rossini, which, according to the brand's website, "is proud of every moment of its short history." I won’t judge, there are no comrades in taste and color, but a little freshness in the design of Rossini watches would not hurt, time is breathing too close in the back, history is stepping on the heels ...

Watch collections are perceived differently. Tian Wang - this brand is not even 35 years old, along with the watch factories of Beijing and Tianjin, it is the real leader, annually Tian Wang sells more than 2 million items. The range of the brand consists of 40 current collections - there are chronographs, tourbillon watches, there are limited editions, there are collaborations, watches "smart", diving, designer, there are frank, barely modified copies of popular Swiss models - that is, the choice is huge. And one could join those millions that Tian Wang are happy to buy - but no, nothing from the whole rich offer of the brand takes for a living - I feel there is a lot of marketing and PR, not enough soul.

There are many Chinese watch brands, and the review could be continued indefinitely, but even these studied ones mentioned above allow us to draw certain conclusions.

Firstly, China produces good watches and components for the watch industry, which are in demand outside of China, but, as a rule, this is made to order with the strictest quality control according to designs from outside. A good example is fashion brand watches.

Secondly, Chinese watch production is primarily focused on the domestic market and the market of its region, which forms the look and pricing. Thirdly, in China there are craftsmen and the technical ability to produce complex watches with amazing finishes, but there is no question of competition in the world market.

Summary. If you suddenly really want to buy a truly Chinese watch, that is, not only Made in China, but also a 100% Chinese brand, and not be considered an eccentric at the same time, take the Sea-gull Chronograph 1963 - the wallet will not empty much, but there will be something talk with comrades, after all - history ... Beware of fakes.


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