Big companies are usually well known, and lots of brands from around the world have become famous even in other countries. Everyone knows Coca-Cola, and lots of people know Michelin and brands such as Volkswagen. What people do not yet know are some of the famous brands from China, even though they are very large companies.
Seagull, for example, is the world’s largest manufacturer of mechanical watch movements. Bigger than anyone! But few people outside of China know of the company or are familiar with their watches.
Seagull, also known as Sea-Gull, was founded in China in 1955 with just four people working to make the watches there. They have grown substantially. In 1992, the company switched production to make only quartz watches, but in 1997, they changed their minds and now make mechanical watches exclusively.
The full company name is Tianjin Seagull Watch Group, and the company is now publicly traded. They make 25% of all of the world’s mechanical watch movements, including those that go into watches that are sold by many other companies under their own brand.
Seagull sells through a variety of retailers, and in the United States, the company sells direct to the public via their own Website, usseagull.com. The company sells a wide variety of watches on their site, and they are of much better quality than many of the less expensive Chinese brands.
Seagull watches have sapphire crystal on many of their models and good water resistance. They also offer a very good warranty – two years parts and labor from the date of purchase. This is a comparable warranty to many other famous brands.
Most of the watches that Seagull makes have automatic (self-winding) mechanical movements. They also make a few watches with manually wound movements for those who like a more traditional watch. They also make a few watches with gold cases. These are the high end models, most of which include a tourbillon.
You may recall that Chinese manufacturers admire the tourbillon and a few of them make them in order to demonstrate their watchmaking skills. Seagull currently offers eight different watches with a tourbillon that sell for prices that range from U.S. $6900 to U.S. $13,800.
Most of the company’s other watches are far less expensive, with many of them being sold at prices as low as $200. For that price, you can still get a watch with a stainless steel case, a Sea-Gull automatic movement, sapphire crystal, 30 meters of water resistance and a power reserve indicator.
One watch that Seagull recently introduced was a special model created to honor the company’s 55th anniversary. This special watch had the number “55” on the dial in place of the usual number “11.”
If you like the chronograph, Seagull makes three different models. What they do not yet seem to make is watches for women. This seems to be true for many Chinese watch manufacturers. While some make a few models for women, most offer only men’s models. This will probably change with time, but most decisions about models are made with Chinese consumers in mind, and right now, most watch buyers are men.
Still, Seagaull has more than 50 years of history making quality watches.
While a lot of Swiss watch companies are more or less household names, that isn’t true of Chinese watch manufacturers. There are good ones and not so good ones, and chances are you haven’t heard of any of them.
That’s because the Chinese watch industry is having a rebirth and many of the companies making watches in China, even the big ones, aren’t yet that old. One good example is Parnis.
Parnis makes watches for consumers as well as movements used in other brands. The company was founded in 2005 by three people with a long history of manufacturing and marketing. They wanted to create a high quality watch brand that could still be sold at a favorable price point.
Parnis has done well that way, and today they make a number of different models in automatic, manual-wound, and quartz styles. Most are surprisingly affordable; the company’s brand has models that start at U.S. $129. For that price, you get either a Japanese Miyota or Chinese Seagull movement, a 316L stainless steel case, and sapphire crystal. You also get good water resistance, which is not often found in Chinese watches.
Styling of Parnis watches seems to be inspired by traditional Swiss designs, so you’ll see styles that look familiar to you if you’ve been shopping for Swiss watches. A few of their models seem inspired by Rolex and others by Breitling. Most of the designs seem to be aimed at men, though you might see a few unisex models among the company’s offerings.
You’ll find some good features inside Parnis watches, too. Aside from the good build quality, you’ll find models with calendars that show the month, date, and day of the week. At first glance, you might think that the watch was a chronograph, though Parnis offers those, too.
Many of their mechanical models offer a power reserve indicator, so that you can see how much longer the watch is likely to run before it needs more movement or rewinding.
Unlike most watches from China, Parnis watches also offer a good warranty – in fact, most are sold with a warranty of 24 months from the date of purchase, which is a very good warranty and is quite unusual for Chinese brands. Many of the lesser brands from China do not come with a warranty at all.
It is nice to see well-built, attractive watches with nice features that are sold for prices that range in the hundreds of dollars, rather than in the thousands. Admittedly, there is no luxury in Parnis models. They all have stainless steel cases and they do not yet sell models with gold cases or with diamonds embedded in them.
I also have not yet seen a tourbillon in any of their models, though those may come at a later date. As I have mentioned before, a tourbillon is a very popular feature to include in watches from China, and many of the better brands include them.
Still, if you are looking for an attractive mechanical watch that looks good, comes with a good warranty and includes some nice features, you might want to look at Parnis watches.
Two hundred years ago, Abraham-Louis Breguet developed a device known as a tourbillon (French for “whirlwind”) to try to make his watches more accurate in keeping time. He had noticed that pocket watches of the day were often kept in the same position for long periods of time and he thought that perhaps gravity was having an effect on the ability to keep time correctly.
His invention placed important parts of the watch movement, the escapement and balance wheel, inside a rotating cage. That way, if the watch moved or stayed still, the escapement and balance wheel would never be in one position for any length of time.
The tourbillon was a complicated addition to watches, and eventually, most watchmakers found ways to make their watches more accurate without including one in the design. Over the years, many Swiss watchmakers, such as Ulysse Nardin, Audemars Piguet, Zenith, and of course Breguet, have continued to include a tourbillon in some of their models. Part of this is for accuracy, and part of it is to show off the watchmaker’s ability to produce intricate movements.
Very few Swiss companies make a watch with a tourbillon, and if you want one, you will usually have to pay more than U.S. $20,000 for a watch that has one. Many models sell for more than $100,000.
That is what makes Memorigin watches unique. This company, based in Hong Kong, makes watches that have both Chinese and Swiss design influences. What makes Memorigin watches especially unique, however, is the fact that every watch they sell has a tourbillon!
That alone sets Memorigin apart from every other watchmaker on the planet, as no other company includes such a complex device in all of their watches. According to their Website, each of their movements requires:
- 6 months of production
- The work of 30 certified technicians
- 4500 steps in the manufacturing process
- 50 steps of milling
- 77 steps of polishing
- 18 different metals
The company makes their own movements, and their watch designs are made using local designers. They have some unique designs, as well as some that are inspired by licensed brands. They make some watches with a Star Wars design, for instance, and they have also partnered with corporation such as Land Rover and celebrities such as Jermaine Jackson (Michael Jackson’s brother) to produce custom watches.
While Swiss watches with a tourbillon are very expensive, those from Memorigin are much more affordable. Some of their models sell for as little as U.S. $7000. They do have some luxury models that cost more. The Butterfly Rose, for instance, is a rare watch with a tourbillon that is made for women. This one has more than 600 diamonds and a rose gold case. The very pretty watch sells for U.S. $27,000.
The founder of the company, Wai Lam Shum, also known as William Shum, is seeking to make the world more aware of how good a Chinese watch can be, and also to make the world aware that one does not have to pay U.S. $100,000 for a high quality watch with a tourbillon.
So far, the results are impressive, and the watches are quite attractive and (for luxury watches,) quite affordable.
Why Chinese Watches?
If you like wristwatches, China is likely not the first country that comes to mind when you think about them. You might think of Switzerland, or Japan, or even the United States, but China does not usually come to the top of the list.
It might come as surprise to many readers, then, to discover that the Chinese built a water-powered clock back in 1088, and that many historians consider that to be the first mechanical clock ever built. In fact, the Chinese have been making timepieces for centuries, but they are admittedly a bit late to the current wristwatch market.
Part of this has to do with the country’s government, which viewed watches as a luxury item. The government looked upon luxury items with disdain, so for many years, Chinese manufacturing of watches lacked behind that of Japan.
This has changed in recent years, with the opening up of the Chinese economy. There are now more than 300 manufacturing companies in China that make watches. Many of them, such as Xiaomai, specialize in smartwatches, but there are also companies that specialize in making traditional mechanical watches.
The Beijing Watch Factory, founded in 1958, may be the best known of Chinese watch brands, though one cannot say that any brand from China is yet known to most people. Beijing Watch Factory specializes in making watches with automatic movements and also makes movements to be sold at wholesale to other manufacturers, who can then label the finished watches under their own name.
In recent years, Beijing Watch Factory has started to make tourbillon watches. A tourbillon is a mechanical component for watches that was developed by the Swiss more than 200 years ago. It was intended to make the watch more accurate, by allowing the escapement to rotate and thus counteract the force of gravity. A tourbillon is difficult to make and because of this, many Swiss watches that have one sell for more than U.S. $50,000.
Chinese manufacturers, such as Beijing Watch Company, now make them at much lower prices. That means that you can now own a watch with this elegant feature for less than $5000.
Another Chinese watch maker, Sea-Gull, also known as Tianjin Seagull Watch Group, was founded in 1955, and is now the world’s largest maker of watch movements. In fact, Sea-Gull now makes 25% of all of the watch movements in the world.
It is true that many watches made in China are not yet of good quality and are sold for low prices. That is not true of all of them, however. As time goes on and manufacturing improves, more companies are attempting to build high quality watches that can still be sold for far lower prices than you might pay for a Japanese, American or Swiss watch.
This blog was created to make readers aware of some of the newer watches coming from China, as well as to make them aware of some of the new brands that are making watches there. I will try to update the blog regularly as I find new information that might be of interest.