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.