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.
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.