Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Yuan's Devalued. Is it Time to Buy a Chinese Watch?

China has devalued its currency. Does that mean it’s a good time to buy a Chinese watch?

Textured white face, beautiful blue hands, a Maison
 Celadon  watch may be something you want to try on
 your wrist. Photo from Maison Celadon. 
Chinese watches have always been generally less expensive than comparable Swiss, Japanese, or German watches. When used with watches, comparable is a word that implies a level of technological equality, and while Chinese watch movements are getting better and better, they’re still not as good as those the Swiss and Japanese make. While there’s going to be an engineering gap between China and its watchmaking rivals for years or decades—or forever—what’s inside many Chinese watches is pretty damn good. Mercedes may be better than Audi, but who would mind driving an Audi?

And on the outside, too, Chinese watches are lookers. Many Chinese watches are better than just good-looking, especially those that incorporate traditional Chinese art or design.

I own a few Chinese watches, including a Seagull 1963 Airforce Watch Reissue, a Perpetual Pointer Date, and a Beijing Galaxy Retrograde GMT. This article isn’t a review of any particular Chinese watch. Instead, I want to provide a broad introduction to Chinese watches and suggest that now is as good a time as any to buy one, because the prices are low and Chinese watch technology is on an upswing.

I don’t want to give the impression that all Chinese watches are in what’s generally known as the affordable category. Many very good Chinese watches can be acquired with just a few Benjamin Franklins (that’s a few hundred US dollars, for those not familiar with the American colloquial term for hundred dollar bill). The prices of other Chinese watches can be measured in numbers of new cars you can buy. But even the more stratospherically priced Chinese watches, such as Beijing Watch Factory’s triple axis tourbillon, which sells for about US$70,000, and Seagull’s 18K rose gold case bi-axial tourbillon that’s usually sold for US$48,000 may be a bit more affordable following the yuan’s devaluation. (A Swiss watch with a two- or three-axis tourbillon is going to add an extra zero to that price.)

A plain vanilla Chinese tourbillon made by Seagull costs about US$7,300.

Right now I have my eye on a Maison Celadon Blanc de Chine, which uses a Beijing Watch Factory SB18-6 movement, with a frequency of 21,600 bph. I’ve included a photo of that watch in this article. It’s about US$1,000.

“Mass produced” and “low quality” are two terms that often come out of people’s mouths when they talk about products made in China. That may be true for some Chinese watches, but a growing number of Chinese watchmakers are proud to make the best possible watch. They value quality, craftsmanship, and innovation, something that you’ll notice when you touch one. Maison Celadon even boasts about the Chinese movement that they use in their watches.

Putting a Chinese watch on your wrist if you’ve never had one there before is going to feel different from what you’re used to. If you regularly wear a Patek Philippe or a Breguet, a Chinese watch may feel unworthy because every time you look at it you’ll think, “But it’s not Swiss.” If your daily wear is an Omega, Breitling, or Rolex, a Chinese watch may feel like you’re flying on a brand-new discount airline—one that may not be here next year. If you are into Seikos, a Chinese watch may feel like it’s missing some key technology—an escapement or something like that. (I assure you that all the parts are there and they work in synchronized harmony.)

Is that a bad thing, to feel differently about your watch? We have emotional connections with our watches, even if we don’t admit or recognize them. We have preferences when it comes to watches, just like we do with food, sex, books, clothes, and travel. And that’s fine. But let’s say you adore the beach and that’s the only kind of vacation you ever take. What if a discounted trip to a mountain with an alpine lake fell into your lap? Should you try it? You might hate the sound of chirping crickets and lament your suntan’s slow fade. Or you might really like it. How can you tell other than by trying?

The Seagull 1963 Air Force Reissue.
 Affordable and cool looking. 
When you buy a Chinese watch, you’re very likely buying a watch with a Chinese movement. That may sound obvious, but it’s not, necessarily. Japanese movements make their way into watches made in Europe and America. I have a Japanese watch with a Chinese movement. Chinese watch parts make their way into many Swiss watches, too. Swiss movements are used worldwide. But with a Chinese watch, it’s nearly certain that all of it is made in China. (How I wish I didn’t have to use any hedge words like “nearly” in this paragraph, but there’s at least one Chinese watchmaker, Rossini, that sometimes uses a Japanese Miyota automatic movement. Chalk one up for the global economy.) There are several Chinese watch movement makers, and that’s a subject for a future article.

So where to start if you’re thinking about putting “Made in China” on your wrist?

There are a lot of Chinese watches in a wide range of prices, from $100 to $70,000 or more. There are ordinary automatics, chronometers, tourbillons, GMTs, moon phases, watches with handpainted dials, ultra-thin watches, skeleton watches—pretty much every complication and variation that you know, with some designs that you don’t know. The Chinese watch subforums on Watchuseek and International Watch League are two good places to start looking.

East Watch Review is a terrific website devoted to Chinese watches. There are several well-known Chinese watch brands, including Seagull and Beijing Watch Factory. While East Watch Review covers watches from those and other larger Chinese watch companies, you’ll also read about gems that you won’t hear about anywhere else. East Watch Review is a boots-on-the-ground website; they visit Chinese watch factories and give hands-on reviews.

Fine Watches of China is an online store that has a good selection of Chinese watches. Located in Brisbane, Australia, Fine Watches of China ships just about everywhere in the world.

There’s something exciting about being in on the early days of the accelerating Chinese watchmaking curve. Get a Chinese watch now, and you may be able to say one day, “I bought my Chinese watches before everyone was wearing them.”

1 comment:

  1. Well written article. Posted a link to it at our forum,