How do Chinese movements compare to Swiss movements? I can answer that question from having personally used in production and fine-tuned different mechanical movements: the Seagull ST-1901, Miyota 8217, Miyota 9015, ETA 2824-2 and ETA 7750.
|Siduna calibre 13, based on the ETA 7750|
If you take a basic ETA 7750, the level of surface finishing is something that China will not have problems matching or exceeding. When it comes to alloys, they use slightly weaker ones, so they tend to compensate by making parts a little bit thicker.
Where they fail, however, is in delivering consistency. You can assemble 1,000 ETA 2824-2s and the percentage of defect during outgoing quality control or on the customer’s wrist will be in the one digit percent range.
With mass-produced Japanese movements the rate will be slightly higher but still one digit.
Switch to Chinese movements and suddenly your defect rate is in the double digit percentages -- and I mean significant two digits like 30% or 50%.
I am not bashing China movements. I have fine-tuned dozens of Seagull ST-1901s; their balance springs performed as well as that of an ETA 2892-A2. (Independent Swiss watch companies might even take in consideration sourcing balance springs in China since they can produce quality.)
There is nothing wrong with single Chinese components, but there are serious shortcomings when there are assembled because they can fail to work together.
Played out on an industrial scale this means that every single watch with a Chinese movement should be individually checked and regulated, which would defeat the whole cost saving expectation with mass production.
Many reviews of Chinese mechanical movements by professionals also point out the inadequate oiling: either too little oil, which fails to fulfil its purpose and causes the parts to wear out faster, or too much oil, which will attract dust and dry up faster.
Buying a watch with a Chinese movement is like flipping a coin: heads and you get a trouble-free watch, tails and you end up with a few sleepless nights. But you never know how the coin will land before you buy that watch.
Former Longines chief designer Francis Jacquerye now manages SIDUNA urmanufaktur, mechanical watches made with passion. You can read his article about chronographs on Medium.
This article originally appeared in a different form on WatchUSeek.