When one considers the insane volume of watches that are produced in China every year, it would be easy to assume that watchmaking has been a part of the Asian country’s history for centuries. Yet, as we will discuss here, China’s watch industry can be considered adolescent when compared to the likes of Germany and the United States.
Nevertheless, they’ve become a movement-crafting powerhouse, likely the largest in the modern world. This fact has also allowed luxury Chinese watch brands to surface and thrive.
We will explore the best of these watch brands, as well as Chinese watchmaking heritage, via the following points:
Top Chinese Watch Brands
- Seagull Watches – From Tianjin Watch Factory (1957)
- Peacock Watches – From Liaoning Watch Factory (1957)
- Atelier Wen – Young Brand Revolutionizing Luxury Chinese Watchmaking
- CIGA Design – Design-Focused Manufacturer With Value-Packed Watches
- Memorigin – Master Manufacturers Of Tourbillons
- Longio Watches – Hong Kong-Based Watch Brand With Bold Designs
The links above will help you to jump directly to a specific brand.
Alternatively, read through the entire list to get a comprehensive view of the different styles adopted by each brand. Interestingly, you will discern how some have chosen traditional designs while others have opted for the unconventional route.
Either way, all have earned our recognition.
Beginning Of Chinese Watchmaking
While the first mechanical watches date back to the 14th and 15th centuries, China would not create its own watch until the mid 20th century.
It was in 1955 that a small group of men were commissioned by the Chinese government to craft the first Chinese mechanical watch, the WuXi watch. This model laid the foundation for endless others, though it was only a prototype.
A total of eight watch factories would be planned and completed by 1958. Of the eight, the Shanghai, Beijing, and Tianjin factories would serve as innovative leaders in the Chinese watch industry.
The factories began production astonishingly quickly as the machinery was imported directly from Switzerland and Russia. Given this, the majority of calibers that were “Chinese-made movements” were essentially copies of tried-and-true Swiss and Russian counterparts.
An Aviator Chronograph For The PLAAF
In 1961, an order came down indicating that an aviator chronograph was to be created for the People’s Liberation Army Air Force. The watchmakers of Tianjin would respond with the ST3, a manual-wind column wheel chronograph. Subsequently, thousands of these would make their way to pilot’s wrists.
While production and innovation persisted, most watch movements developed in Chinese watch factories were copies of Swiss movements. However, in 1965 this would change. The Tianjin watch factory once more broke ground with their ST5 movement, the first ever caliber to be designed and produced in China.
The ST5 was known for being accurate, thin, and of high quality. Additionally, it possesses Seagull Stripes, hand-made decorations done by Tianjin watchmakers.
The Chinese Standard Movement
By the end of the ’60s, the Chinese government would change its stance on watch production to one of consolidation. The existing watch factories were to head in a new direction, though they had enjoyed great success.
The expertise of more than a dozen of the existing watch factories would be employed in creating a Standard Movement to be produced by all watch factories. Throughout that decade, these same factories would also be forced to stop producing any previous movements. They were to focus solely on the SZ-1, the Chinese Standard Movement (“Tongji”).
Likewise, countless more factories would be built to produce the Tongji. Even so, they were not held to a specific standard as far as branding or styling. This fact allowed for the individual personalities, as well as the culture of each province, to shine through in the watches that they produced.
Quartz Crisis Hits The Chinese Watch Industry
The Tianjin, Shanghai, and Beijing watch factories heavily researched quartz watches, as these were revolutionizing the globe in the late ’70s. Unfortunately, by the time that the mass manufacture of these would spread through China, it was into the 1990s and effectively too late.
China could not compete with the quartz production in nearby Japan. Although many of the watch factories did transition to quartz movement production, their efforts amounted to too little, too late. An industry crash in the year 1997, where watch output dropped massively across all of China’s factories, would serve as the final blow.
Where Are They Today?
Only the most technologically advanced and developed factories, like the Tianjin watch factory, remain in business today. Most continue to craft watches under their own brands. Moreover, they supplement their revenue by selling movement components to brands from all over the globe.
Unbeknownst to many, Chinese watch components regularly make their way into today’s luxury & Haute Horlogerie timepieces, including those certified as “Swiss Made.” Chosen for their high quality at an unmatched cost, this practice is only likely to increase, undoubtedly helping the “Made in China” label to garner more positive attention and esteem.
The contemporary landscape has also seen the factories of old, as well as some newly hatched brands, themselves step into the middle and high-end watch segments. Next, with many exciting horological propositions, we dive into the best Chinese watch brands around!
Best Chinese Watch Brands
Seagull Watches – What Makes Them So Successful?
As you may have gathered from our recap of Chinese watchmaking history, the Tianjin watch factory has been right there since the beginning. However, the name that’s brought them their fame today, Seagull or Sea-gull watches, did not come into being until 1992.
Currently, the Tianjin Sea-Gull Corporation is one of the largest movement producers in the world. Aside from fitting their own watches, their calibers are used by different brands around the world e.g. Stührling.
Aside from producing simpler movements, and along with the renaissance of the luxury watch industry, Seagull watches has put their horological prowess to work. In 2005 came their first tourbillon; in 2006, a double tourbillon. Some of their other complication offerings include alarm watches, minute repeaters, and perpetual calendars.
Naturally, these complications can be offered at a fraction of the price of Swiss equivalents, which has caused quite a stir in the watch industry. Nonetheless, Seagull’s reputation for quality has proven true, and the brand is making strides in bringing provenance to “Made in China” as has never been done before.
The Liaoning Peacock Watch Company, located in the Liaoning Province, is yet another modern watch factory which formed part of the first 8 established in the ’50s.
Early on, the Liaoning watch factory produced countless movements based on Swiss and Russian calibers. Later, around the early 1980s, they’d improve upon the Chinese Standard Movement. The upgraded caliber would be fitted into watches to be marketed under the Peacock brand for the first time. Likewise, this name would also be used when exporting timepieces.
In more recent times, the Peacock Watch Company would move into higher complications, namely tourbillons. Their tourbillon movement proved good enough for Swiss Made, as the Swiss brand Cecil Purnell has been reported to have previously used a Liaoning Peacock tourbillon ébauche in one of the model lines.
With a brand name that translates to “culture workshop,” Atelier Wen is perhaps one of the most exciting horological propositions coming out of China in some time. Not only this, the brand touts their pieces as “proudly made in China” – when’s the last time you heard that from a watch brand?
The Ji and Hao were the brand’s first foray into luxury watches and they did not disappoint. With crisp porcelain ceramic dials (in white & blue) and design elements inspired by Chinese culture, these two were not only beautiful timepieces but ones that ultimately sold out. Since then, various iterations of the Hao in different colors were also released.
Most recently, in April of 2022, the brand broke ground once more with its newest watch, the Perception. Following the popular style of stainless steel sports watch with an integrated bracelet, Atelier Wen yet again imbues its Chinese heritage not only with the Peacock automatic movement beating but also throughout the watch’s external design.
Most notable of the Perception is the guilloché dial that is individually crafted by Master Cheng, the sole guilloché master craftsman of China. Offered with a grey, salmon, or ice blue dial, Atelier Wen achieves a contemporary look with many traditional Chinese details that you may miss at first glance but will undoubtedly appreciate upon closer look.
To read our individual review of Atelier Wen’s Ji Porcelain Odyssey watch, click here.
Much like Atelier Wen, and unlike some of the long-standing Chinese watch manufacturers featured on this page, CIGA Design is a younger brand bringing forth new propositions.
One of these propositions is modern and innovative (if not unorthodox) designs intended to capture the attention of younger watch collectors. Not only this, CIGA Design is also aiming to capture those who may have never taken an interest in mechanical timepieces at all.
Towards this end, CIGA Design has also kept in mind a critical aspect of attracting a younger demographic – price and value. The CIGA Design Series Z and Series X, two models that the brand launched and which subsequently set sales records on the crowdfunding platform IndieGoGo, both boast price points below $300.
Also of note is the fact that CIGA Design’s watches have also caught the eye of traditionalists, with the brand receiving a GPHG award in 2021 with their Blue Planet watch which was entered into the “Challenge Watch Prize” category. This milestone marked the first time that a Chinese watch brand ever won a GPHG award, and when you consider the company that CIGA Design now keeps following this monumental achievement, then it’s easy to become excited about what CIGA Design and the Chinese watch industry have in their future.
For our individual reviews of CIGA Design’s most recent releases, visit the individual blogs: Series Z and Series X.
Based out of Hong Kong, Memorigin concentrates on the manufacture of tourbillon movements in-house. Touting over 40 years of experience, they have previously supplied many well-known international brands with the complication.
They’re also regarded as one of the few to design and produce their own tourbillons. Beautiful yet difficult to create, tourbillon movement are generally purchased by brands who don’t want to spend the R&D to make their own.
Memorigin does not use Chinese parts exclusively, given that some components are incredibly specialized. Regardless, they devote resources R&D, continually raising the bar on their own technical limitations.
Their tourbillon watches can range in price from a couple of thousand dollars to over a quarter million.
Longio Watches are the youngest watch brand that we present in this guide. Unrestrained by tradition as older brands are, they are free to push the boundaries of creativity.
Founded by Changhong Mi in 1996, Longio looks to integrate his ingenuity and originality in a unique way. The introductory model lines, including the Telamon and Asmara lines, stood out by their unorthodox cases and mix of high complication with classic functionality.
Subsequently, Changhong pushed Longio to new extremes with the Art of Time line. Through these exceptional timepieces, of which many are one-of-one, we encounter traditional Chinese legends translated by hand onto opulent timepieces.
Perhaps most impressive of them all, and the most expensive, is the Mythos Unique. It boasts a 46mm case crafted entirely of Chinese Hotan white jade, a Swiss tourbillon, and black enamel dial. If that wasn’t enough, delicately displayed on the dial is a highly-detailed handmade 18K gold phoenix.
Final Thoughts & Further Reads
While not all-encompassing, we hope this article has served as a guide for you into the world of Chinese watchmaking. The brands highlighted here offer many reasons to be excited about the future. Conversely, learning about their history helps to understand why they’ve remained successful.
Unquestionably, there are some brands we did not mention here. Do you have any favorite Chinese watch brands not included? Let us know in the comments below!
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"Another informative watch guide by Bespoke Unit. It helped me understand and appreciate Chinese watches as I never thought I would.”
I am surprised you missed out Hongzhou, one of the largest manufacturers of tournillon movements in China. Sad!
Thanks for your reply! There were no personal gripes against Hangzhou when writing this article. More than anything, it was difficult to pinpoint an exact site from which to draw accurate information with regards to them. In time, we will update this page with Hangzhou as well as additional Chinese watch manufacturers that we come across, so stay tuned!
I am working on a project at the moment I don’t know if you can help me with the list of best watch designers in Asia countries.
You have this guide as well as the Best Japanese Watch Brands. You can also refer to our list of watch brand guides, which are divided by country.
Hope that it helps! I’m not sure what your project is, but please support us by crediting us if you use our content as a source!
Memorigin does not produce its own movements. They buy movements from movement suppliers.
Hey there Marco,
Your comment brings forth an important distinction which we did not mention in the article and which is not necessarily widely advertised by movement manufacturers.
I would not be surprised if Memorigin acquired movement components, perhaps even complete ébauches, from other suppliers and then built upon those. This is quite common in the watch industry – indeed, there are very few brands that make every single component of their caliber in-house. What ‘percentage’ of a completed movement is actually created by Memorigin themselves, or by any single watch movement manufacturer, is anyone’s guess.
even in Swiss maker they had have to depending supplier in the other factory components
Do you know who makes Pagani Design?
Sorry I do not but added it to our list of upcoming research.
How about PARNIS and PHOIBOS watches. They are nicely done also. Time is also accurate for both quartz and auto movements.
Keep safe and God bless everyone 🙏
ANGELITO Reyes Payumo
We’ll check them out!
Uh…who knew…I for one didn’t know about China and its watches. So your saying that they are very good, at least the ones you mentioned. I have 25 Swiss, 15 Japanese and 2 German watches. I have been branching out these days besides Swiss and Japanese, that is why only 2 German watches. Plan on either getting a Graham or Smiths watch, but Chinese you say…uh…I will give them a try. Thank you Rafael for the informative articles on all countries.
Take care and stay safe,
Indeed, you should certainly check them out to see what you think. It’s quite surprising!
All the best,
I have a Deboule watch, apparently Chinese made and very well made, good complications, very reliable and beautifully machined and attractive. Wonder who made it?
I tried to do some research on this brand but wasn’t able to find much information online.
ZP Swiss made by the “Glory Aristocrat Family Exclusive Custom Made” as it appears on the back of the watch. I own one of these watches but have no details of it’s origin or could find another of it’s kinds. It appears to possibly be from Beijing. If any of the experts here could guide me in the right place.
I was disappointed that I could not find any information on how to change the battery in a vintage Fabrinie LCD quarts ladies bracelet type watch. They do show another for sale on ebay for 18.99, but the battery needs changed. Where can I find information on how to change the battery of this particular china watch
I think I found the eBay listing you’re referring to, however, the pictures on the listing don’t provide a clear view of the caseback. That being said, it should be very easy to change the battery. With quartz watches, you generally just pop off the case back and replace the old battery with a new one. If the caseback is screwed down, you’d have to unscrew the caseback to get access to the battery. It’s best to open the watch first to see which battery it uses so that you don’t end up buying the wrong one.
If you don’t think you can take the caseback off by yourself, a local jeweler or retailer of quartz watches should be able to do this for your for a small fee.
I have a Rubelin&Graef Gloalmaster watch that I am repairing, it comes from China but I have no information on it and like to know the factory that make these watches, can you help. It is a great article you presented
I’ve tried to find some information on these watches but there isn’t much online, at least not in English. If you’re already opening up the case, it’s possible that there are some hallmarks on the movement itself that could provide an idea of where the watch is made? It’s also very likely that different components are made in different factories. For instance, the case in one place and the movement in another. If you’re able to learn more about the watch, I’d love to hear what you find!