The history of Chinese watch industry is not as glorified as the Swiss or German ones. Even, Japan, the country sitting beside China, is a global giant in the watchmaking industry. Yet, the lion’s share of the watches in the world is now being manufactured in China.
We already know that China is the manufacturing hub of the whole world. If you pick any commodity in your home, there’s a strong possibility that you’ll see the Made in China tag.
Plus, a massive chunk of the Chinese manufacturers works as third-party agents that build products for other companies worldwide.
That begs the answer to the burning question – what are some of the best Chinese watch brands?
I’m not talking about those third-party manufacturers but the genuine Chinese watch brands.
Bear with me as I would take a tour at an interesting topic today. I’ll list out all the major players in the Chinese watch industry and talk about their capability and reputation in the market.
So, let’s find out what are the best Chinese watch brands!
History of Chinese Watch
As I said, the Chinese watch industry is much young. If you think about the Swiss industry as the old sage, the Chinese industry is just enjoying the teen years!
The story of Chinese watch industry began in 1955. The Chinese government commissioned a small group of innovators to come up with a mechanical watch. They poured down their creativity and came up with the iconic WuXi watch.
This prototype laid the foundation of the Chinese watch industry in the later days. Chinese government saw a huge potential of the market, and judging by the quality of the WuXi prototype, sanctioned the foundation of eight manufacturing plants.
By 1958, the eight factories were ready to start production. Among the eight, Beijing, Shanghai, and Tianjin factories were superior and later played the key role. These factories imported machinery from Switzerland and Russia (USSR).
These factories started fiddling around the popular calibers of Swiss and Russian watches.
In 1961, China ordered the watchmakers to design and build watches for People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF), the Chinese army’s aerial branch. Tianjin factory, the best one among the eight responded with ST3, an aviator Chronograph. However, this watch wasn’t an original creation but a knock-off of a Swiss watch.
Later, in 1965, something groundbreaking happened!
Tianjin facility designed an original movement, which was a massive upgrade from the ST3. They named the new watch as the ST5. ST5 offered better design, sleek form factor, superior durability, and higher accuracy. The watch was an instant success.
Thus, the original Chinese movement came to being.
Fun fact, ST5 was the first watch from SeaGull, which is the biggest player in the Chinese watch industry now.
Current Condition and Where Chinese Watches Are manufactured?
Despite attempts, the Chinese watches couldn’t impress the global audience.
On the contrary, since 1970s, the Japanese brands like Seiko, Citizen, and Casio started dazzling the world with new technologies and jaw-dropping prices. These brands were already popular in the Asian market.
But after the birth of the quartz movement, the Japanese watches started taking over watch markets all over the world. The common people couldn’t ignore the value proposition of these watches.
Chinese industry didn’t have any chance against the Japanese giants.
So, they took a different route. They started showcasing their unbeatable production capabilities and offered lucrative proposition as third-party suppliers. The production rate and the cost impressed everyone, and major players in the industry flocked to China to lower production costs.
Even all the Japanese watchmakers established manufacturing facilities in China. Many western companies also followed this strategy to cut down the production cost. Invicta, Stuhrling, Akribos, and many other watchmakers rely on Chinese companies for assembly or complete production duties.
Lower production cost has always been the biggest strength of the Chinese watch industry.
However, buyers often steer clear of the Chinese brands or watches that are originally made in China. The industry has tainted with reliability issues.
However, things are changing at a staggering rate.
Nowadays, Seagull, Peacock, Longio, Curren, NaviForce, Smael are some of the notable Chinese watch brands. They are breaking the stereotype and becoming quite popular among watch lovers all around the world
In the last two decades, China is coming off as the best country for manufacturing anything. And, all the big players in every industry is relying on China for manufacturing duties.
Where Chinese watches manufacture?
Shenzhen is the manufacturing capital of China now. Apart from some of the older manufacturing facilities in Shanghai, Beijing, and Tianjin, most of the watch manufacturing plants are located in Shenzhen.
So, if you buy a watch from the newer Chinese watch brands, there is a strong chance that your watch was made in Shenzhen.
Top 7 Chinese Watch Brands of 2020
Seagull Watches: The Chinese Watch Industry Leader
If you’ve read the history part carefully, you should know that Tianjin plant holds the glory for developing the first Chinese movement.
That same Tianjin Watch Factory launched Seagull brand in 1992.
Today, the organization is known Tianjin Seagull corporation and it is one of the largest movement producers globally. Of course, they have a huge collection of their own watches but you can see their movement in many foreign brands.
Stührling and Invicta are some of the well-known brands that source movement from Seagull. At some point, Seagull alone produced 25% of all the automatic movement in the world!
You might think that Seagull is another cheap Chinese watch brand that you can find in the kiosks.
Seagull launched their Tourbillon collection and it took the world by storm. All the watches in this collection are elegant, beautiful, and extremely well-crafted.
That’s not all, these watches have quite the hefty price tag.
For example, all the Seagull Tourbillon watches are priced above $5,000! Yes, a Chinese watch costs the same as a Rolex Submariner.
Actually, a $5,000 price tag for a Tourbillon watch is dirt-cheap. A typical Swiss Tourbillon costs well above $40,000. But Seagull is offering such low price for their poor brand image.
Some might argue that these watches will not last for a long-time as it’s a “Chinese” watch. Sorry to burst their bubble but these watches shave lifetime warranty.
Apart from the expensive Tourbillon collection, Seagull has a watch for everyone. From $50 to $5,000, you can find a watch for yourself.
Remember, Seagull is a brand that produces over 5 million watches per year!
Best Seagull Watches
Seagull Automatic Flywheel Watch – Best Value Seagull Watch
Seagull ST8004G Tourbillon – Most Expensive Seagull Watch (About $15,000)
Peacock Watches: Most Premium Chinese Brand
Do you remember the eight Chinese manufacturers that started journey in 1958?
Peacock is another brand from the great-eight. However, their website suggests their establishment years to be 1957.
Liaoning Peacock Watch Company launched the Peacock brand in ’80s. In the past 60 years, peacock has produced over 40 million watches with a production value of 2.5 billion yuan ($373 million).
They directly compete with the Swiss elegant watches. Peacock mainly caught attention of the watch lovers with their tourbillon watches. Peacock Tourbillon watches even passes the Swiss standard for Tourbillon watchmaking.
Peacock Watch T.S Tourbillon is a double tourbillon watch coming at $29,119 is the most popular Peacock watch. It’s also their flagship model but you can’t find it in any online shop.
Peacock T.S. Double Tourbillon is the most expensive Chinese watch of all time.
This bespoke watch can be found in only a handful of watch shops in China.
Who says China only makes cheap watches?!
So, you’re looking at a premium watch brand.
Best Peacock Watches
Peacock T.S Single Tourbillon (P501-4) – Overall Best Peacock Watch
Peacock Rainbow Serie (P506-1) – Best Sporty Peacock Watch
Memorigin: A Synonym of Aristocracy
Memorigin is not a Chinese watch brand but a Hong Kong based watch company. This is a brand that is well-known for making expensive high-end watches.
Also, Memorigin is one of handful brands that use its own tourbillon movement. They are also the main supplier of complications for many international brands. With the 40 years of experience making tourbillon complications, Memorigin is one of the bigger players.
Still, Memorigin is an unknown name to a lot of us.
Because Memorigin serve a tiny niche market – the wealthiest 1%.
For example, their most iconic watch, Memorigin Jonquet launched at the MSRP of $258,000! Even after the price drop, you’ll have to pay around $196,000 for this watch.
They have a few cheap (!) watches that cost around couple of thousand dollars.
Best Memorigin Watches
Memorigin Tourbillon Mission Impossible Series – Overall Best Memorigin Watch
Memorigin Jonquet – Most Expensive Memorigin Watch
Longio Watches: The Young Aristocrat
Till now, all the three luxury watch brands had decades of experience in watchmaking. Compared to them, Longio is fairly young in the industry.
Longio started the journey back in 1996. The visionary founder, Changhong Mi, wanted to showcase ingenuity and originality in his watches. All the Longio watches boast of traditional Chinese marks and history.
Not many watches celebrate the oriental arts and culture in a watch as artistically as Longio.
That’s why Longio could create a lasting mark in the industry since the initial launch with the telamon and Asmara collections. You might’ve guessed already, Longio watches are expensive too.
Longio’s most expensive collection Mythos has exquisite design and features. To show-off the premium theme Longio has used an 18K phoenix emblem in the dial.
All the Longio watches are limited edition watches with somewhat around 200 copies available around the world. You should also know that Longio doesn’t use in-house movement but depends on the best quality Swiss movement to power their watches.
Best Longio Watches
Longio X-Racer Chrono – Best Sporty Longio Watch
Longio Telamon Automatic – Best Formal Longio Watch
Wewood Watches: Most Unique Watches
In the last decade, we saw a new trend in the watch industry. We saw complete wooden watches emerging in the market.
Wewood is the brand that started the revolution. A wooden watch looks unique and artistic and stands apart from the regular watches that wee day-to-day.
However, the most appealing point of the Wewood watches is something else. Wewood plans to plant a tree for every single watch sold. Till now, Wewood has planted over 600,000 trees all over the world.
Such unique company vision and marketing strategy soared the company to new heights. Now, a lot of you are already aware of the brand and the activities of the company. That’s why, you could say that Wewood is not a Chinese brand but an Italian brand.
But every single Wewood watch is made in China. That’s why, I’ve included them in today’s list.
Oh, I have a good news for you. Unlike the previous four brands, Wewood is fairly cheap. Most of their watches stand somewhere around $100 mark.
Best Wewood Watches
Curren Watches: Best Cheap Chinese Watch Brand
In the last two decades, Chinese brands have revolutionized the industry. When they saw that despite offering great watches at a low price point, people still avoided their watches.
Also, Japanese brands that have better brand image sidelined them.
So, they came up with a new plan and created the ultra-cheap market segment. Now, you can buy great quality watch priced around $10 to $20.
Curren was one of the first brands to take such approach.
And, guess what?
They became immensely successful.
No, I’m saying that Curren watches offer extreme durability or reliability. But the value they are offering at such low prices deserves some praise.
Best Curren Watches
Curren Men Watches Luxury Gold – 8176 – The Overall Best
Curren Men’s Watches – 8291 – Curren Watch with Highest Functionality
San Martin Watches – Best Dive-Class Chinese Watch Brand
San Marin sits somewhere around the middle of the pricing spectrum of the Chinese watches. Most of the people are skeptic about the lower end watches from China. Even I am one of them.
But San Martin follows the footsteps of the likes of Seiko and Citizen. Rather than trying to be in the ultra-cheap watch category, they have chosen to offer customers value.
Most of the San Martin watches are priced between $200 to $400. So, judging by the pricing, you should understand that San Martin is NOT any typical cheap watch brand.
All of their watches feature movements from Seiko or Citizen. Also, these watches use premium material for build too.
For example, you’ll find sapphire crystal and 316L stainless steel in the case and bezel. San Martin didn’t try to cheap out on the choice of material in any case.
However, I have an issue with the design department. It’s quite rare to find an original watch design in their entire collection. A huge number of watches are Rolex homages. They even copy design from Seiko and Citizen.
Still, overall quality impressive and San Martin stands a class apart from the likes of Curren.
Best San Martin Watches
San Martin Diver Ghost Luxury Watch – Best Rolex Homage from San Martin
San Martin Men’s Pilot Steel Case Automatic Watch – Best Vintage Class Aviator Watch
So, that’s my take on the best Chinese watch brands. As you can see, you can find both the extremely pricey and the dirt-cheap watches from the Chinese brands.
Also, you should break out from the stereotype that all Chinese watches are poorly built. Some watch brands go neck and neck top-end Swiss tourbillon watches.
The good news is that you can find watches of all classes in the Chinese market and the market still in the adolescent phase. This industry will only move upwards in terms of quality and sophistication.
If you have any questions about the Chinese watches or Chinese watch brands, feel free to knock me in the comment section below.