Ask almost anyone what is the heart and soul of a watch and they will reply with “the movement”. The standard Chinese movement is also known as “Tongji” and is a mechanical movement which first saw the light of day back in the 1970's. Engineers from several of the fledgling watch factories in China at the time got together to create a movement that was not only groundbreaking but also cheap to produce.
This came about thanks to an initiative the government created in an attempt to unify the industry. It soon became mandatory, bar a few exceptions, for watch factories to cease producing their own movements and adopt the standard. In this respect, the standard Chinese movement has effectively defined an entire era in terms of the watchmaking history in China.
The tide is now turning, however, and the number of Chinese standard movements is dropping significantly. The quality has also declined and the big players have once again started producing their own. The old one can still be found but now tends to be found in lower end watches which look crudely made. These tend to be poor quality skeleton watches with cases that look and feel cheap.
At present there are officially 253 manufacturers listed by the Chinese Horological Association, which equates to each company producing an average of 2.5 million units each. When you take into consideration that Switzerland currently exports around 25.4 million watches, just who are these mysterious giants which account for the biggest slice of the watchmaking industry in China?
The major players are, in no particular order;
Bowder, Cadisen, Ebohr, Fiyta, Geya, Golge, Peacock, Poscher, Rarone, Rosdn, Runosd, Seagull, Starking and Tian Wang. There is also the Beijing Watch Factory which is one of the oldest manufacturers dating back to 1958. If you add sports, digital and smart watches into the mix there are at least another 20 brands to consider. Actually getting an exact figure is not easy as various interpretations can result in different figures but hey, what's a few million between friends?
Another big player is Seiko. Although they are a Japanese company they have a big stake in the Chinese market and many of the higher end watches produced by the companies above use Seiko movements. They do, of course, produce their own range of watches and other luxury items but adding the fact that a watch runs on a Seiko movement will add value to the piece. Seiko movements are designed and created in house using cutting edge technology to stay ahead of the game.
In short, the Chinese watch producing industry is looking pretty good. Current conditions cannot be used against them as this pandemic is a global issue but you get the feeling that once we are through this, and things settle down, it will be the Chinese who are first out of the blocks and taking the necessary measures to ensure damage limitation. Where this journey will take us next is anyone's guess but in terms of watches and movements being produced in China the future is pretty rosy.