Complicated watches from…… China?

One of the more interesting phenomena taking place in the watch world today, I think, is the gradually increasing presence of Chinese-made movements and watches which offer the traditional and very expensive Swiss complications at extremely low prices. No, I’m not referring to the old quartz knockoffs which had famous Swiss names on the dial, which could be scarcely passed off as being worth more than a few bucks. I’m referring to the new generation of low-priced mechanical complications that are actually being made in the Orient and sold with various obscure names upon the dial. The most famous of these are the tourbillons that have been increasingly seen in the last year or two, usually priced at less than two thousand dollars. Now, while these mechanisms are crudely finished and cannot be compared to what one would see from an Audemars Piguet, Blancpain, or Patek Philippe (for example), they are in fact, functional – and it is not hard to understand how a watch-lover with a restricted budget might find a functional tourbillon, for a mere fraction of the price of most, a fascinating and worthwhile acquisition. In the case of the tourbillon, while connoisseurs certainly hold dedicated hand finishing and the famed difficulty of constructing a high quality tourbillon regulator in as much regard as the mesmerizing movements of the tourbillon, there can be little doubt that the visual element of the rotating tourbillon cage is its main attraction to most. (Otherwise, why do manufacturers these days nearly universally insist on cutting windows into the dial to make the tourbillon the center of attention?)

In any event, today I came across an interesting post on one of the more active horology websites on the Internet, and found the photos and resultant discussion very worthwhile: http://www.watchprosite.com/show-forumpost.classic/fi-17/pi-1983927/ti-307272/s-0/

The person who began the thread is showing a Chinese-made chronograph, complete with a column-wheel controlled chronograph modeled after the famous Venus 175, one of the most prized and prestigious vintage Swiss chronograph movements!  Now, while the finish of the Chinese copy is crude, the unmistakable bridge structure of the Venus 175 was all there, including the column wheel control (which shows some manufacturing shortcuts) – and yes, the copy functions as it should. Once again, like the tourbillons mentioned above, its ultimate craft may be lacking, but so is the hefty tariff that would accompany the Swiss masterpiece – so, the relative appeal cannot be denied, given the low price point.  Photos are included, and there is a lively and thoughtful exchange of opinions about various issues related to the production of these Chinese made efforts at haute horlogerie.

The Asian market is rapidly booming as a consumer of fine Swiss and German luxury watches, as their economic clout grows. It will be interesting to see what kind of watches they may begin to manufacture as time goes on – perhaps they will even be able to offer their own finely finished manufacture movements someday, an interesting proposition that certainly will create some lively debates within the watch community. Some find it threatening and ominous; others welcome it as refreshing competition that will stimulate innovation and value within the luxury watch industry. It will certainly be an interesting story that unfolds, so I’ll enjoy my seat on the sideline.