WatchUSeek Watch Forums banner
Status
Not open for further replies.
1 - 20 of 174 Posts

·
Registered
Joined
·
273 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hello everyone! :)

I used to post quite frequently in the past on F72, but following a mixup with my credentials I was locked out of my account for a time and became more of WatchUSeek reader than poster. But today, I am back and planning a series of posts about the process of creating a watch brand in China. This is a topic close to my heart and I wish to draw from my personal experience going through this process to present something that I hope you'll all find compelling. Rather than focusing on my watches, the focus of the posts will be on the creative and entrepreneurial journey that underpins the creation of microbrands and my hope is that we can start a lively and enriching discussion around this (and that, too, it can help the ones of you who are contemplating starting your very own venture).

First, some quick background about myself and my interest for Chinese watches. I am from France, have studied in the UK and China and have been watching (terrible pun intended) and collecting Chinese watches since the ripe old age of 14. For the first few years, I grew my knowledge of the field and developed a passion for it. But it was not until 2014 that I can say became a true part of the community. Indeed, as I was studying at Renmin University in the summer of 2014, I chanced upon Ron Good (AlbertaTime) at the Beijing Watch Factory store in Wangfujing as he was on his annual trip to China. Sharing a common interest, we hit it off immediately and Ron was kind enough to spend the days that followed teaching me more about Chinese watches and introducing me to people in the field. That is how I came to meet Li Wei, one of the senior members of the China Horologe Association, who quickly became a mentor and a (very) good friend. A year later, as I came back to Beijing to study at Peking University, Li Wei and I developed a close relationship and he introduced me to a whole world of Chinese watchmaking, Chinese culture and baijiu (rice alcohol that would warm up an Inuit such that they'd think they were in Honolulu)! All these companies whose products I had been craving were suddenly open to me: Seagull, Beijing, Dandong, etc. had no secrets anymore. During that year, I became an official member of the China Horologe Association and learned more about China and Chinese watches than I ever expected.


Happy times

Whilst the thought had always been at the back of my mind, I started to think seriously about creating my own watches upon returning to the UK. I wanted to make use of all the knowledge and experience I acquired to create a high-quality Chinese watch brand that would draw from the best aspects of Chinese craftsmanship. The core idea, in my mind, is that Chinese watches can be of excellent standards, yet the "Made in China" label is still highly frowned upon in the West. As such, I thought that it would be great to create a product that is fully Chinese, openly Chinese, of great quality, and to sell it in the West to change people's perceptions and start improving the reputation of Chinese products. The opportunity arose at the end of my Bachelor's degree when I was speaking to my classmate and good friend, Wilfried. Wilfried is also from France, an entrepreneur at heart and having been born in Hong Kong and speaking fluent Chinese, an actual "China hand". He was immediately excited about the idea and, like that, we decided to embark on the adventure. Fast-forward one year and here we are :-d I myself am graduating from London Business School and Wilfried from the Schwarzman Scholars programme at Beijing's University of Tsinghua. In the meantime, we have had two greatly-talented Chinese designers join our team and work alongside us to bring this project to fruition. And indeed, prototypes of our year-old brainchild are actually being produced right now. The journey has been fascinating and exhilarating, with some highs and lows, and I look forward to sharing it with you, hearing your comments and reading about your own experiences as well (it does not strictly have to be in the world of watchmaking; if some of you have some experience of manufacturing, designing in other sectors, and that you feel it is relevant... feel free to share and enrich the discussion).


Wilfried


Li Mingliang and Liu Yuguan, our two designers

In the coming weeks, I will be posting about my experience during this process following a thematic (e.g. design, manufacturing, working in China...) and chronologic approach. I hope that everyone will find the discussions interesting and that we, as an online community, can actively exchange on the topic of microbrand creation. If other microbrand owners wish to contribute, we could even have here some sort of compilation of advice and personal insights, which could prove truly valuable for the wider community

The first theme I will be talking about is manufacturing. It's quite tricky, which makes for interesting stuff. I will be posting about this in the coming days so stay tuned!

Have a nice day.

Robin.
 

·
Moderator: F72 and F71
Joined
·
8,222 Posts
That photo brought back great memories, Robin!! Meeting you in Beijing and being able to make introductions for you was a real high point in that year's visit for me. Things have turned out so well, my CHA colleague :)

Looking forward to this series of articles!
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
273 Posts
Discussion Starter · #5 ·
That photo brought back great memories, Robin!! Meeting you in Beijing and being able to make introductions for you was a real high point in that year's visit for me. Things have turned out so well, my CHA colleague :)

Looking forward to this series of articles!
Thanks, Ron! It was a real high point in my whole life so far :) I'm sad we couldn't see each other this year in Beijing, but I am happy though that you got to meet Wilfried. And hopefully, from next year on, I should spend way more time in the Middle Kingdom, so meeting will be far easier! :) Thank you, I hope you will like them!

williemored said:
That's quite nice! Continue to blog, so we all know what goes in it.
Thanks a lot! I, for sure, will; the next post is coming very soon, just a few tweaks here and there and then I will upload it. I hope you'll enjoy reading it, and hopefully it will give you a good insight on the world of watch manufacturing in China.

HKwatchlover said:
Thanks for sharing your journey! Very curious about your product, and I'd be supportive of a well made Chinese watch.
Thank you for the nice words. I really hope you will like it; it took us more than a year, two designers, and extensive travels across China to design our watches (and to ensure a quality level that will be super, super high) :)

Have a nice day.

Robin.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
273 Posts
Discussion Starter · #9 ·
LCheapo said:
Looking forward to reading more on this!
Thank you! Hope you'll find it interesting :)

Disneydave said:
I'm excited to read and I'm sure I'm in for a purchase. :)
Thank you! I really hope the watches will live up to your expectations. Hope that you will enjoy the read too ;-)

Monsieurxu said:
Congrats Robin! I'm looking forward to owning one (or more) of your watches ;)
Thank you Ben! Your praises means a lot to me ;-)

So... today, I will talk about manufacturing!

This post will be more like a general introduction to the world of manufacturing, presenting some of the key points it is necessary to take into account and think about when one wants to get watches manufactured in China. I hope you will like it. In the next post, I will talk more about our actual experience, the main difficulties we faced, how we overcame them… etc.

Despite having had a strong exposure to the industry, I had quite a flawed vision of it. I thought that the most accurate way to "structure" it was according to whether a player was a "true" manufacture or not. How wrong was I. There are only 2, possibly 3, truly, fully vertically-integrated watch manufacturers in China. So, the way it works instead, is that you have movement manufacturers on the one hand (Seagull, Shanghai, Dandong, etc.) - and they are spread all across the country - and other components producers, mainly located around the Shenzhen area. You would be surprised to know that huge companies, such as the Liaoning Dandong Watch Factory, which offer full OEM services, still only manufacture movements and subcontract all the other components to companies located around Shenzhen/Guangdong Province.

Another truly important dichotomy relates to the approach you wish to adopt in regard to manufacturing. Roughly speaking, there are two possibilities offered to you. You can either go to a "one-stop-shop" in HK/Shenzhen (Full Swing, for instance, is a famous one) or you can choose to build your supply chain from scratch. The first option is easier somehow, you just go to the company with your designs, and then, they will take care of pretty much everything for you. Some of them do a lot of activities in-house (case, dials and assembly), others will just do assembly but have their supply chains "ready at hand". The second option allows for more flexibility, since you, basically, individually choose all of your suppliers (i.e. you decide who will be your case supplier, dial supplier, hands supplier, crystal supplier, etc.). The reverse of the medal nevertheless is that it is fairly time-consuming to build your own supply chain, and that speaking fluent Chinese is a requirement. Not only you have to, in the first place, find some companies that match your quality standards, but you also need to invest some time in order to build solid business relationships with these entities. This often involves travelling to their site, but I will talk about this in more details later on, when I bring up the topic of "working in China". Because of the very unique and novel nature of our watches, having very high quality is core to our offering. As such, we have decided to pursue the second option; we believed that is was the only way to ensure that all our components were truly matching our high quality standards. If I remember correctly, I think that Orange Watch Company was also proceeding that way.

I should state, as well, that there is a third "route" for manufacturing, albeit a very minor one: going to one of the few, truly vertically-integrated manufactures. The issue though is that Seagull tends to have high MOQ, and that the Beijing Watch Factory, which has a very high quality standard, is now owned by Fiyta, which makes it tough to get to work with them. Ben from Maison Celadon was quite lucky and smart in the sense that he started his collaboration with them before they got acquired ;-)

Something very important, I believe, is to be flexible and able to "shop around". I cannot stress that enough. It is truly key to talk to different suppliers at the same time, to ask for quotes and to ask for samples. Not only will it give you a sense of true market price (if there is any such thing hahaha) and feasibility for a component, but the way, as well, your interlocutor interacts with you, his/her promptness, flexibility… are all substantially important. It may sound like a fairly basic business advice, but, still, I am aware that, sometimes, it may be tempting to settle with the first manufacturer that seems roughly adequate. If you feel like it is not truly what you envisioned for your product, that it is unreasonably expensive, that the person is taking way too long to reply… Just move on, and look for someone else. The watch industry in the Shenzhen area is tremendous, so you will definitely find a more suitable party.

The last point I want to mention today relates to one key limiting factors: feasibility. Usually, pretty much anything is doable in China, yet, the more "exotic" your components, the more complex and time-consuming it will be to find suppliers TRULY able to do what you desire. You therefore have to balance the additional attractiveness stemming from your rarely-seen-on-the-market components with the associated search costs. These search costs take the form, of course, of monetary costs (because you need to fly here and there to visit factories, to establish good bonds with their owners, etc.), but as well of potential delays, less time available to deal with other issues, higher likelihood of gentle screw-up during production stage, and stronger risk of disappointing customers. So, when you are still at the planning stage, think about this point carefully, and integrate a generous buffer in your overall planning. Our watches make use of porcelain dials and (true) heat-blued hands, and, God forbids, it was truly arduous to find suppliers actually able to deliver what we wanted, at a very high quality level. We finally did, but it took us a lot of time. I will touch more upon this in the next post.

I hope you enjoyed this introduction to the world of manufacturing! Any questions, additional points, anecdotes… are all welcome. :-d

In my next post, I will detail how we ACTUALLY dealt with manufacturing, and will touch upon our main difficulties and challenges, and how we solved them. Spoiler: it will include some pictures of the Dandong Watch Factory. Stay tuned!

Have a nice day.

Robin.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
273 Posts
Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Hello everyone,

In this post, I will tell you how we dealt with manufacturing, and how we moved from literally nothing back in September 2017, to a complete supply chain and a final prototype that will soon be ready as I am writing these lines. In the next post, I will eventually unveil the watches and explain our design philosophy and approach.

First thing first, a bit of context. Back in September, Wilfried and myself have both graduated from undergrad, and we are about to embark onto our next academic journey: Schwarzman Scholars at Tsinghua in Beijing for Wilfried, and London Business School for myself. The concept behind our brand is somewhat fixed; we know that we want to produce premium watches that are openly Chinese, and which have a strong Chinese design influence. So far so good. :)

At this time, there are two big questions looming ahead of us: a. how are we going to take care of our products' design, in a professional manner? And b. how are we going to get our watches made? At first, I candidly believed that we would go to Seagull or Beijing WF, but, as outlined in my previous post, things are not that easy. So, what did we do? :think:

I expected a linear progression, but actually, it was not the case at all. Very quickly, though, we identified that we needed to start the process by choosing a movement, as this would then influence everything else. One of the fixed design feature was the presence of a small second at 6 O'clock, and given that I wanted an automatic movement, there were actually very little options available. There was, on one hand, the venerable Seagull ST16, and despite being of high quality, I did not want it because of its relatively low frequency (21,600 BPH). The other alternative was to go to Dandong Peacock, which supplied the movement of the last forum project and of the dual crown one. A tear-down of the Peacock SL3000 by Christian Danneman ( Comparison: Sea-Gull ST2130, ETA 2824-2, Peacock SL3000 | Watch Guy ) as well as various praises from industry insiders in Beijing and Shanghai convinced me to pursue that route. Hence, we settled on the Peacock SL3006, an ETA 2824-2 clone with an added platter to allow for a small second at 6 O'clock. It counts 32 jewels, and beats at 28,800 BPH. We ordered one straight away from Dandong, and handed it to a watchmaker friend of mine so as to test its accuracy and reliability. His verdict was excellent, and he had no issues fine-tuning it to a very narrow deviation range. So, the SL3006, it is! ;-)













We then took the approach that it was more sensible to dedicate most of our times to sourcing the components that are the toughest to find. In our case, there were two of them: the heat-blued hands and the porcelain dials.

We contacted many factories specialised in the production of either hands or dials, but in pretty much all cases, the results were deeply unsatisfactory. All the factories which advertised their capacity to produce porcelain dials did, in fact, simply apply a layer of polish on a brass/plastic base so as to imitate the look of porcelain - truly not what we were looking for. We wanted the genuine thing, the one that is actually cooked in an oven at 1400°C. We even went to Jingdezhen, China's capital of porcelain making. There, we met many factories producing actual porcelain, yet none of them had experience in the watch industry. One was willing to take up the challenge, and the price they were offering, around RMB300 per dial (or USD 45) was somehow adequate. Bear in mind, that this is A LOT for a watch dial. If you want some comparisons, most Omega and Zenith dials have a unit cost that is much smaller than that (this comes from a friend who had access for a long time to the two brands' supply chain). The quality of the product, though, was really good, and there was a lot of manual work involved. However, after some tests, we realised that it was way too fragile for the purpose of a watch dial… Back to square one. o|o|

To be frank with you, at this point, we were starting to feel a bit lost. I was adamant on the fact that I wanted a high-quality porcelain dial, but it was just so hard to find. In February, the Dandong Peacock Watch Factory invited us for a facility tour, as we have some good and friendly relationships with them. I was in London and very busy with exams, so I could not go. But Wilfried and the designers did (and I have to say that I was a bit jealous :roll::roll: ). Here are some pictures:


Everything starts at Beijing Station!


The beginning of a 14-hour-long journey...


Nice view from the train. We are getting very close to Dandong.


Some last details to sort out before the visit...




We discovered Li Mingliang's taste for sleep! :-d


The manufacture's reception desk. Unfortunately, we are not allowed to post pictures taken on the production lines and assembly rooms.






The whole site is of substantial size...




They even have a small museum!


A large-scale reproduction of one of their tourbillon movements


Here, you can see some double tourbillons.


Dandong is otherwise quite a modern city.




It has a certain "revolutionary" heritage...


Here's the reason. Obviously, we will not go to the other side of the bridge...




Treasure from the past.


Diner with some of the manufacture managers.




Everyone is completely exhausted and worn-out. These were two very intense days. Unfortunately, they will only have seats for the return journey!

The company was very kind to us, and appeared very reassuring as well. The directors told us that most of what we aim to do should be doable, and promised to leverage on some of their network in order to find us some adequate suppliers. Very kind of them :) b-)|>

A month later, they came back to us and told us that they found a solution for the heat-blued hands. I forgot to mention, but all the hands factories we had talked to beforehand would only provide ion-plated blue hands, or, even worse, painted ones. Again, truly not what we wanted. The prices of our newly-found hand supplier were high, around 20 times the one of "normal" hands. Still, we are here to create a premium Chinese watch (at an affordable price though) with high-end features, not to cut corners and bring a sub-par product. Thus, we agreed, and proceeded with them. One challenge cleared! :-d:-d

In Easter, I had a lengthy school break, so I headed to Beijing in order to speed-up some work (working long distance between London and Beijing was sometimes not truly convenient). The dial issue was still not solved, and after discussing with Wilfried, we agreed that the best was to send him to Shenzhen so that he could meet some of our suppliers, and ask them for help in locating an adequate porcelain dial maker. We decided to do so, because sorting out issues in person instead of over the phone/emails is much more efficient in China.


Food, food, food :-d




While in Beijing, we also started shooting our Kickstarter video :)



Some more touristic views:










This is in the former foreign legation area of Beijing. Very quiet, and perfect for an afternoon stroll.

There, he embarked into a factory visit marathon, and, when touring our assembler facilities (which is no other than… Fiyta!), the director advised him that they were, too, trying to launch a porcelain dial line under their own brand. Given their power and size (Fiyta belongs to AVIC, and as such, they have no liquidity issues), they had no trouble convincing a factory to produce what they required. They kindly offered us to use their exclusive supplier, which we, of course, accepted. Another challenge cleared! :):)










This is NOT our case, but just something that the factory happened to be producing when Wilfried was there.

At this point, our supply chain was finally ready, and we could thus commence producing prototypes. Before giving the go-ahead, we still had some tiny issues to solve with technical drawings, but as soon as these were sorted out, we happily launched the process. And right now, I am pleased to say that they should be completed in less than three weeks :) Can't wait!

I'll end this post with a picture of something that we have received recently... The caseback mould! :p



Have a nice day, everyone!

Robin.
 

·
Moderator: F72 and F71
Joined
·
8,222 Posts
Robin, besides being painfully jealous of the Liaoning factory visit and the plainly delicious food you're showing--and Hi! to Li Wei!--this is a truly spectacular post. Very broadly informative, and you really captured the magic that can happen when business in China is done face-to-face and with respect and passion to accomplish something. All that and a bunch of cool location shots!
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
809 Posts
Hello ;=)
This looks like a really fun and great journey, thank you for sharing this :)
 
  • Like
Reactions: Fandegrue

·
Registered
Joined
·
27,211 Posts
Awesome photos and congratulations on figuring out some of the logistics involved with this process. Kudos to you on not compromising on your mission to find true blued hands and porcelain dials.

Add the link to your kickstarter when it’s ready, would love to participate and support your endeavors
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
273 Posts
Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Did you say that Fiyta is your assembler? You surely are very well connected!

Thank you for the unique insights into the process, and also the tourist photos :-!
Glad that you enjoyed it. I think there was also quite a bit of luck involved in the process ;) And I have to say that Wilfried is excellent at pitching his ideas, so he sure made an excellent job when talking to them.

Robin, besides being painfully jealous of the Liaoning factory visit and the plainly delicious food you're showing--and Hi! to Li Wei!--this is a truly spectacular post. Very broadly informative, and you really captured the magic that can happen when business in China is done face-to-face and with respect and passion to accomplish something. All that and a bunch of cool location shots!
Thank you so much, Ron! Well, I am quite jealous too of all the wonderful places, people and food that you show in your posts ;) What I really love about watches is that it is highly unifying... It allows for very different people to find a common ground, something that they all equally enjoy and care about. And that's truly amazing, how it can bridge some otherwise large cultural gaps. When I think about it, I find it impressive how I can hang out with Li Wei, someone who is, objectively, radically different from myself. But still, because of that common passion, there is a reason and... that's so cool.

Hello ;=)
This looks like a really fun and great journey, thank you for sharing this :)
Well, thank you for taking the time to read it :) Yes, definitely. It was a bit scary at the beginning, but then it's really wonderful to learn lots of new skills, to develop some very strong friendships, and to see your watches coming to life.

This is awesome!!! Thank you for sharing your journey!! Will continue to follow and see the final production piece :)
Thank you!! Yayyy, I'm glad! The next post, about the design process, will come soon. Stay tuned!

Awesome photos and congratulations on figuring out some of the logistics involved with this process. Kudos to you on not compromising on your mission to find true blued hands and porcelain dials.

Add the link to your kickstarter when it's ready, would love to participate and support your endeavors
Thank you, that's really kind of you. It's tough sometimes not to compromise, because you literally spend a very large amount of time and some great efforts, but still see no results. Then I believe that if you compromise, even only once, it can be the beginning of a negative spiral, leading to, in the end, something that is not what you had envisioned. So we stick to our vision, even when it's painful to do it.

Very very informative and interesting. Thank you for sharing, and please, keep posting!

Daniel
Thank you! Glad you liked it, and, of course, I will :)

This is easily the most captivating thread on this forum currently!
Wow, that's kind :) Thank you very much! Stay tuned for the next post, coming up soon ;)
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
119 Posts
Great thread! Very informative and well written. Funny enough I have spent a bit of time in the Middle East and had the chance to link up with my uncle as he traveled back and forth between China and the States. My uncle is head of international QC for a major beverage brand and is always working to find new suppliers in China and India for vending machines, refrigerators, etc for his brand. We have had many lengthy discussions of managing QC for vending machines and the like. Based on some of his stories I can only imagine some of the struggles you've had with manufacturing a fine quality time piece. Kudos and best of luck.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Fandegrue
1 - 20 of 174 Posts
Status
Not open for further replies.
Top