A Chinese watch? Who would want a Chinese watch? You know it's all about that Swiss heritage, the German master craftsmanship, the Japanese precision. I could have switched those descriptors around and it would still work, that's the point right. They are well rounded, established and respected timepiece industries. And often expensive, naturally.
On a day like any other I was caught in the loop. Hodinkee, Chrono24, Watchfinder, WoS, creationwatches, and AliExpress, wait what was that last one. You know, AliExpress, the Chinese online retail group you can buy anything from, dirt cheap, from toothbrushes to sex dolls. Somewhere in between those two things come Chinese made watches, a plethora of designs and movements and complications to choose from. A veritable smorgasbord of timekeeping action, chronographs, military, divers, and even tourbillions...
The catch of course is that they are homages and often poor quality ones, which have a certain niche market and many detractors. In addition none of these watches are the brands you might of heard of. Unless that is you've been paying attention to rumblings, sporadic snippets, and snaps, especially in this very blog (even though it's a bit low on content, my bad). Saying that, more and more bloggers and watch magazine sites have given an approving nod and praiseworthy support for many a Chinese timepiece. A Chinese Tourbillion has even been covered by the debonair and loquacious talking hand guy of the Watchfinder Youtube channel. And he wasn't not impressed. It left him conflicted, uneasy, realistically and pleasantly surprised but not flustered though, cos he just ain't that kind of guy (see end of post for video). He understood and appreciated what it was, and what it wasn't. You really do have to reflect, analyse and adjust your biases when it comes to these watches - especially your preconceptions of what 'made in China' is and was.
What's a Sea-Gull?
Yes it's that massive, noisy bird at the beach that steals your chips and ice-cream and then shits on you for good measure. But it is also the brand behind the movements that power most of the decent Chinese watches, including Sugess. They make a bunch of decent watches themselves too, with the know-how that comes from being over 60 years in the business. The Sea-Gull ST1901 Chronograph movement has been used by French brand Baltic, in their Bicompax to great effect. Granted it's not the best of names for a western audience but it could be worse I guess, saying that it does put me off. Hence I'm glad Sugess are there to fill the gap, and don't ask me what Sugess means.
Excerpt from the Sea-Gull website:
"By order of the Chinese government, a national initiative was started in early 1955 to establish a watchmaking industry in the north of the country. A handful of people in a small workshop, equipped with limited tools, set out to create China’s first wrist watch. Completed by the 24th of March of that year, the Wuxing (Five Stars), was a hand-made, simple watch, that only managed to reach a very limited production run.
A few years later the often referred to as, ‘Seagull,’ the Sea-Gull Watch Group was established in 1958, in the city of Tianjin, which is now a 15 million people metropolis.
Known initially as the Wuyi Watch Factory, the company became the title, Tianjin Watch Factory first after it relocated in 1962 and it took up the production of several mechanical and electronic movements Seagull is by far the biggest industrial watch and movement producer in China."
These guys have got heritage, they are innovators and disrupters of a sort. It's often the movements we watch nerds are interested in and that justify a purchase. I would have bought a Bell & Ross BR-03-92 if it was half the price, powered by an in-house or even a modified movement. Sea-Gull know what they're doing when it comes to movements, and I trust that Sugess are doing a great job to make things work at a price point that is bonkers in relation to it's competitors.
source: Aliexpress Sea-Gull Official store.
My Moonphase Master
"I will become a Chinese watch repeat customer. Can you believe it?..."
I bought my Sugess Moonphase Master ST1908 (a Sea-Gull movement, pictured above) from the marvellously named 'Grand Tourbillion Mechanical Watch Store', a store with 2018 followers and 97.6% positive feedback rating as I write this post. I foolishly forgot to leave my feedback for my previous purchase, which would have been overwhelmingly positive. I was, and am, happy with it. At the end of this month if all goes to plan I will be purchasing a couple more Sugess watches, I will become a Chinese watch repeat customer. Can you believe it? I'm kinda surprised myself. Those in the basket at the moment, as pictured below(images from sugesswatch.com), are the ST1901 Chronograph Panda and yes, the ST8230 Coaxial Tourbillion, I'm going for the roman numerals on the enamel dial, I think it's the best balanced of the Tourbillion faces they have. The Panda is a 40mm, there is a 38mm but I think it's a bit small. It's all a risk of course, but one that I am willing to take. They do refunds I think...
Sugess ST8230 Coaxial Tourbillion
They are both great looking watches and I hope my plans come together to allow me get my sweaty mitts on these pair of bad boys. I have to admit to being guilty of a mild, gentle kind of watch snobbery prior to taking delivery of my Moonphase master. The relief and joy of having made the right decision and ending up with a great watch was quite gratifying, phew, I'm not an idiot, again...I hope that will be the case this time too, with higher hopes and stakes.
The Sugess Moonphase Master ST1908 (link to store page) was an extremely pleasant surprise as those of you who have read my first impressions (link) and review (link) posts will know. I have had no problems with it, it's running bang on (though I don't have a timer for an official test). It went for about 6 months in storage, maybe longer, without being worn or wound, and earlier this week I stuck it on my skinny wrist with no issues whatsoever.
Pretty pointless but pretty pretty.
I then, am potentially to purchase a tourbillion, which is crackers to say, on the other hand I am quite aware that they are functionally pretty useless. But from an aesthetic, historical and craftsmanship/engineering viewpoint they are works of art. A kind of microcosm of the innovation, vision and creative problem solving that lies at the heart of the history of timekeeping. Take the below, Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon Westminster Perpétuel, only 18 made and will cost you around £1million. It is a collectors piece, a masterpiece, if I had the money I would buy one, just as I would buy a Van Gogh if I had £100million lying around. If anything, the JLC is more than a watch, more than a Van Gogh is more than a painting, if that makes sense, and of course in my humble opinion.
"...powered by a magical mechanical whirlwind."
There are couple more things for me to consider about a £450 tourbillion. It is a bargain, but not in a bad way. At that price no luxury watch you buy will have the best parts or finish, never mind being powered by a magical mechanical whirlwind. In this particular circumstance I think I could say that it could only have been built to the quality it is, in China, by the Sea-Gull team. They have a history and they know watches. You can't get a fake tourbillion just one that is a lower standard of finish, but it has to be of a particular standard to work. Yes maintenance might be an issue, but there are happy customers that have owned theirs for years with no issues other than unmitigated good times wearing one of the most stunning and artful watch complications known to humankind. It may well be a luck of the draw kind of situation but from my perspective it's worth the risk (famous last words, I hope not).
You can only give credit where it's due, and at this point in time it's the only way I'm going to get to wear and stare at a tourbillion, if we've seen anything in the last 18 months it's that life is unpredictable and can get crazy at the push of a chrono-pusher. So, I think it's time I did this, I've been thinking about it for over a year and in a couple of weeks if all goes to plan, I will jump into the eye of the whirlwind, I'll keep you updated.
Link to the watch in the video (different colours) - here.
Grand Tourbillion Mechanical Watch Store/Aliexpress Sugess store - https://sugess.aliexpress.com/store/5285004?spm=a2g0o.detail.1000007.1.3e321fc9ofEue1
Sugess Home - https://sugesswatch.com/
Sea-Gull Store - https://www.seagullwatchcompany.com/
Aliexpress Sea-Gull - https://www.aliexpress.com/store/1168318
Campanola Official site - https://www.citizenwatch-global.com/campanola/
Baltic Bicompax, powered by Sea-Gull - https://baltic-watches.com/en/collections/bicompax-002
What is a tourbillion? - https://www.gq.com/story/watch-glossary-tourbillon