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This year, we have seen a trend with many startup brands, in the Watch industry, shifting from Electronic Quartz Watches, to Mechanical and Automatic Watches. While closely related, there are various differences in terms of components, quality issues, applicable regulations and labelling requirements that overseas buyers must know, when importing Automatic and Mechanical Watches from Chinese manufacturers. In this article, we explain what you must know before getting started.
What is the difference between Quartz, Automatic and Mechanical Watches?
As we are frequently referring to Quartz, Automatic and Mechanical Watches (Movements) in this article, we begin by explaining the differences below:
Quartz Movement (Battery Operated): A battery operated movement using an electronic oscillator, regulated by a quartz crystal to keep time. Quartz Movements are cheap and reliable, explaining why they are used in most watches produced today. Miyota 1L22 is a common movement found in many medium price range watches. Read More
Mechanical Movement (Hand Winding): A nonbattery operated movement, that is wound automatically by motion. A Mechanical watch is wound, either automatically or manually (hand winding). The latter requires the user to wind the watch by rotating the spring. Read More
Mechanical Movement (Automatic Winding): A Mechanical movement, that is wound automatically by motion. As such, the watch is continuously provided with energy when the wearer moves. Read More
Automatic and Mechanical Watch Manufacturers in China
Shenzhen, in China’s southern Guangdong province, is the global center for wristwatch manufacturing assembly. While most suppliers specialize in Quartz Watches (Electronic Movement), Shenzhen is also home to a large number of Mechanical and Automatic Watch manufacturers.
Most watch suppliers only produce the watch case, and assemble all other parts (i.e., Movements, hands and straps), purchased from subcontractors. As such, specialisation in Automatic and Mechanical Watches is therefore not a requirement, as any supplier can purchase Automatic and Mechanical movements. In the end, the production process is identical. In general, a watch manufacturer is not limited to a fixed pool of component suppliers, but can be instructed to assemble parts, for example an Automatic Citizen Miyota Movement, from a component supplier selected by the foreign buyer.
b. Japanese and Swiss Mechanical and Automatic Movements
Chinese Watch Manufacturers purchase movements from both domestic and foreign suppliers. Most medium and high end watches are made using movements from well known, nonChinese, suppliers. A list of movement brands and models, commonly used by Automatic and Mechanical Watch Manufacturers in Shenzhen, follows below:
c. Chinese OEM (No Name) Mechanical and Automatic Movements
Chinese OEM (No Name) movements are commonly used in cheaper Automatic and Mechanical watches. These movements are prone to be shipped with very high defect rates, an issue exacerbated by the fact that the source (subcontractor) is often unknown. This is perhaps the biggest challenge when importing low cost Mechanical and Automatic Movements from China.
We have experienced OEM Mechanical Movements with defect rates as high as 15%, far more than the standard accepted defect rate for watch movements. The problem is seemingly so widespread, that even the Watch manufacturers themselves don’t trust their own suppliers of Mechanical and Automatic movements. Suppliers routinely refuse to set strict accepted defect rates, as they (seemingly) struggle to control the quality of incoming OEM Movements.
Further, Watch suppliers can rarely provide useful technical spec sheets (see above) for these movements, making it very complicated, if not impossible, to determine the movements quality and performance.
Applicable Product Standards, Substance Restrictions and Labelling Requirements
For Buyers based in the European Union, the main difference is that RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive 2002/95/EC) is not applicable to Mechanical and Automatic watches, as these are by definition not powered by electronic movements. This affects labelling requirements, as RoHS 2.0 requires CE marking. As Automatic and Mechanical Movements are not battery operated, you don’t need to ensure compliance with the EU Battery Directive, or the US104142 Act. The latter restricts mercury content in button cell batteries, commonly used in Quartz movements.
Buyers in the United States must also ensure compliance with country of origin labelling requirements, which in the case of watches refer to the origin of the movement. As such, an Automatic or Mechanical Watch with a Japanese movement, may therefore be labelled as following:
Japanese Movement / Made in China
Japanese Movement / Assembled in China
However, it’s important to highlight that this requires the movement to be assembled in the advertised country of origin. Some movements use foreign (i.e., Swiss or Japanese) parts, while the movements are, just like the final product, assembled in China. You need to be sure before you submit print files to your supplier, as improper labelling may result in a forced recall. That said, all reputable watch manufacturers clearly state the country of assembly on their websites.
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Co-founder of Asiaimportal (HK) Limited and based in Hong Kong. He has been quoted in and contributed to Bloomberg, SCMP, Alibaba Insights, Globalsources.com, China Chief Executive, Quartz Magazine and more.
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