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Planning to import watches from China? In this article, we explain how you can implement our framework to go from design drawing and prototype to mass production and quality control.
This is covered
Design Customization Options
Watch Standards and Regulations
Watch & Clock Trade Shows
The biggest price factor is the watch case material. You have two options: Stainless steel or Zinc alloy. The latter is only used in low-quality watches, retailing for less than $50. Watches sold for above that price are almost always made of Stainless Steel, if exclude other less common watch case materials, such as plastic and silicon.
As for the case design, you also have two options, as explained below:
ODM = An existing watch case design, based on a ‘ready-made’ mold.
OEM = A custom designed watch case, requiring the supplier to open a new mold.
The movement is the essential component in a watch. Most Chinese manufacturers offer both low cost Chinese made movements, and the more common, Citizen Miyota movements. Some Watch brands prefer other movements, for example, Ronda movements.
However, it tends to be quite hard to find suppliers that can provide such high-end movements, thereby forcing the buyer to arrange the movement purchase from the maker itself. That being said, most movement makers have representative offices in Hong Kong or in Mainland China.
When importing watches from China, OEM refers to custom designed watch cases. ODM, on the other hand, refers to factory standard watch cases (i.e., cases for which a mold is already made). In addition to the watch case, there are various design elements and components, that can be customized:
IPX Standard (i.e., 10 ATM)
However, customized components require additional tooling (i.e., injection molds), which are without exception paid for by the buyer.
Why ODM watches are not always what they seem
Notice that many suppliers have extensive product catalogs on their Alibaba.com or Globalsources.com page. However, many of these ‘designs’ are not actual ODM products that they can offer. There are a few different scenarios that apply to so-called ODM products:
a. The supplier has an ODM mold for the product. However, they cannot allow other importers to use the mold, as it’s owned by another company.
b. They only added the product based on a photo they found online (this is very common)
c. They designed the watch, but its only a rendering, and they never actually made the mold
In many cases, I’ve found it too complicated to work out of a watch actually exists as an ODM product, or if it’s a rendering or random image they took from Google. Given that an OEM mold is only costing around $500, it’s often not even worthwhile to spend time trying to find a suitable ODM mold.
But, that’s not the case when selecting ODM hands and indexing
It’s actually faster to select ODM hands and indexing, rather than ordering the supplier to make it based on a custom design. Further, you can also save around $200 to $300 in tooling costs.
Most suppliers don’t have proper hands and indexing catalogs. Instead, you can simply provide them with an image, and let the supplier match it the best they can. Just make sure they confirm the actual design, before making the sample.
Most watch suppliers don’t manufacture straps ‘in house’, but purchase wristbands from specialized subcontractors. The Minimum Order Quantity (MOQ) requirement (50 to 200 pcs) for straps tend to be lower than the Watch MOQ when buying factory standard straps.
However, custom designed (OEM) straps result in a higher MOQ, often set at 500 to 1000 pcs – and, a fixed tooling cost at around $400.
Further, if you intend to purchase OEM wristbands, you need to prepare the following to the supplier:
Bill of Materials (Component list, material specifications)
Dimensions and size table
You can avoid the tooling cost, and lower the MOQ per design and color if you select an ODM strap.
Product packaging is also subcontracted to specialized packaging suppliers. Not manufactured by the Watch Supplier. ODM packaging, i.e., a standard gift box with the buyer logo, tends to be offered with a lower MOQ (500 – 1000 pcs per design) while OEM packaging requires the buyer to purchase 2000 to 3000 pcs per design.
The Watch manufacturer can mostly offer a number of standard ODM designs for the buyer to select, thereby reducing the need for OEM packaging.
The tooling cost is based on the number of custom designed components. Every custom designed component, be it the watch case or the hands, require new tooling, which is, with very few exceptions, paid for by the importer. Below follows a few reference prices:
Watch Case Mold: $200 – $300
Crown Mold: $120 – $200
Custom Hands: $80 – $150
Custom Indexing: $100 – $150
Custom Clock Face: $40 – $100
Custom Back Plate Engraving: $20 – $40
The tooling cost for OEM watches is, in relative terms, very low. However, the tooling production time must also be factored into the cost calculation. The waiting time for new tooling can be up to 45 days, and that’s only for the first batch.
When considering the, very likely, revisions, the total prototype development time can easily run up to 4 to 5 months.
However, customization has a small impact on the unit cost, which largely depends on the materials and components, rather than specific design elements:
Stainless Steel Case w. Ronda Movement: $19 – $24
Stainless Steel Case w. Miyota Movement: $16 – $22
Stainless Steel Case w. Noname Movement: $14 – $20
Zinc Alloy Case w. Miyota Movement: $6 – $8
Zinc Alloy Case w. Noname Movement: $4 – $5
There’s no right or wrong when selecting materials and components. However, most Watch manufacturers consider it unwise, and rightly so, to combine a Stainless steel case with a low cost movement – or even vice versa. Zinc alloy watches rarely retail for more than $50, while a Stainless Steel watch, costing just a few dollars more, can retail for $200 to $300.
Hence, a small investment in quality can vastly improve your profit margins. That being said, in the end, it’s all about the price segment your company wants to target.
The role of the watch supplier is to purchase and assemble components, not to assist with design. It’s your job to ask ‘the right questions’, concerning the suppliers’ production capabilities and customization options, and to provide the information required by the supplier to produce an OEM or ODM sample:
1. ODM SKU
One (or more) of the following:
1. CAD file
2. 2D Design Draft (ANSI or ISO)
3. 3D Printed Design / Reference Sample
3. Logo file (.ai)
3. Logo file (.ai)
Engraving Logo File (.ai)
Engraving Logo File (.ai)
1. ODM SKU
1. Bill of Materials
2. Design Draft (ANSI or ISO)
(standard crown on selected SKU)
Select from catalog
Design file (.ai)
As in every industry, it’s critical that you provide the supplier with clear, and consistent, product specifications and files. Don’t assume that the supplier will spot errors, fill unspecified gaps or report conflicting information.
Vague information on the product specification can result in misunderstandings, and thereby cause severe quality issues later in the process.
Lead times are, as mentioned, another critical factor to consider whether to custom design the watch case and other components. Below follows a basic lead time comparison:
Buyers based in the United States and the European Union must ensure compliance with various product safety standards and directives. Below follows an overview:
CA Prop 65
Regulates more than 800 substances in consumer goods. Compliance is when selling in, or to consumers in, California.
CPSIA compliance is mandatory for Children’s products sold in the United States. Hence, CPSIA applies to children’s watches.
RoHS restricts heavy metals in electronic components and metallic parts in contact with said components. Hence, RoHS compliance is mandatory for both the watch case and the movement.
REACH regulates substances in consumer goods. Compliance is mandatory in all EU states.
The EMC (Electromagnetic Compatibility) Directive is applicable to all electronics products.
EN 71 is mandatory for toys and certain children’s products sold in the EU.
Compliance testing can be carried out in China, by a third party company, such as SGS, Asiainspection or Bureau Veritas. However, I advise you to hire a quality inspector to collect batch samples, rather than letting the supplier do it for you. There’s always a risk that they send a ‘compliant sample’, in order to pass the test.
A Quality Inspector can offer much more than just a batch sample collection. The only way to avoid high defect rates is by inspecting the cargo on site, prior to balance payment and shipment.
Common Watch Quality Issues
Some quality issues are more common than others in Watch manufacturing. Here’s are a few things you should be aware of during a quality inspection:
Scratches, bad polish, and marks on the case, crown, strap clasp, and other metal parts
Electroplating shadows on the case, crown, strap clasp, and other metal parts
“Slow hands” (Caused by hands weighing more than the movement maximum)
Depleted batteries (Caused by suppliers assembling used batteries in the watch)
Skewed indexing (Caused by poor manual assembly during production)
I. Visual inspection
1. Case Diameter
2. Case Thickness
3. Strap Width
4. Strap Leangth
1. Logo print
3. Material Weight
4. Damages / Dirt
5. Export Packing
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.
Hey there, I’m Fredrik!
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