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Millions of watches are assembled in China every year, primarily in Shenzhen, Guangdong province. With hundreds of watch manufacturers to choose from, it can be somewhat tricky to find one capable to manufacture your watch design.
In this article, we share our experience of China’s wristwatch industry and explain the factors that matter when selecting a manufacturer. We also explain what importers must know about design customization, and how this has a direct impact on pricing and minimum order quantity requirements.
This is covered:
- List of Watch Manufacturers in Shenzhen
- The role of the Watch manufacturer
- Materials and Components
- Design Customization
- Heavy metals, phthalates, and other restricted substances
- Product Packaging
- MOQ Requirement
- How do I know if the supplier can make my watch design?
List of Watch Manufacturers in Shenzhen
Shenzhen is known as an electronics manufacturing powerhouse but is also the worlds largest industrial base for watch manufacturers. A few years ago I was told there are more than 3000 companies, both watch factories, and component suppliers, in Shenzhen’s Bao’An district aline.
Below follows a list of Shenzhen based watch suppliers that’s been around for a while:
- Shenzhen Aiers Watch Co. Ltd
- Shenzhen City Yonghao Clock And Watch Co., Ltd
- Shenzhen City Yongda Clock And Watch Co., Ltd.
- Shenzhen Kastar Timepieces Co., Ltd.
- Window’s Clock & Watch Co., Ltd.
- Shenzhen Zhongshi Watch Co., Ltd.
Note that all listed suppliers require that you provide a clear product specification for your watch, complete with design files, bill of materials and logo design.
While these companies all make watches, they are also specialized in certain types and materials. Here are a few examples:
- Stainless steel watches
- Zinc alloy watches
- Plastic watches
- Wooden watches
- Digital watches
The role of the Watch manufacturer
The truth is that a ‘Watch manufacturer’ don’t really manufacture the watches. They assemble the watches and procure all individual components. The Watch case, crown, hands, clock face, and even the indexing are all produced by specialized subcontractors.
This also applies to movements, which are often procured directly from Miyota, Seiko or Ronda.
The Watch supplier is essentially managing these subcontractors, and assemble the final products. In general, all Watch suppliers have access to the same subcontractors. As they don’t invest much in R&D, this means that all suppliers in the industry have access to the same materials and components.
Does that mean that all suppliers are equal? Definitely not. Watch manufacturers differ on the following factors:
a. Product compliance: Most suppliers are not aware of EU and US product regulations, such as REACH and RoHS. Hence, they may supply a product with excessive amounts of lead and other restricted substances.
b. Quality management: Managing a large number of subcontractors is not an easy task. At a minimum, the supplier must have established procedures for checking incoming materials and components – and checkpoints on the assembly line.
c. Management: Some people are just better at taking care of their customers and running businesses than others. This is also how it works in China’s watch industry.
So, what about pricing? The price difference between two different suppliers is normally small, assuming you get quoted based on the same product specification. As mentioned, the suppliers are buying materials and components from the same network of subcontractors.
Materials and Components
Chinese Watch manufacturers are accustomed to producing goods in part, or entirely, according to the buyer’s product specifications.
A product specification is any piece of information that defines the design, functions, and durability of a product. Below follows a short list of specifications applicable to watches:
- Case Material: e.g. Zinc alloy or 316L Stainless Steel
- Case Plating: e.g. IP Rose Gold
- Movement: e.g. Miyota IL22
- Water retardance: e.g., 3 ATM or 5 ATM
- Glass: e.g. Mineral glass or Sapphire glass
- Strap: e.g. Italian calf leather
That’s not the full list of specifications you need to cover, but I think the point has been made. As Chinese manufacturers are accustomed to this “make to order” approach, they will not manage the product development for you.
They are manufacturers, and offering a free of charge design service would force them to increase their prices, which in turn would result in most buyers taking their (free) designs to the next manufacturer.
Note: Watch suppliers normally create a 2D rendering of the Watch, effectively illustrating the final product from all angles. However, the rendering is based entirely on specifications provided by the customer. Do not expect any creative input from the manufacturer, as this is outside their business scope.
While you shouldn’t expect free product development services from any manufacturer, most are able to realize your customized watch designs.
The major component is the watch case, which requires an injection mold. This can easily be made by the supplier or subcontracted, assuming you have a CAD design, detailed images, drawings or reference sample.
However, the case design must be based on the actual components (e.g. movement and dial) that you intend to use. There are also limits to how far you should go when designing a wristwatch.
You can custom design any component, including the hands, crown, and indexing. That said, all OEM (custom designed) components require tooling, which cost more time and extends the product development time. it can also affect the MOQ requirement.
If you are about to launch your first product, you may want to consider using ODM (factory standard) parts to the extent possible.
On the contrary, the watch case, clock face, and straps are easier to customize. For most small businesses, it makes sense to strike a balance somewhere in between and mix between custom designed components, and “factory standard” components.
Most Watch manufacturers keep high volume components in stock. These components are assembled on most models, which allows the supplier to offer a fairly modest MOQ requirement per watch design.
The best way to simplify the product development process is by first asking the supplier to send PDF or Excel files listing the standardized components they can offer, and then adjust your watch case design accordingly.
Importers in the United States and the European Union should also note that specific labeling requirements apply to wristwatches. Never make the assumption that your manufacturer ‘should know’ how your watch should be labeled, according to regulations in your country.
The labeling information (e.g. Country of Origin markings) shall be part of the artwork files, and not left out as a gap for the supplier to fill.
Heavy metals, phthalates, and other restricted substances
Compliance with labeling requirements is relatively easy, not barely related to the manufacturers’ expertise. As long as you get the artwork files right, things rarely go wrong in this aspect.
I wish I could say the same thing about compliance with substance regulations (e.g. REACH in the European Union, and California Proposition 65 in the United States).
Importers in the US and EU are required to ensure compliance with all applicable product regulations. This should, at least in theory, be quite simple.
But the reality is very different
I know from personal experience that most Watch manufacturers are unable to provide test reports, or other compliance documents, showing that their products don’t contain excessive amounts of restricted chemicals (e.g. lead, cadmium and phthalates).
Indeed, it is possible to submit a sample to a testing company such as Asiainspection or SGS, but this is only of use if you can ensure that the very same components are used on the sample, as on the final product. Replace a material, color or coating, and the watch may be rendered as non-compliant.
This issue stems from a lack of control of incoming materials and components, from the manufacturers’ subcontractors. As a watch is made of a large number of components, these are not all made under the same roof, but purchased from specialized manufacturers.
Combine this with the general lack of transparency and knowledge of substance regulations in other countries, and you got a potent – and dangerous – mix.
Compliance is essential when selecting a supplier
It’s therefore critical that you select a Watch manufacturer that is able to prove extensive, previous, compliance with European and American substance regulations.
That is, however, only the first step, as previous compliance is a mere indication of capability, rather than a guarantee for future compliance.
Buyers are therefore wise to submit batch samples for compliance testing on a regular basis, to minimize the risk of non-compliant, and thereby illegal, products from entering the market. Importing non-compliant products is illegal, and may result in a forced recall and heavy fines.
Also note that it’s always the importer that is held responsible, not the foreign, in this case, Chinese, manufacturer.
Watch manufacturers subcontract the making of their product packaging to specialized packaging producers. The majority can also offer a number of standardized models, offered in fairly low quantities.
Branding is also possible but may result in a slight MOQ and price increase.
Making a custom designed packaging is another alternative, but requires certain packaging design expertise, as it must be based on the design and dimensions of the watch.
Relying on the supplier to apply the final adjustment is rarely a wise choice, and may result in a large number of useless packages.
The Minimum Order Quantity (MOQ) Requirement is the minimum number of products a supplier is willing to sell a certain item. Watch manufacturers generally set an MOQ of around 300 to 500 pieces per model.
The definition of a model is, to most manufacturers, the watch case. The MOQ requirement is therefore multiplied based on the number of different watch cases you intend to purchase.
Small buyers are therefore advised to find other ways to differentiate the product, rather than buying several watch case designs, which quickly adds up to an MOQ of thousands of units.
As touched upon previously in this guide, the MOQ requirement is greatly affected by the design customization. Certain components and design aspects have a higher impact on the MOQ requirement than others.
Below follows an overview of various components, and to what degree they are likely to affect the MOQ set by the manufacturer:
- Leather / Nylon straps: Low
- Case Material: Low
- Case Plating: Low
- Custom Logo: Medium
- Custom Dial: Medium
- Custom Case: Medium
- Custom Glass: High
- Custom Hands (Minute / Hour): High
- Custom Indexing (Clock face): High
The MOQ per case plating is often as low as 100 pcs. Assuming that the total order MOQ is 500 pcs, you can then create 5 different cases in the same order.
Watch MOQ Examples
- Order MOQ: 500 pcs
- Watch Case MOQ: 500 pcs
- Watch Case Plating MOQ: 100 – 200 pcs
- Dial MOQ: 100 – 200 pcs
- ODM Strap MOQ: 100 – 200 pcs
- OEM Strap MOQ: 500 pcs
How do I know if the supplier can make my watch design?
All watch manufacturers use the same supplier base for procuring materials and components. As mentioned, the watch manufacturer is more of an administrator, than a proper factory.
The watch manufacturer assembles the watch parts, while another workshop makes the clock face, while another one makes the hands.
As such, there is no proper difference between suppliers when it comes to product quality. All watch manufacturers make products based on the spec sheet.
What you get is what you specify.
In theory, you’d get the exact same product from two different suppliers, as long as the spec sheet is the same.
There are no suppliers that can provide fancy movements, or space station grade alloys. They simply don’t exist.
In reality, there are some differences though:
1. Some suppliers focus on stainless steel watches, while others focus more on wood or zinc alloy watches. Or even plastic watches. Make sure you go to a watch factory that is specialized in your type of watch.
2. All suppliers in this industry are relatively sloppy. However, there’s a big difference between suppliers that can keep a 1% defect rate and those that run with a 30% (or higher) defect rate.
Do you want to launch your own custom designed Watch brand?
It can be hard to go from a design drawing to finished product. To help you manage the entire process – from creating a specification to sampling and quality control – we created a Starter Package for watches:
a. Watches Manufacturer Lists
b. Product Specification Templates
c. Watches Label Samples
d. Tutorials, Video Walkthroughs and Task Lists that guide you step-by-step through the entire process
In addition, you can also book quality inspections, lab testing, and shipping directly from the platform. Click here to learn more.