Since the 1950s China has produced a remarkable number of beautiful and well-designed watches. This archive shows some examples of its excellent output, mostly from 1965 to 2000.
Vintage Chinese Mechanical watches are reminders of another time when in China a watch, along with a bicycle and a sewing machine, was one of the three must-have items. In 1955, the first completely Chinese wristwatches were produced. From the start there was a desire to match the quality of their Swiss counterparts, and ever since China has produced many high-quality watches. The factories which opened in these early times became leaders in the Chinese watch industry. Unfortunately in the first twenty years of domestic watch production their products were too expensive for many.
Chinese watches were manufactured in a mere handful of cities in the 1960s. In an attempt to make watch ownership more accessible to a greater number of people, authorities oversaw the development and mass production of the tongji, or Chinese standard movement, which with a few exceptions was used in every Chinese men's wristwatch. The standardisation of the Chinese watch industry was effected in conjunction with the establishment of watch factories all over China in the 1970s.
Mechanical watch production boomed into the 1980s. Just as the supply of mechanical watches increased to meet demand, however, economic reorganisation and increased availability of imported quartz watches proved to be a formidable challenge for the Chinese watch industry. Factories had to find ways to adapt or face closure. A number of them ceased operations before the century ended. The surviving factories, along with some new entries, have in the twenty-first century quickly created what is possibly the strongest mechanical watch industry in the world.
Watch factories in China produced hundreds of different brands. Often the brands were named for the city in which the watch was produced, but just as often they were named for an animal or flower which may have had some relevance to the factory's city. Sometimes a regional geographic feature was the inspiration. Patriotic and historical names were used too.