Watch Manufacturing in China

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Chinese watchmakers are helping small businesses to create quality, affordable timepieces. Read to find out all about outsourcing watch manufacturing to China.

Have you been collecting and researching watches for a while and finally decided to get into the business? Were you seduced by a great concept and a vision to get funded on Kickstarter or Indiegogo and become a timepiece mogul via ecommerce? It's not as unreasonable as it might sound.

Independent watch manufacturing has never been more doable than it is today. You can jump on the trade, even if you do not have a background in making or selling watches. All you need is a reliable, cost-effective partner. 

For the last few years, China has been the go-to country for watch manufacturing, with a large and growing watch industry capable of producing high-quality watches at a fraction of the cost of production in Switzerland or Japan.

Today, millions of watches are assembled in China annually, and many of the world's most prestigious brands have outsourced at least a portion of their production to Chinese factories.

However, with hundreds of watch manufacturers to choose from, it can be tricky to find the right partner to turn your watch design into a sellable product. Luckily, we've done the hard work for you and put together a comprehensive guide to watch manufacturing in China.

In this article, we share our experience with China's watch manufacturing industry and explain the factors that matter when selecting a manufacturer, from design and quality to customer service and compliance.

Why outsource watch manufacturing to China?

The Chinese watch manufacturing scene has been growing steadily in recent years, with the country now making around 30% of the world's watches and watch movements.

Production has also become wildly diverse, thanks to international brands increasingly recognizing China's potential as a watchmaking powerhouse. As a result, today's Chinese-made watches range from brand-name knockoffs to well-known Swiss brands.

Meanwhile, the Chinese have developed a heightened appetite for wristwatches, particularly from international brands. For example, the country is now the world's largest market for Swiss watches, thanks primarily to the pandemic, which forced many Chinese buyers to buy luxury watches in their home country.

If you are considering outsourcing watch manufacturing to China, you stand to reap the benefits below:

  1. A large and growing talent pool: China has a rapidly growing pool of skilled workers, thanks to the country's increasing focus on education and training. This talent pool is one of the main reasons why China has become such an influential manufacturing powerhouse.
  1. A diverse manufacturing landscape: China's manufacturing landscape is incredibly diverse, with factories of all sizes and specializations. This diversity means that brands can find a factory that specializes in producing the type of watch they're looking for, whether a simple quartz watch or a complex mechanical watch.
  1. A vast supplier network: China has an extensive supplier network, which gives brands access to a wide range of raw materials and components. This is particularly important for watch brands, as reliable suppliers are essential to ensuring the quality of the final product.
  1. Compliance with international standards: China has made a concerted effort to comply with international standards, particularly in labor and environmental regulations. This compliance gives brands peace of mind that their products are being produced safely and sustainably.

What to consider when selecting a Chinese watch manufacturer

If you contract a Chinese manufacturer to make your new watch, you will be hiring them to procure all the components required - the case, crown, hands, clock face, indices, and movements - and assemble the watch according to your specifications. These components are typically sourced from sub-contractors and movement makers like Miyota and Seiko. 

Therefore, all suppliers in China have access to the same sub-contractors, and because they do not invest much in R&D, they also have access to the same components and materials.

Despite these commonalities, however, Chinese watch manufacturers are not equal. Some of the factors that distinguish the best watchmakers from the rest of the pack include:

  1. Quality management: The best watchmakers in China have strict quality management systems to ensure that their products meet the highest standards. These systems typically include multiple levels of inspection, both at the factory and the brand's headquarters.

  1. Product compliance: Top Chinese watchmakers are compliance experts and can comfortably navigate international regulations like REACH and RoHS to ensure their products meet all the required standards.

  1. Customer service: Leading watch manufacturers in China offer comprehensive customer service, from initial consultation to after-sales support. This service is typically provided in multiple languages, which is essential for international brands.

  1. Fair pricing: Chinese watchmakers buy materials and components from the same sub-constructors. So, the price difference between manufacturers should be small, right? Unfortunately, that's not always the case. Some manufacturers inflate their prices to take advantage of clients unfamiliar with the market. The best way to avoid these unfair prices is to work with a reputable partner with extensive experience in the Chinese watch market.

The watch manufacturing process in China

Chinese manufacturers do not typically use the "make-to-order" approach. Even those with a design and prototyping division will not give you a pile of designs for you to sift through and choose your favorite. Instead, you have to provide them with your design and specifications, which will form the basis of the quotation.

Watch specifications entail all information you share with your manufacturer that dictates your watches' design, functionality, and durability. The most common specifications relate to case material, plating, movement, water retardance, glass quality, and strap type, but you may want to add other customizations as well.

Typically, the manufacturer will use these specifications to produce a digital prototype, a pre-production sample that gives you an idea of how the final product will look and feel. 

The advantage of this system is that you can get a prototype and quote several hours after you hand in your initial design. Then, after you sign the contract, the manufacturer can offer design consultation to the extent that is within their business scope.

Custom design limitations

Although Chinese watch manufacturers do not offer free design and product development services, most are capable of converting customized watch designs into products.

However, the extent of your customizations is limited by several factors. For starters, while the watch case requires an injection mold that can easily be subcontracted according to your CAD design, detailed drawings, or reference sample, you must base the case design on the components - movement and dial - you intend to use.

Furthermore, custom components require specialized tooling, which costs more, extends the manufacturing time, and often impacts the manufacturer's minimum order quantity (MOQ) requirements.

Therefore, if you are launching your first watch, it is advisable to go with factory-standard parts where possible. Most Chinese watch manufacturers keep standard components in stock and will likely be willing to offer modest MOQs. 

The clock face, case, and straps are easier to customize, so you can use these parts to differentiate your product in the market, even if you use standard internal components.

Watch manufacturing compliance requirements

Compliance was a significant point of worry when outsourcing watch manufacturing to China in the past, but Chinese manufacturers have so far made commendable improvements.

That said, gaps still exist, requiring businesses to exercise due diligence when sourcing their watch manufacturing partners. The following are some of the most prevalent compliance issues concerning watch manufacturing in China and what you can do to mitigate them.

  1. Labeling: If you are in the United States or the European Union, keep in mind that specific labeling requirements apply to watches.

    Information like Country of Origin, case material, and water resistant rating must be displayed on the watch dial or case back. Do not assume your manufacturer knows the labeling regulations in your country. Instead, include all the labeling information in your artwork files.

  1. Substance regulations: Substance regulations like California Proposition 65 in the U.S. and REACH in the E.U. are much more complicated to adhere to than labeling requirements. This is primarily because most Chinese watch manufacturers do not provide test reports upfront showing their products are free of restricted chemicals like lead and cadmium.

    Even a slight difference in the coating or color could render the product non-compliant. Therefore, you must select a manufacturer that can comprehensively prove their compliance with substance regulations, both presently and historically.

    Some businesses try to comply with substance regulations after production by submitting watch samples to a testing company like SGS. However, because watch manufacturers often source parts from different sub-contractors, you cannot be sure that every watch is made of the same materials in the exact quantities.

    You can also periodically submit batch samples for compliance testing to minimize the risk of importing non-compliant products. Note that the government always holds the importer responsible for non-compliance, not the foreign manufacturer.

  1. Packaging regulations: Depending on the market you are selling in, different packaging regulations may apply.

    For instance, in the U.S., the Federal Hazardous Substances Act requires child-resistant packaging for products containing small parts that could pose a choking hazard to children under three years old.

    In Europe, the RoHS Directive restricts the use of certain hazardous materials in electrical and electronic products. As with substance regulations, the onus of compliance falls on the business importing the watches, not the manufacturer.

    Therefore, it is crucial to be aware of the packaging regulations in your target market and to ensure that your watch manufacturer can comply. The easiest way is to provide your packaging design files to the manufacturer.

Want to manufacture your watch in China? Let MorphoMFG show you the way

Navigating the Chinese watch manufacturing landscape can be challenging, especially if you are unfamiliar with the country. Often, businesses pass on an opportunity to get their products manufactured at fair prices simply because they lack the guidance and support needed to make it happen. In addition, the presumed risks of losing their IPs or being cheated out of their money hold many companies back.

Morpho aims to take the complexity out of outsourcing watch manufacturing to China. We are a full-service company that works with top Chinese factories to provide a comprehensive solution, from product development and design to prototyping, tooling, sourcing, quality control, inspection, shipping, and after-sales services.

Most importantly, because we break down designs into smaller pieces and hand them over to specialized factories, we provide much better quality than one would get by giving everything to a single manufacturer while maintaining fair prices and protecting your IP.

MorphoMFG is not just a vendor. It is your consultant, support system, vendor, and partner all rolled into one. Schedule a call with us today, and let us take you from the proverbial 'napkin sketch' all the way to mass production and fulfillment.

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