The tips, warning signs, and other information presented below is for brands looking to make stainless steel Swiss-like masterpieces that will retail for $500 - $2,000 or more.
With China now producing over 30% of the world’s watches and movements, you might be considering going there too.
The good news is that you can now find Chinese manufacturers that create high-quality watches, with Swiss or Japanese automatic movements, titanium-based or other stainless steel ranging from the 304, up to Rolex’s 904.
You can make your own unique design, a new market-disruptor timepiece that even big names would consider a great gift. You can do all that in China now - at a fraction of the cost in Japan or Switzerland.
For those who prefer video content, here’s a video summary of what you’re about to read below.
How does luxury watch manufacturing in China work?
It’s not as easy as approaching any manufacturer and giving them design files for your watch. The first caveat is knowing who to approach. And that’s just one crossroad you’re going to have to navigate.
That’s why the first point for you today is:
You don’t want a manufacturer, you want a partnership with a manufacturing contractor with experience and a proven track record in the luxury watch manufacturing market.
How to know you reached the right people, what traps to look out for, and scams that make deposits disappear into thin air - read on.
Watch Manufacturing in China: Benefits, Warnings, and Suggestions
- Benefit: Trained, educated, and cost-effective labor: 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.
Warning: There are factories, manufacturers, and trade agents that will try to use the above as an excuse to overcharge you, especially on platforms like Alibaba. They prey on overseas companies looking for manufacturing partners.
Suggestion: Avoid everything and anything that says you can get a quote for your unique design within 24 hours or a few days. Avoid anyone guaranteeing you’ll be the next Rolex. If they are not proposing you take a few calls first, meetings, if they aren’t creating a team of engineers to look at your product, visit factories on your behalf, run away.
- Benefit: Diverse manufacturing options: 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.
Warning: Having more options doesn’t mean you have more good options. It means there are more experts, professionals, and factories that can get the job done, but at the same time there are more vultures hovering around the market, constantly on the lookout for their next victim.
Suggestion: Make sure your manufacturer has a verified list of factories they use for every component of your product. Verified list means they have an “inside” list of trusted factories they’ve used before with a high success rate.
- Benefit: 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.
Warning: China has an extensive supplier network, but what access does the manufacturer you end up with have? Do they have a list of vetted factories and material suppliers that they will use for your product? Do they have years of experience in working with the same suppliers that ended up netting positive results for other watch brands?
- 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 a Good Partnership with Best Chinese Watchmakers Gets You
If you contract a Chinese watch manufacturer to make your new watch, you will be hiring them to handle production of all the components required:
- The case
- clock face
- and movements
…and assemble the watch according to your specifications. Some inexperienced entrepreneurs get excited when they do a quick google search and find that these components are easily sourced from sub-contractors and movement makers like Miyota and Seiko.
But if they dig deeper they realize that 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
How to Get a Quote or Prototype of Your Watch Design in China
Chinese watch 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.
And if they do, then that’s a white label “manufacturer” - a market hype that’s been dying for the past 5-10 years. These kinds of watches retail for $29.90. You don’t want to “choose” a design, you have your own.
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,
- water retardance,
- glass quality,
- and strap type,
…but you may want to add other customizations as well.
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.
They will then form a team within their company located in mainland China to focus on your project. This team will involve sales agents, negotiators, engineers, researchers, and assistants. They will crawl the Chinese market, visit factories on your behalf, and find the best option for your design.
Companies like MorphoMFG use their list of vetted factories and suppliers to give their clients the best options.
This is why we charge a 4-figure onboarding fee and take 30 days to have our team find the single best option in the whole Chinese market for your unique design, and then we give you a quote you can stand behind when presenting to your partners or pitching to investors.
Chinese watch manufacturing compliance requirements
The following are some of the most prevalent compliance issues concerning watch manufacturing in China and what you can do to mitigate them.
- 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.
- 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 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.
- 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 an experienced partner in China for your watch brand?
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,
- quality control,
- 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.
Frequently Asked Question
Question: Can you manufacture custom luxury watches in China?
Answer: Yes, you can have a completely custom watch made in China. Even the watch movement can be customized to an extent; by engraving a logo on it or changing its shape by cutting out pieces for example.
Question: Does MorphoMFG contract white label watch manufacturing?
Answer: No. MorphoMFG only takes ODM (original design manufacturing) projects from clients who want a custom-made high-end luxury watch that uses Swiss, Japanese or similar quality movements.