I asked several friends and respected collectors to say a few words about their favorite vintage (or vintage inspired) Chinese Mechanical Watches. I want to say thanks to each of these gentlemen for taking the time to participate!
Li Wei is a Beijing based veteran timepiece collector, scholar, and leader of the Domestic Horology Department of the China Horologe Association.
The Watch: Tianjin Seagull Project 304 Chronograph prototype made in 1963 for the Chinese Air Force.
(The following is an excerpt from Li Wei's full article for EWR about the history of the Project 304 watch)
Li Wei: The 304 is unique and special in the history of Chinese military watches, and is also a favorite of watch collectors worldwide. Because the 304’s production quantity was so small, and because it was a daily-wear watch, original pieces are not easily found today. The Seagull watch factory and watch enthusiasts have been duplicating this watch in a variety of versions in recent years, attempting to satisfy the desires of 304 enthusiasts.
In addition to the characteristics of the 304 introduced above, the movement of my particular watch was finished with additional grinding and mirror polishing, for use as a special sample product. Because of its handsome appearance and accurate time, this 304 is the treasure of my collection.
The Watch: Taihang 17 jewel watch with "For Military" markings.
Ron: Earlier speculation had this watch as built for dress wear by junior officers in the PLA (which may be true) but other knowledgeable conjecture is that the "For Military" marking was added to increase the value without any real military connection..but either way, it's still a favorite because: 1) the caseback is a depiction of the very beautiful Taihang Mountains, 2) the watch has a very subtle but well executed linen dial, and 3) it was among the very first three VCM's I ever collected direct from a seller in China, and that seller and I have since become friends to the point we very much consider each other as brothers, as family. He and his wife and I have met and spent days together every time I've visited China and his early support for my collecting and friendship was a very large part of why my interest in China and Chinese watches progressed as it did. My first visit to China was primarily to meet my brother, and all the rest of my adventures in China followed from that first trip.
Boey Cy is a Beijing based Singaporean, and experienced collector of VCM's.
The Watch: Beijing BS-1 Model 1
Boey: This is my most prized and my most favorite VCM. It took me almost one and half year to find this Beijing BS-1 model 1 VCM, which is in a decent and working condition. It was hard finding one as only around 3726 pieces were produced between 1958-1962 by Beijing Watch Factory after they started in 58 (I think). This first model by Beijing Watch Factory was copy of the 17 jewel Swiss Roamer MST. Not many Beijing Model-1 survived. The one I got has a pretty worn crystal which represents the age, time and the history.
This has a lot of historical value as it's this model that started it all for BWAF. The number on the case back 58619 is the date when BWAF was opened (19 June 1958). I was told by other VCM collectors that all model-1 has the same numbers on the case back; and the number under the balance "2521" could be the order which they are made, which, if correct, would mean this is the 2521st watch of the Beijing Model-1.
Benjamin Chee is the founder of Maison Celadon. Read more about Benjamin and his amazing watches here.
The Watch: Seagull ST5 Antarctic
(The following is an excerpt from Benjamin's full article, which can be read here)
Benjamin: Among all the ST5 variants, there were the standard sort that could be bought by the public (and at that time were among the most expensive watches in China, equivalent to a Rolex), as well as special versions fine-tuned for higher accuracy and used for railroad conductors and the military. For collectors, this Antarctic version is the rarest and most desirable of them all.
It is so humbling to know, whenever I hold this watch in my hands, that it accompanied China's first expedition to Antarctica more than 30 years ago. It is a symbol of the indomitable courage of my people and my beloved ancestral homeland, and of how far China has come since 1984 against all odds, to witness what is possibly the greatest economic resurgence in human history. It is the embodiment of the spirit of exploration and discovery, a rekindling of the mighty voyages of Admiral Zheng He six centuries before.
Ed Tse (aka HKEd) is a Hong Kong based WIS and an experienced watch collector, as well as an active member of various online watch forums.
The Watch: ED1963 WatchUSeek forum project watch, inspired by Li Wei's original (above)
Ed: I first saw a photograph of the original, vintage black dial on Watchuseek and fell in love with it. Sadly, it turned out to a very rare unobtainable prototype. As luck would have it I spoke to Thomas (producer of the 1963 reissue) about it and a project watch was born.
A favourite due to it's versatility and it looks great on leather and Perlon alike. An affordable chronograph with a vintage vibe which I'm not afraid of wearing as a daily beater!