Beijing Watch Factory

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The Beijing Watch Factory (BWaF) is one of China's oldest watch manufacturers, having been founded in 1958. Like many Chinese watch factories, its earliest products contained movements that were high quality copies of Swiss designs, as well as partially original movements representing improvements and simplifications that developed. Having cut its teeth in this way, the factory went on to play an important role in the development and manufacture of the Chinese Standard Movement, producing several high quality versions of this movement, including the first automatic version. Today, BWaF is focussed on the high-end market and is the most prestigious Chinese watch factory, producing a range of watches of a quality and technical sophistication unrivaled by any other Chinese manufacturer. Due to the extreme cost of many of their products, and their lack of international marketing, BWaF is not widely known outside of China.

History of Beijing Watch Factory

Founding and early production

The Beijing Watch Factory was officially established on 19 June 1958; however initially there were only 21 staff in training, located in the Beijing Industrial College, while factory facilities were under construction. By September that year, the first 17 watches had been completed. This first Beijing watch was the BS-1, a high quality 17 jewel copy of the Swiss Roamer MST 371. From 1958 to 1962 only 3,726 were made. Very few survive today.

In 1961 the factory acquired surplus tooling from Switzerland and developed the BS-2 watch, produced from 1961 until 1968. Once again these were high grade watches. 160,861 were produced, including a rumoured batch of 191 made with solid gold cases and 495 mid-sized women's watches. Many of them were destroyed in 1987 and 1988 when the factory accepted them as trade-ins for newer models.

From the establishment of the factory, Beijing mayor Peng Zhen, its principal patron, instructed the factory to only release watches of at least equal quality to the equivalent Swiss watches. The resultant watches were of remarkable refinement but not economical to produce. From 1965 however the Ministry of Light Industry required an increase in production from the factory and standards dropped somewhat. As this was a time of extreme political turmoil in Beijing, there may have been other factors affecting quality control.

1967 saw the introduction of the SB-5, a new design of similar layout to its predecessor, but simpler to produce. In later versions the escapement was upgraded from 18,000 to 21,600 beats per hour. Later SB-5 watches gained the 'Beijing' label in addition to the Tiananmen logo of the previous watches. The 'Beijing' brand name was discontinued when the ZB-1 watch was introduced, but it did appear rarely on some dials in the following years.

Standard movement production

Beijing Watch Factory was one of the enterprises at the forefront of the Chinese Standard watch project. Beijing's version was the 17-jewel ZB-1, sometimes called the SZB-1, which entered production in 1972. Soon after, a new brand name, 'Shuangling', was chosen as part of a shift towards an export focus for the factory. On foreign markets, Shuangling was translated as 'Double Rhomb'. These were sold in various parts of East Asia, and some were exported to Britain in 1978-79. A 20 jewel version followed in 1974.

Early in the production of the ZB-1, the factory developed a 40 jewel automatic version known as SZB-1C, which was the first Standard automatic in production. Optional features were an instant-jumping date with quick-change device, and a day/date similarly equipped. The day/date module was also available on a hand-winding watch. All of these premium variants were produced in limited quantities only. A variety of designations were applied inconsistently to these watches e.g. ZB-SK for the day/date and ZKSR-C for the auto day/date.

In the early 1980s the ZB-2, a thinner 17 jewel Standard movement, was developed. It entered production with the Standard code ZBJ, while the older ZB-1 was transferred to the Beijing Number 2 Watch Factory as the ZBE.

1990s

In the 1990s the factory continued to export complete watches, as well as movements to foreign manufacturers e.g. Stoker & Yale. By the end of the decade, they were also producing complete OEM watches for external clients. As with many other factories, Beijing developed a skeleton version of their Standard movement.

Work on China's first tourbillon watch was commenced by master watchmaker Xu Yaonan in 1995. A prototype was running in 1996 and was ready for production the following year. However, the Asian Financial Crisis caused the plans to be shelved.

21st century

The beginning of the new century saw Beijing Watch Factory reassess its market position and aim for a higher quality, higher priced product. The aging hand-winding Standard movement was retired in favour of a new, simpler automatic capable of supporting a wide variety of calendar and multi-timezone complications. OEM contracts were scaled back in favour of greater promotion of the BWaF (Beijing Watch Factory) brand.

In 2004, the TB01-2 tourbillon finally entered production. The tourbillon carriage is made of titanium. Although not the first Chinese tourbillon, it was at the time the highest quality. Several variants have been produced with date and power-reserve functions. Cases are customarily solid gold and cloisonné dials are available. Orders are limited to 30 pieces only.

A double-tourbillon (TB02) was announced in 2006 for a release date coinciding with the 2008 Beijing Olympics. This new movement incorporated a differential device to reconcile variations in rate of the two escapements. This was the first device of its kind made in China. The Olympic edition (28 pieces) was delivered on schedule.

2008 was also the year of BWaF's debut at the Basel International Watch Fair, Switzerland, with an amazing fully engraved TB01-2. The decoration of the watch had taken an entire year and required new techniques to be developed, for which patent has been applied. Rounding out a busy year, the TB03 8-day tourbillon watch was prototyped, along with the MRB1 tourbillon with minute repeater. These are now in production.

As tourbillon watches become more common in China, BWaF has taken the next step to stay ahead of competitors. In 2009 production commenced of a dual-axis tourbillon combining a 60 second rotation on one axis with a 24 hour rotation on another.

Current production

Simple watches

SB18 hand-winding 3/4-plate version of SB20, solid or skeleton

SB20 automatic, Miyota equivalent, visually identical to Nanning NN28, Guangzhou DG28, many complicated variants

Other automatic watches appear to use ebauches bought in from other manufacturers

Tourbillons

TB01-2 single tourbillon

TB02 double carrousel-tourbillon with differential device

TB03 single tourbillon, 8 day power reserve

TB04 dual-axis tourbillon

MRB-1 single tourbillon, minute repeater

External resources

Corporate site: http://www.bjwaf.com