Chinese Standard Movement

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A high quality Chinese Standard Movement (Tongji) made by Shanghai Watch Factory. The increased jewel count of 19 and decorated bridges are not typical of the CSM.

The Chinese Standard Movement, also known as the Tongji (统机), is a manual-wind, 21,600 bph watch movement which has been manufactured in various forms by a wide range of factories since 1972. It was designed by engineers from several early Chinese watch factories as part of a Ministry of Light Industry initiative to consolidate the industry, and with a few exceptions it became mandatory for all factories to discontinue the production of their own movements and to mass produce the standard movement. Because of this, the production of the standard movement defines an entire era in the history of Chinese watchmaking, though standard movements are still produced today.

History

Origins

By the late 1960s the Chinese watch industry had matured, with good quality and quantity of output from various factories. To build upon this, the 4th Five Year Plan called for a program of 'consolidation' for the industry, in which a standardized watch design would be manufactured in factories in (almost) all provinces. The resultant movement is known as 统一机芯 (Tongyi Jixin, "Unified Movement) in Chinese, often abbreviated to 统机 (Tongji), and in English, "Chinese Standard Movement", CSM for short.

The prototype SZ-1 was developed by a design group formed by engineers from many units. The project commenced in 1969 under the guidance of the Ministry of Light Industry, drawing upon the resources of Shanghai Clock & Watch Industry Company, Shanghai Watch Factory, Shanghai No. 2 Watch Factory, Tianjin Clock & Watch Factory, Beijing, Liaoning, Guangzhou & Xi'an Hongqi Watch Factories, Xi'an Fenglei Meters & Watch Company, together with the Clock & Watch Research Institute of the Ministry of Light Industry in Xi'an, and the technicians and scholars of timing instruments of Tianjin University. The group studied many foreign watch designs, and combined merits of them for the prototype SZ-1. Blueprints were finalized in November 1971.

Mass production

Shanghai No. 2 Watch Factory’s Baoshihua brand was the first Standard movement watch in production. The first batch bore the SZ1 designation, before the factory-specific ZSE was introduced. Other early examples were the Beijing Watch Factory ZB-1 (17 and later 20 jewels), and the Shanghai Watch Factory SS7 (19 jewels).

Most other existing watch factories were required to shift production to the new Standard movement with a few notable exceptions. The Shanghai ZuanShi Watch Factory continued production of the high-grade SM1A, the Tianjin Watch Factory was permitted to continue production of the ST5, and the Nanjing Watch Factory continued their budget Zhongshan brand watches using the SN2 movement.

Once production of the new watch was established in existing factories, many new factories were built also to make the standard watch. In most factories the complete watch was manufactured in-house, thus the required skills and technologies were distributed more widely across the nation. By the end of the 1970s there were more than 30 complete watch manufacturing enterprises in China; and possibly as many as 50. Watch production in China increased from 6.564 million in 1974 to 33.01 million in 1982. About 82% of Chinese watches produced in 1983 had Standard movements.

The best vintage examples of Standard watches include Shanghai, Chunlei (Shanghai), Shuangling (Beijing), Polaris (Yantai) and Xihu (Hangzhou). Shijiazhuang City Watch Factory made some higher grade watches for military and railway use with a brand name of Taihang.

Twilight

The changes to economic policy in the 1980s, particularly regarding imports and exports, (coinciding as it did with the rapid expansion of global quartz watch production) had a significant impact on the Standard watch. Shanghai Watch Factory and Shanghai No. 4 Watch Factory collaborated on a thinner, more refined replacement for the Standard, known variously as SS8, SB1H or simply the B. Other factories developed low-grade automatic movements based on small movements originally designed for women's watches. Privatization, factory closures and the return of Hong Kong to China all helped to topple the Standard watch from its dominant position. Other more modern mechanical movements have arisen to take its place, such as the Sea-Gull ST16, Nanning NN28 and Hangzhou 2000.

Current production

Currently the Standard movement lives on in skeletonized hand-winding versions, some simple automatic versions, and a steadily declining output of the basic version. Most automatic and skeleton versions now lack any meaningful factory identification marks. The quality has degraded significantly on most Standard movements compared to the 1970s, especially on the skeleton versions which are sold extremely cheaply and are disliked by watchmakers. In spite of its excellent design, the Standard movement now has a poor reputation for reliability and generally it deserves it.

However, even at this late stage new variants continue to be developed. The effort involved in such work is an encouraging sign that good quality Standard movements will continue to be available from at least a few sources. Liaoning Watch Factory is producing a new automatic distinguishable by a wider auto-winding bridge that partly covers the mainspring barrel. This has also been seen in combination with a skeleton base movement with a more elaborate cut and decoration than most Standard skeletons. LWF may also be responsible for a new Standard-based open-heart movement, in which the balance has been relocated to the dial side. All of these variants have been enthusiastically adopted by the many new lower-priced Shenzhen-based brands such as Fineat. In 2008 the Shandong Liaocheng Zhong Tai Watch Company introduced a new skeleton version on a 33mm main plate with a simple auto-winding module on the 'magic-lever' principle. This movement is sold by PTS Resources.

Interestingly the Shanghai watch industry never quite abandoned the Standard. It lives on in automatic form alongside the B calibre powering some of Shanghai's myriad calendar complication and dual time models.

Significance of the Standard movement

The project to establish the Standard watch aimed to make a steel-cased 17 jewel watch available to, and within the means of, almost any worker in a vast developing nation with a population greater than any other on earth. This aim was met, which was an amazing achievement. The often elaborate case-backs and signed crowns of many vintage Standard watches are a testimony to the pride of the local enterprises that built them.

The distributed production of a standard design via a vertically-integrated business model, i.e. a single enterprise building the whole watch, has provided a foundation of skills and technology on which the modern Chinese watch industry is built. With greater international market competition a greater horizontal integration in the industry has emerged, but this is possible only due to the skills and technology already in place.

The very fact that the Standard movement is ‘standard’ ensures its ubiquity even as it slides towards the lower end of the price range. Low-end brands can confidently source movements from the lowest possible tenderer knowing they with fit the cases, hands and dials that they have sourced from elsewhere. An example of this is pseudo-Russian brand Слава Созвездие (Slava Sozvezdie), whose glass-backed watches reveal Standard movements with a surprising diversity of manufacturer’s marks.

On any day there are thousands of Standard movement watches for sale on ebay and in shopping malls throughout the developed world. If you collect mechanical watches in the lower price-bracket, sooner or later you will own one, whether you intended to or not!

Design

The standard movement was designed to have fewer parts than other similar movements, so that it was easier to produce and service, while at the same time maintaining high accuracy and reliability. The basic specification of the Standard wristwatch calibre is a minimum of 17 jewels, 21,600 bph escapement, a minimum of 40 hours power reserve and average rate within +/-30 seconds per day.

The resultant design most closely resembles the Enicar AR1010, found in one of the limited range of Swiss watches sold in China at that time, however there is no evidence of Enicar involvement in the SZ-1 project.

Noteworthy variants

Higher jewel-count movements

The basic standard movement features 17 jewel bearings, but some factories produced higher quality movements with additional jewels. Extra jewels were added to the mainspring barrel as a priority, reflecting the Chinese priority of durability. This is in contrast to Swiss practice where extra jewels are added usually starting with cap-jewels on the escape-wheel.

Differently sized movements

Beijing Watch Factory developed a thinner version of the Standard movement, designated ZB2.

Jilin Watch Factory developed a substantially larger version of the Standard movement, designated HJ1A, for use in its Meihualu branded pocket watches.

Shanghai Watch Factory developed a smaller, "mid-sized" version of the Standard movement, designated ZJH.

Calendar movements

As factories developed additional capacity, date and occasionally day-date versions of the standard movement were developed. Such calendar functions may vary from one factory to another as they were generally proprietary developments. Day-date versions were developed by the Beijing, Hongqi, Liaoning, Shanghai and Wuhan Watch factories.

Automatic movements

The first such Standard automatic in production was the Beijing SZB-1C with 40 jewels. Also of note was the 33 jewel automatic from the Liaoning Watch Factory. Some factories produced automatic versions of the standard movement. The auto-winding modules were proprietary, with Eterna-type double-reverser, ball-jewel clutch double reversers, and single reverser types being used by various factories.

Low beat rate movements

Some Weixing brand watches contain an 18,000 bph low beat version of the standard movement. Presumably these movements were made by Tianjin Clock & Watch Factory who manufactured the more common 21,600 bph Weixing watches, but their origin is not known with certainty.

Simplified movements

Simplified versions of the Standard movement were made by Yangzhou, Dandong City No. 5, Jinan and Shanghai Seventh Watch Factories.

Minor design variations

While the push toward standard movement production was intended to facilitate easy repair of watches using interchangeable parts, some minor variations in design between different factories existed nevertheless.

Springless clicks

ZSE standard movements made by Shanghai No. 2 Watch Factory feature a springless click design, reducing the part count by one.

Movement markings

Many Tongji movements have markings in various places, such as factory codes, brand names and logos or date codes. This section attempts to document the known range of markings. However, many Tongji movements are also completely "clean", with no markings of any kind.

Factory codes

Many Standard movements have a code marked on the wheel train bridge (and sometimes also on the base plate under the balance wheel) indicating the factory at which it was manufactured. These codes are generally three characters long, and start with a Z (Zhongguo = China) followed by two characters for the factory. Examples are ZBJ for movements made at Beijing Watch Factory, ZSH for Shanghai Watch Factory, ZHZ for Hangzhou Watch Factory and ZDL for Dalian Watch Factory. A complete list of factory codes can be found at the article Common markings on Chinese watches.

Jewel counts

(stub)

Brandings

Some factories marked their Standard movements with the names or logos of their watch brands.

  • Some Beijixing brand watches have "BEIJIXING" on the wheel train bridge.
  • Some Changsha brand watches have the Changsha logo on the wheel train bridge.
  • Some Budlet/Chunlei brand watches have an image of a flower on the wheel train bridge.
  • Some Haiou brand watches have an image of a seagull flying over some waves enclosed in a circle on the wheel train bridge.
  • Some Hanzhong brand watches have the Hanzhong logo on the base plate under the balance wheel.
  • Some Hongqi brand watches have "HONGQI" or "PEACOCK" on the wheel train bridge.
  • Some Kongque/Peacock brand watches have "PEACOCK" on the wheel train bridge (this was later replaced by the factory code ZLN).
  • Some Mingzhu brand watches have the letter M enclosed in a hexagon on the wheel train bridge.
  • Some Mudan brand watches have "MUDAN" on the wheel train bridge.
  • Some Suzhou brand watches have "SUZHOU" on the wheel train bridge.
  • Some Taishan brand watches have a silhouette of a mountain range on the wheel train bridge or on the base plate under the balance wheel.
  • Some Zhufeng brand watches have a silhouette of a mountain range on the base plate under the balance wheel.

Date codes

Some Standard movements are marked with date codes which indicate the year and month in which the movement was manufactured.

Beijing

Standard movements manufactured at Beijing Watch Factory typically do not feature date codes, but some movements have been found with B73 and B74 (and possibly B72) underneath the balance wheel, indicated the year of manufacture.

Hongqi

Standard movements manufactured at Hongqi Watch Factory have a two-character date code marked in the base plate underneath the balance wheel, above the ZHQ factory code. The first character indicates the year of manufacture, with years progressing in reverse alphabetical order. Z corresponds to 1972, Y to 1973, X to 1974, and so on. The second character indicates the month, and runs in ordinary alphabetical order, with A corresponding to January, B to February, and so on up to L for December. Some example codes are:

  • WI = September, 1975

The code system begins in 1972, but Hongqi did not begin manufacturing the Standard movement until 1974, so the earliest Hongqi Standard movements have date codes starting with X (the first month of manufacture is unknown). The earlier Y and Z codes were used on SHI movements. The final year of manufacture is unknown.

Liaoning

Movements manufactured at Liaoning Watch Factory have a straightforward date code of the form MMYYL. For example:

  • 0978L = September 1978

Shanghai

Standard movements manufactured at Shanghai Watch Factory and marked with the ZSH factory code feature a two-character date code stamped into the base plate, underneath the balance wheel. The first character indicates the year of manufacture, with A corresponding to the 1974, B to 1975 and so on up to O, which corresponds to 1988, the final year of production. Similarly, the second character indicates the month, with A corresponding to January, B to February, and so on up to L for December. Some example codes are:

  • BJ = October, 1975
  • DF = June, 1977
  • HH = August, 1981
  • LG = July, 1985

A complete table of date codes for the SS1 and ZSH Tongji movements can be found here. The table runs from AA (January, 1974) through to OL (December, 1988). 1974 and 1988 are the first and last years of production, but the first and last months of production within those years are unknown, so, for example, AA and OL marked movements may not exist.

Standard movements manufactured at Shanghai No. 2 Watch Factory and marked with the ZSE factory code feature a similar two-character date code, but it appears that the first letter of the date codes of movements manufactured in 1974, the first year the ZSE designation was used, should be I. In this system the subsequent years follow in alphabetical order. Example codes:

  • IL = December, 1974
  • NA = January, 1979

Earlier Standard movements from Shanghai No. 2 Watch Factory, with the factory codes SZ1 and SZ1A, use different date code systems.

External resources