Shanghai ZuanShi Watch Factory

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Although often overshadowed by the more famous Shanghai Watch Factory, the Shanghai Zuanshi Watch Factory had a long and illustrious history, and made significant contributions to the Chinese watch industry.

Early History

In 1932 Koo Hai Zheng opened a clock factory in Shanghai called Tak On Clock Factory. These first clocks were branded Double Arrow. The factory was bombed and destroyed in the 1937 Japanese invasion. However, the following year it was rebuilt and renamed Jin Xing (Gold Star) Industrial Association. Production commenced of alarm clocks bearing the now-famous Diamond brand name. These were exported throughout South East Asia. A small quantity of wristwatches was produced using imported Swiss movements.

After the Communist Revolution, production continued as before. Then in 1955, Jin Xing, along with 200 other horological enterprises within Shanghai, were nationalized to form the Shanghai Clock and Watch Industry Company.

In 1958 the factory produced the first pocket-watches bearing the ZuanShi/Diamond brand. The simple un-jewelled design with pin-lever escapement was copied from the Smiths Empire watch made in Britain, the design of which can be traced back to the Ingersoll Yankee of the late 19th Century. The ZuanShi pocket watch was made until 1970, when the entire production line was transferred to Yangzhou Watch Factory, where production continued under the Hongqi brand name.

Shanghai Stopwatch Factory

Production of stopwatches, primarily for the military, commenced in 1959 with the Model 593. In 1963 the factory produced China's first 1/100th-second stopwatch; a remarkable achievement and a sign of the rapid technological advances made by the factory. Stopwatches became a core product, and in 1966 the factory was renamed Shanghai Stopwatch Factory.

Throughout this time, Diamond brand alarm clocks continued to be exported as well as high-grade 15 jewel 8 day mantlepiece clocks.

Another great success for this enterprise was the introduction in 1969 of the SM1A wristwatch, again designated Diamond or ZuanShi. This watch featured a slightly oversized movement with unusually large balance wheel and mainspring. Although a simple design, it was capable of impressive accuracy. In 1972, in line with industry trends, the SM1A was upgraded from a 18000 bph to a 21600 bph escapement. By the time production ceased in the mid-1980s, the SM1A had been awarded China's Best Wristwatch 10 times!

Shanghai No. 4 Watch Factory

In 1978 the production of Diamond/Zuanshi brand stopwatches was transferred to the Shanghai Number 2 Clock Factory, which was then designated Shanghai Stopwatch Factory, while the former Shanghai Stopwatch Factory was designated Shanghai Number 4 Watch Factory and continued production of Diamond brand wristwatches and clocks. To add to the confusion, the newly-named Stopwatch Factory also started manufacturing Standard Movement wrist and pocket watches with the casebacks signed 'Shanghai Stopwatch Factory', just as the ZuanShi SM1A had been up to that point. In fact, the original Diamond watch factory was exempted from production of the Tongji/Standard watch, and the new Stopwatch factory only used the Zuanshi brand for stopwatches, so it is possible to differentiate the watches produced by these two enterprises.

Also in 1978, the high-grade ZuanShi SM2H wristwatch was released to market. The 33-jewel day/date automatic movement featured a 28800 bph escapement with hack function. By the time production stopped in 1980, only 487 had been made. From 1980 to 1983, the remaining parts stock were expended in the production of 23660 19 jewel single-calendar hand-winding watches.

In 1982, the Shanghai Number 4 Watch Factory entered into a joint venture with the Shanghai Watch Factory to develop a new wristwatch movement to replace the ZuanShi SM1A and Shanghai ZSH. As it happened, the ZSH was never replaced but continued in parallel production with the new watches. The prototype series was designated SBS, and was characterized by a very thin design of simple construction and large balance wheel. An automatic version was also planned. Test batches of the SBS1B calendar hand-wind and SBS3 very thin watch were released to market in 1984, alongside the equivalent Shanghai SS8.

The full production ZuanShi SB1Z (date) and SB1ZB (day/date) versions were release in 1985. These early versions may be distinguished by a prominent, stylized B engraved on the movement. The day/date automatic SB1ZZ followed in later years. Curiously, although thinness was an important characteristic of the SBS design, the automatic module is reasonably bulky.

Shanghai ZuanShi Watch Factory

The Shanghai Number 4 Watch Factory was renamed the Shanghai ZuanShi Watch Factory in 1986, finally giving full recognition to the brand it had carried since 1939. 1986 was also the year the factory introduced the SB5Z woman's watch. The following year, ZuanShi entered the electronic era with the launch of the DSZ2 quartz watch. Around this time, ZuanShi began exporting SB1Z and SB5Z movements to Romania for Orex watches. This continued into the early 1990s.

During the 1980s and into the 1990s there were big changes to the Chinese economy. Imports increased against which the watch factories needed to compete. As this was a time when quartz watches were starting to become available in the lowest price bracket, simple hand-winding watches were no longer attractive to customers. At the same time factory enterprises were being gradually corporatized, privatized, rationalized, downsized. Shanghai ZuanShi Watch Factory was one of the victims of this process. After a long period of indifferent sales figures, the factory was closed, the equipment sold off, probably to the Shanghai Watch Factory, and the land sold. One can only hope that the skilled workforce of this award-winning factory were able to secure appropriate jobs with other watchmaking companies.

ZuanShi brand stopwatches are still in production by the Shanghai Stopwatch Factory (former Shanghai Number 2 Clock Factory), and ZuanShi alarm clocks continue to be available albeit packaged in such a way as to offer no clue as to the manufacturer.

Although the Shanghai ZuanShi Watch Factory is now just a memory, the B calibre developed jointly with the Shanghai Watch Factory lives on in a proliferation of variants produced by Shanghai and used in both their own watches and sold to other watch companies. There are triple-calendars, dual-time, 24-hour, moon-phase. The most commonly seen in recent times is the GMT version, found in watches under the brands of Alpha, Aeromatic, Tauchmeister and many others.