Monday, February 22, 2010

Chinese Vs Swiss

Not one to shy away from some controversy, I bring forth to you a very important article which I’m sure everyone will be very interested to read. It could change the way you think towards some established conventions, although I can already foresee certain arguments that will arise from this article. Therefore, before I begin, let me lay down some points for you to consider.

  • Piracy/ fake watches should be actively discouraged.

  • People who choose to wear fake watches are more than likely not able to afford the real ones. So it’s not like watch companies are ‘losing’ a sale. For example, if I was wearing a fake Patek which I got for $50, there is no way I’d be able to afford the real deal at $50,000.

  • There are also those who think the real deal is NOT worth the price they’re charging, but liking the style of the watch, choose to get the erm, less legal version. No, the watch company is still not losing a sale, since the person does not consider the watch to be worth the price, and will not buy it.  In this case perhaps they’ve done themselves a disservice by pricing themselves out of the market.

  • Homage watches to me are a different story. We’re not talking about what constitutes a ‘homage’ and to what point does a homage become a fake. This is a very broad and complex topic and will be discussed at a later stage.

  • Yes I realise that the Chinese watch companies have not spent any money on their on R&D, case/ dial design, etc. However, they have started to do so. This is the same in a lot of other industries. You start off copying someone else’s work, reverse engineer it, and learn from it. Then when you feel confident enough, you stop copying and start making your own.

  • Having said that, I think that some of the more established Swiss brands should be thinking twice about buying ready made cases, dials and movements, assemble them and call themselves a watch company, where in fact they’re really just a marketing firm, outsourcing the actual production of the watch to a few OEMs. This to me is NOT a proper watchmaking company and should not be treated thus.

  • There are a lot of new companies established by watchmakers/ watch enthusiasts who are willing to spend the time and the effort to come up with something genuinely different and interesting. Even if it’s just taking a basic calibre and modifying it to add your own originality.
Now that I’ve gotten those few points off my chest, let’s get into the controversial topic of Chinese vs Swiss.  This road test was purely based on the accuracy of the watches. None of the other criteria were taken into account. I took 2 watches, with similar styling, and running on similar movements. Actually, you could say they’re the same movement. One is a Chinese version of the other. I’m trying to find out if the manufacturing origin impacts on the accuracy of the watch (which is quite important right? We don’t want watches to be inaccurate).

Also, please note that this road test was anything but vaguely scientific. It was done from the perspective of a person who owns the 2 watches and who just wanted to find out if there is any difference in the accuracy of the watches, and I hope that this will give you some sort of a guide.

The Contenders- Swiss on the left. Chinese on the right.

The watches:

1. In the Swiss corner: A watch that in its time was not short on controversy itself - a RXW MM20, powered by the ubiquitous Unitas 6497, basic specs, minimal finishing. 18,000 bph.

2. In the Chinese corner: A homage Italian Navy watch, powered by the Chinese version of the Unitas 6497, amazingly, running at 21,600 bph…

The reference time is the clock that came free on the iMac. The two watches were set as accurately as possible (as the Unitas movement does not hack - meaning the seconds hand keeps on running when you’re setting the time).

The Swiss watch was set 25 seconds slower than reference time. The Chinese watch was set 20 seconds slower than reference time.

The test details :

The test began on the 7th of Feb, 2010, at 8am.

The two watches were tested over the two most common positions (dial up and crown down).  Both watches wound at exactly the same time each day at 8am, and had their positions changed at the same time. The test ran for 7 days, at the end of which both watches were left to run until both stopped, in order to determine the power reserve of each.

One point to keep in mind is that the Swiss watch is quite a few years older than its Chinese counterpart (that I know of) and this may have affected the timing, so I am not expecting the Swiss watch to offer optimum performance. Like I said, not very scientific, but nonetheless something that some watch owners will hopefully find helpful.

Let’s also consider the approximate value for each watch, and the value for their ‘original’ counterpart.

The Chinese - approx value: $150 vs $6500 (PAM177)

The Swiss - approx value $1500 vs approx. $30,000 (PAM127)

This will give you some sort of an idea for the BFYB (Bang For Your Buck) aspect.

About the movements: One important note to consider - I don't think of the Chinese version of the Unitas a fake or a replica, since Sellita (the Swiss movement company that is poised to takeover ETA as the supplier to the rest of the industry after ETA decided not to) is pretty much doing the same thing - manufacturing their own versions of the popular movements like the Unitas 6497/ 6498, the ETA2824, 2892 etc so that the "marketing" watch companies can easily switch to them for movements without the need to drastically alter their dials/cases/casing rings, etc etc. They could start buying movements from Sellita and slot them straight into existing cases. But of course, this area is yet another very broad topic which can be discussed at a later date.

So, after one and a half weeks later, here are the results:

Please click on the image to see the full table

For the power reserve test:

Both fully wound as at 7.05pm, 16/2/10
Swiss stopped at 6.20pm, 18/2/10 giving a power reserve of 47 hours
Chinese stopped at 3.20am, 19/2/10 giving a power reserve of 56 hours.

As you can see from the table, that overall, the Swiss had a better consistency and a much better average overall. It did take a day or so for it to settle down. I was all excited about uncovering some deep dark conspiracy and was really hoping the Chinese watch would out perform its Swiss counterpart. The Chinese watch began admirably, then inconsistency set in. Looking at the big picture it's still very accurate, considering a gain of 5 seconds a day equates to an accuracy of 99.4%. The Swiss, on the other hand, had an accuracy of 99.7%. I mean, really, how much more accurate would you need? I'm happy with a 50% pass mark on an exam...

Also, keeping in mind that the COSC test (the one that Rolex and Breitling so proudly boast about on their dials) has an accuracy tolerance of -4 seconds a day to +6 seconds a day, meaning that both watches performed well within these tolerances that many companies charges you extra for. There are debates on whether the COSC test is actually useful or just a selling gimmick. Many brands such as Patek, IWC, JLC etc all do their own in-house testing with much more stringent criteria. Here is a good post in detail about the COSC test and deciphering the certificate.

An example of a  COSC Certificate - image courtesy of the interweb

Another point to take note is the power reserve. The Swiss watch has a stock standard Unitas 6497 fitted, whereas the Chinese is really a "clone" of the same, but in this instance, the movement has been 'tweaked' to completely clone the version that was fitted to Panerais, ie, at a faster beat rate of 21,600 AND the higher power reserve of 56 hours. I find this aspect fascinating, that they'd gone to the trouble of doing so.

Personally I'd prefer my watch to be gaining time rather than losing, as you know, it's never polite to show up at a meeting 10 seconds late. But this can easily be regulated by your favourite watchmaker.

I won't draw any conclusions from this test. It was just interesting and eye-opening merely conducting this not very scientific test. And I hope that the results have given you something to think about. Or to completely ignore as you prefer the prestige and the status that your Tag brings you.



J said...

interesting test, but have you considered variables such as when was last time both watches were serviced and if so, by the same watchmaker?? that may introduce some degree of bias into the result. But at least you acknowledged that

Also, have you considered wearing both watches on your wrist as temperature, humidity, different activities may also affect the timing of the movements.

overall, thanks for comparo. I wonder what would happen when you compare to a PAM111 with COSC certification?? :p Paneristis would NOT like to see the comparison

Unknown said...

Congratulations Onomatopia on a most interesting and thoughtful post!
The quality of Chinese watches is improving at a great rate.
I personally take no pleasure in wearing fake watches and would also generally discourage their purchase.
However, for those of us who collect watches and need to keep themselves informed about the subtle differences between the real deal and their ever improving copies, the purchase of a fake can well be considered as an educational exercise.
To this end I purchased a fake copy of one of the real Panerai watches I possess.
To the uninitiated casual observer they would probably look the same, nevertheless the differences are quite marked.
On close examination, the finish is superior on the real watch, in every way, both externally and internally, as you would expect.
Not only that, but the feel of the watch when winding it or adjusting the time is vastly different.
My experience in comparing the real and fake over a period gives me much more confidence in being able to spot a fake in future.
Should someone try to sucker me into buying one I now know just where to look and what to look for.
I recommend anyone who is buying watches from other than reputable dealers undertake the exercise of closely comparing a genuine watch to a fake of any brand.
As for me, having seen how much the fake watches have improved lately, I will now only ever purchase from a reputable dealer or a watch acquaintance who I know beyond doubt to be trustworthy.

Anonymous said...

I have a TAG Cal1 and a number of Steinharts with 6497/8. The Steinies are the better timekeepers and from the rear are also better "lookers" and for feel are much smoother, the TAG being a tad notchy. Where the Cal1 scores is in case and dial design/finish which is superb. But who wants to pay a £4k premium for bling? Bought my Cal1, slightly marked, 6 months old and refurbishable for £1400!