Li Jiaqi (李家琦), former Director of the Art Creation Studio of Tianjin Sea-Gull Watch Group Co., Ltd., is a national model worker, China Watch Master, and senior technician. He has successively won honors including the first batch of "National Master Craftsman" in the light industry, national technical expert, most beautiful worker in China, national model worker in light industry, member of the 14th and 15th Tianjin CPPCC, first batch of "Tianjin Master Craftsman", first batch of "Haihe Master Craftsman", etc. He enjoys special government allowances from the State Council.
In 1981, Li Jiaqi graduated from high school. With a love for watches and aspirations, he joined Tianjin Watch Factory (the predecessor of Sea-Gull Watch Group), the birthplace of the first watch in New China. For over 40 years, he has been working on the frontline of production, determined to revitalize and develop China's watch industry, promoting model worker spirit, work ethic and craftsmanship, making outstanding contributions to the development of Sea-Gull watches and China's watch industry technology.
Hardworking and Dedicated, Becomes a Craftsman with High Skills
After joining the workforce, Li was arranged to work in the assembly workshop. Years of experience in assembly workshops and practice in manufacturing watch parts gave Li a deep understanding of the relationship between part quality and watch movement quality/appearance. This laid the foundation for him to be transferred to the Technical Center to be responsible for decorative design and trial production of movements, enabling him to further understand the company's manufacturing capabilities, equipment configuration, operator process adaptability, etc.
Therefore, when designing openworked and engraved movements, he fully considered processability to facilitate quicker mass production of the products.
After engaging in openwork and engraved decoration and development of movements, the company sent him to Switzerland for advanced studies in 2004. The overseas learning experience not only broadened his horizons but also allowed him to integrate the pursuit of technological innovation and high quality requirements into his blood.
He has presided over the decorative design and production of nearly 100 models of watch movements, including tourbillon watches and question watches. His products have won multiple awards. Just from 2017 to 2019, Sea-Gull sold more than 1 million openworked movements, with a sales volume exceeding 100 million RMB.
By now, Li has been granted more than 140 authorized patents including utility model patents. Dozens of products he designed and produced have been exhibited at the Baselworld Watch Fair in Switzerland known as the world's top watch industry event.
Inheriting Excellence, Creating “Chinese Style” in Watch Decoration
As one of the current 21 National Senior Watch Masters, in 2003, he successfully designed and produced the first truly openworked mechanical watch movement in China. Its simple style, transparent visual effect and dynamic effect immediately attracted industry attention. Domestic and foreign brand merchants were willing to purchase in large quantities at nearly double the price of non-openworked movements. For nearly 20 years, sales have remained in the six digits every year.
In 2004, during his studies in Switzerland, he was deeply attracted by the engraved art decoration of Swiss watch component plates. After returning to China, he began trying engraved decoration of watch movements. Through repeated experiments and research, drawing from traditional Chinese engraving techniques and processes, he explored out the method of CNC roughing followed by manual finishing to achieve smooth and vivid engraved patterns. To display magnificent landscapes within the narrow space and incorporate Chinese cultural connotations, Li read numerous books and works on Chinese painting while studying professional techniques to enlighten his inspiration by referring to Chinese painting techniques.
In December 2005, Sea-Gull’s engraved openworked tourbillon watch was auctioned off for 63,800 RMB at the Jade Mountain Seasons Auction in Beijing, the first tourbillon with such decoration designed and produced by Chinese people, setting the highest price record for Chinese made watches then. The engraved pattern incorporated western vines, flowers and Chinese auspicious cloud patterns, opening an all new page for artistic design of Chinese watches. The product's patent was awarded the gold award of the Tianjin First "Intellectual Property Cup" Product Appearance Design Contest and the Tianjin Government Patent Gold Award.
On this basis, he designed and developed the first domestic dual tourbillon engraved openworked wristwatch with all parts machining completed in his studio, limited edition of 90 pieces selling at a unit price of 280,000 RMB. This product won the International Industrial Design Jingwei Award of the Binhai New Area Government. He also solved “engine turning” decorative techniques like “concentric pattern” and “Geneva stripes” on watch movements through milling cutters and abrasive grinding, achieving alignment with Switzerland in this technique which greatly meets demand from major customers for frosted and decorated movements.
Passing on Skills, Cultivating Talented Workforce
He is not only a craftsman with exquisite skills, but also has the heart to try his best so craftsmanship and spirit can be passed down. Over the decades, he has nurtured batch after batch of craftsmen through words and deeds.
Relying on the “master guiding apprentices” fine traditions of Sea-Gull, Li has focused on fully leveraging model worker and master craftsman exemplary leading roles, carefully cultivating a group of highly skilled professional technical backbones. His apprentices have become technical backbones in their positions, some have even been promoted to leadership roles, and have also fostered competent apprentices of their own.
In addition to his studio and company staff, Li also hopes more young people will join the team engaged in artistic creation of watches.
As a witness and pioneer of China’s watchmaking industry development, Li will continue to lead the team in constant innovation, use outstanding products to interpret craftsmanship and skills, create watches with the "Chinese heart", and continuously integrate Chinese traditional elements to promote Chinese trends and styles.