Originally published in Tianjin Daily on October 31, 2023
Tianjin, October 31 -- Good news recently came from Tianjin Sea-Gull Watch Group Co.,Ltd. After nearly 10 years of research and development, the group's scientific innovation team has completed the trial production of the third version of the movement for their 2.5mm ultra-thin automatic watch, with various data showing good performance. The new watch is expected to be launched next year.
Recently, the reporter visited Tianjin Sea-Gull Watch Group Co.,Ltd.'s high-end equipment intelligent manufacturing center located in Tianjin Airport Economic Zone. All the production lines were running at full capacity, busy manufacturing watches. "The market has been continuously improving this year, and orders have been placed until next Spring Festival," said Xu Chuangyue, Chairman and General Manager of the Group.
From the darling in the age of supply shortages, to the pacesetter in the period of product transformation, and then to the explorer embarking on internationalization in line with globalization trends, Tianjin Sea-Gull Watch Group Co.,Ltd has been blazing new trails as a national enterprise with strong independent innovation genes. Along the way, Sea-Gull has been conquering difficulties and breaking foreign technological monopolies. It has also been overcoming obstacles to lead the trend of precision manufacturing, embarking on a new journey and exploring new fields.
Several Generations of Innovation
Upholding the "China Movement" of National Watches
Born in 1955, Sea-Gull watches carry the emotional memories of several generations of Chinese people. It is a true leader among national watch brands.
How are the intricate instruments worn on the wrist and consisting of hundreds of tiny parts actually made? There was no answer to this question in China before 1955.
68 years ago, the predecessor of Tianjin Sea-Gull Watch Group Co.,Ltd - Tianjin Watch Factory, produced the first mechanical watch in New China, opening a new era for China's watchmaking industry. Today, this precious "Five Star Watch" is preserved in the Tianjin Museum.
"Having taken that first step from zero to one, Sea-Gull people have developed a pioneering spirit of fearing no difficulties and daring to challenge themselves," said Xu Chuangyue. Going from nothing to existence, and from existence to excellence is precisely the traditional craftsmanship and artisan spirit passed down through generations. This has become an important factor enabling time-honored brands to constantly adapt to the development of the times and maintain their vitality in the new era, giving them the greatest confidence to revitalize themselves through innovation.
In the 1990s, after a brief period of disorientation, Sea-Gull refocused on mechanical watches and established itself as a high-end watch manufacturer.
After the millennium, Sea-Gull put effort into exporting movements and corporate customization, becoming a model of Chinese manufacturing supporting the world.
In the second decade of the 21st century, Sea-Gull seized the trend of consumption upgrading, tapped into new e-commerce traffic, and continued to serve more Chinese consumers.
In pursuit of the "China Movement", Sea-Gull has always been committed to independent innovation and R&D. Complex movements including dual tourbillon, repeater and calendar watches have been conquered by Sea-Gull one after another, with the constantly improving "China Movement" becoming milestone after milestone for China's mechanical watchmaking industry.
In 2019, Tianjin Sea-Gull Watch Group Co.,Ltd completed mixed-ownership reform, and actively integrated into the "Manufacturing-based City" strategy. With empowerment from both the state-owned platform and private capital, it entered a completely new stage of development.
"In more than half a century of development, Sea-Gull has experienced countless challenges. Internally, there are issues of inheritance between generations of industry and technicians. Externally, there is more market competition and changes in consumer aesthetics," said Xu Chuangyue. After the mixed-ownership reform, Tianjin Sea-Gull Watch Group Co.,Ltd put forward new strategic transformation goals, with all innovation directions aimed at consumer demand. "We have asked all employees that whether in technology, production, product design or sales, we must pay attention to consumer demand. Only by fully understanding the market can we meet challenges and competition," Xu noted.
To this end, Tianjin Sea-Gull Watch Group Co.,Ltd has made two major adjustments - establishing the Innovation Center as the "center" of innovation, integrating traditional technology R&D, movement design, industrial design and market research departments, while connecting the market and technology/production at the same time; adjusting salary structure, giving more incentives to innovation talents and master-apprentice inheritance, while introducing outstanding design and development talents from outside.
Under the new system and mechanism, Sea-Gull's product quality and production efficiency have been significantly improved. At present, Tianjin Sea-Gull Watch Group Co.,Ltd has built China's largest precision mechanical watch movement manufacturing base, with an annual movement production capacity of 3 million pieces, forming 11 series and over 200 varieties. Its annual finished watch capacity is 200,000 pieces, forming 6 major series.
Embracing the "Chinese Style"
Veteran Brand Marching into New Fields
For time-honored brands to maintain vitality and youthfulness, exploring new fields is a must. The advantage of old brands lies in being "old" - old brands, old craftsmanship, good reputation and word-of-mouth. But the disadvantages of old brands also stem from being "old" to some extent, such as outdated concepts and insufficient marketization, especially low acceptance among young groups, making it difficult to meet the current needs of consumption upgrading and the times.
With increasing cultural confidence, more and more young people are expressing their self-esteem and fashion attitude by pursuing the "Chinese Style", opening up new possibilities for the revival of old brands. Like many time-honored brands, Sea-Gull has proven in practice that artisan spirit never goes out of fashion, and old brands can also transform themselves gracefully.
"Now we initiate new technology projects every month. On one hand, we are constantly trying new materials, new processes and technologies, and have successfully overcome technical difficulties such as ultra-thin watches and complex watches. We have made prototypes of watches including tourbillon without pallet fork, 2.5mm ultra-thin automatic watch, and achieved the application of silicon material components in high-end mechanical watch movements. This enhances the quality and brand of 'Made in Tianjin'. On the other hand, targeting the young consumer market, we focus on forward-looking, original and disruptive core technologies to develop high-end complex movements and fashionable watches," said Zhou Wenxia, the group's chief engineer.
In April 2022, Sea-Gull announced a crossover cooperation with a well-known game product brand and launched a co-branded watch. The collision between traditional watchmaking craftsmanship and youthful fashion has sparked new possibilities, enabling "Made in China" and Chinese culture to "run towards each other" with fashion trends and the younger generation.
"The work behind this product brings together the efforts of several generations of Sea-Gull people," Zhou Wenxia told reporters. "This is the first cooperation between a domestic watch brand and a classic handheld game. The underlying technology of the product needs to be rearranged and developed. For this, Sea-Gull's national master watchmaker Li Jiaqi led the design team to propose a brand new hollow-out design scheme for the movement. The young industrial designers incorporated their understanding of e-sports and research on the aesthetics of young consumer groups into the exterior design. The newly introduced brand operation team, based on the preferences of e-sports groups, connected with well-known domestic companies for cooperation. It is a successful attempt based on market demand, with joint efforts from product operation, industrial design to technological source."
After launch, this co-branded watch quickly became Sea-Gull's best-selling product in the 2,000 to 4,000 yuan price range.
"Facing the impact of one market wave after another, Sea-Gull watches will continue to pass on its precious brand while the revitalization of old brands still has a long way to go," said Xu Chuangyue. "We have targeted several new goals. For example, Sea-Gull's moon phase watch series has obtained multiple domestic invention patents, and plans to expand patent layout in Switzerland. At the same time, leveraging the platforms and resources of its shareholders, Sea-Gull will further increase offline retail channel layout, expected to double last year's performance. In addition, Sea-Gull has also expanded into the new field of precision instrument manufacturing, with expected revenue in this area accounting for 20% of total revenue this year. By 2025, when Sea-Gull celebrates its 70th anniversary, we are confident in becoming a benchmark in the global watchmaking industry and letting the old brand shine as 'Chinese goods of high quality'.