With an annual production capacity of 3 million movements, Sea-Gull watches are blowing a "China Trend" in the world and can supply a quarter of the planet and one half of China.
68 years ago, the predecessor of Tianjin Sea-Gull Watch Group Co., Ltd., Tianjin Watch Factory, gave birth to the first mechanical watch in China.
More than half a century has passed. From the darling of the shortage economy, to the breakthrough in the "excess era", to the explorer of the international market in the era of globalization, Sea-Gull Watch has witnessed the arduous journey of Chinese enterprises in the field of precision machinery.
The current world record for the thinnest watch movement is less than 2 mm. Sea-Gull Watch has developed a 2.5 mm movement and is working towards the goal of less than 2 mm.
In addition to ultra-thin watches, complex watches are another technical challenge Sea-Gull is conquering.
A complex watch adds designs like chiming time function on top of the "big three" technologies. Simply put, the tourbillon consists of more than 130 exquisite parts, but with the addition of technologies like chiming time, the number of parts in a small movement can exceed 500. This leads to exponential growth in the design and manufacturing difficulty of mechanical watches.
"Now, the world's renowned finished watch brands, it can be said that 7 out of the top 10 brands are restricted by others in terms of movements. The movement manufacturers can determine the quality, quantity and even the supply or not of the movements. In this regard, Sea-Gull can proudly say that in the field of movements, we are not afraid of being 'throttled' by foreign countries at all." Zhou Wenxia, chief engineer of Tianjin Sea-Gull Watch Group Co., Ltd. introduced that due to the small scale of the watchmaking industry, the difficulty in developing new movements lies not only in design and manufacturing, but also in the scarcity of raw materials. The key technical parts of Sea-Gull watches are processed and manufactured from raw materials by themselves, which is different from some watch companies that highly divide the production segments and outsource each part to professional manufacturers. Sea-Gull has to manufacture each part by itself.
There are only a handful of companies in the watch industry that can manufacture movements, and even fewer that can manufacture high-end movements. It is Sea-Gull people's nearly 70 years of perseverance that has kept the core technologies firmly in their own hands.
Sea-Gull Watch has been continuously committed to the R&D of movements. With independent intellectual property rights of tourbillon, perpetual calendar, three questions and other "big three" core representative technologies, Sea-Gull is still forging ahead towards the highest technological peak in the industry.
The 68-year Milestone
Strong because of work, prosperous because of the sea. If manufacturing paved the foundation of the city of Tianjin, then Sea-Gull Watch is undoubtedly a particularly bright stroke in this foundation. As the birthplace of the first watch in China, the resounding "Sea-Gull" brand has long been renowned worldwide.
The predecessor of Sea-Gull Watch Group was Tianjin Watch Factory, established in 1955. On March 24 of that year, the first watch independently produced in New China was born at Tianjin Watch Factory. The watch was almost entirely hand-crafted. The dial had the three gold characters of "Made in China" and 5 gold stars. Below the stars was marked "15 jewels". It was named "Wuxing" (Five Stars) watch, ending China’s history of "able to repair but not manufacture watches”.
As the birthplace of "China's first watch", Sea-Gull witnessed and participated in the development of China's watch industry for over half a century in 68 years.
In the 1980s, the watch industry ushered in its heyday. Along with sewing machines and bicycles, watches became one of the "three big items" necessary for marriage. But the reform and opening up brought international exchanges. Famous foreign watches shocked people's eyes. Some people with the financial capability to buy watches turned to purchase foreign watches.
"We cannot let decades of old brands be overwhelmed by the market. Sea-Gull is Tianjin's brand and cannot be lost," said Wang Deming, then general manager of Sea-Gull Watch, who led the group leadership to make a decisive battle.
With keen judgment, Wang Deming determined that they must innovate independently. "The world's famous watches rely on movement technology to occupy the market. We have to create our own 'China Core'." Sea-Gull Group transferred all the production lines of 3.5 million electronic watches per year, sold the plant and invested the 30 million yuan income from the more than 40 acres of vacant land entirely into the R&D and manufacturing project of movements.
In 2001, Wang Deming attended the "Basel International Watch and Jewellery Show". An expensive high-end watch attracted him. He learned that this "car-priced" watch used the top technology in the watch industry - "tourbillon".
At that time, the tourbillon technology was monopolized by several major Swiss watch factories. An imported foreign tourbillon watch in China was priced no less than 300,000 yuan.
"Can we design and manufacture it? I want to attend the next exhibition wearing our own 'tourbillon' watch," Wang Deming proposed such a wish to the technical staff after returning home.
Sure enough, at the next year's exhibition, Wang Deming wore a Sea-Gull tourbillon watch on his wrist. "A Swiss manufacturer was very surprised to hear that China was able to make a tourbillon movement in just one year. He said the Swiss watches would have a hard time dominating the world." Wang Deming was extremely proud at that time. He felt that "Sea-Gull" had won glory for China.
Since then, the classic technologies of world watches: double tourbillon, minute repeater, perpetual calendar and other super complex movements have been conquered by Sea-Gull one after another, continuously improving Sea-Gull's "China Movements". This symbolizes one milestone after another in China's mechanical watchmaking industry, and was also one technical threshold after another in the watch industry at that time.
After 67 years of operation and development, Sea-Gull Watch has become China's largest production base for mechanical watch movements, and continues to try new materials, processes and technologies. It has successfully trial-produced "zero card degree tourbillon watches" and "2.5 mm thin automatic watches", and achieved the application of silicon material components in high-end mechanical watch movements.
In 2021, Sea-Gull Watch's sales revenue reached 704.27 million yuan, with an annual production capacity of 3 million movements, forming 11 series and over 200 varieties; the annual production capacity of finished watches reached 200,000, forming 6 major series.
New Vitality for the Old Brand
As the shining name card of “Made in Tianjin”, Sea-Gull Watch actively integrated into Tianjin’s “Manufacturing-based City” strategy after completing the mixed ownership reform in 2019. With the dual empowerment of the state-owned platform and private capital, it has entered a brand new stage of development, helping accelerate the advancement of Tianjin’s manufacturing industry.
In today's globalization, watchmaking powers represented by Switzerland still hold market dominance, and many questions remain for Sea-Gull watches with a wealth of independent intellectual property rights to overtake on the curve – how to achieve brand rejuvenation through the reconstruction of the old brand?
"Embrace the Internet, keep up with the times, and enrich brand levels," said Wang Wenxuan, general manager of Sea-Gull Watch Technology Co., Ltd.
In recent years, a trend of “Chinese style” has gradually emerged. Many old brands have started gorgeous transformations relying on novel designs. Riding on the east wind of “Chinese style”, Sea-Gull Watch has also embarked on a journey of transformation.
In 2020, Sea-Gull launched a limited edition lacquer dial series featuring Chinese zodiac signs. Oriental iconic elements such as “Chinese dragon”, “twelve animal heads”, “yin and yang calendar”, and “Taiji diagram” blew a wave of “Chinese trend” in the domestic and foreign watch markets. After the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, Sea-Gull collaborated with Lang Ping, former coach of the Chinese women's volleyball team, to develop the “Ocean Star” series, which became a hit product. The pilot series, tiger talisman series and other "Sea-Gull China" exclusive product lines released by Sea-Gull Watch have also become representative products of the old brand's breakout.
Through breakthrough designs, Sea-Gull Watch showcased the continuous momentum and independent technical support of the brand's development. It is also constantly exploring new models in sales channels.
On a day in February 2022, Sea-Gull Watch headquarters held a live streaming event themed “Chinese Style”. During the live streaming, Wang Wenxuan specially came to the studio to share the development history of Sea-Gull watches with the audience, and explain the new Chinese style design concept.
"The light of Chinese products must be supported." This live streaming caused huge repercussions, attracting over 2.03 million online viewers to watch and give likes.
In fact, Sea-Gull watches started trying the online sales model as early as 2020. How to rejuvenate the old Sea-Gull brand is an issue the group keeps exploring. “We have also re-categorized all Sea-Gull watches from 1,000 yuan to 1.928 million yuan, and will gradually create several sub-brands to improve the clarity of product positioning and the accuracy of marketing, so that consumers at all levels can find a suitable Sea-Gull watch.” Wang Wenxuan said Sea-Gull has demonstrated in practice that there is more than one path for mechanical watches other than luxury goods, and it can also enter ordinary people's homes.
Wang Wenxuan said Sea-Gull has always regarded leading the development of China's watch industry and building a world-class Chinese-made mechanical watch brand as the mission of the enterprise. In the future, in addition to carrying memories and emotions of the past, the Sea-Gull brand will also become a brand representative for contemporary Chinese to demonstrate cultural confidence.