Made in China; recapturing excellence

For a long time “Made in China” has been associated in the public mind with inferior quality and low prices. Yet taking a step back in time reveals that the reality is far from this popular misconception. Here are three reasons why Chinese excellence not only exists, but continues to grow.

China is a quick learner

The first piece of evidence is that the learning curve for Chinese industries is extraordinarily swift. Shenzhen was nothing but a small fishing port of 30,000 inhabitants at the end of the 1970s. Now it is a megacity home to 15 million people, the global epicenter of high-tech manufacturing! The fact that Apple produces all of its iPhones, iPads and Apple Watches there is the best demonstration of the quality of local expertise and their price competitiveness. Most large international electronics groups have their products manufactured in China; they can’t all be wrong.

Official supplier to the watchmaking industry

The second thing to note is that Chinese watchmaking had its beginnings in the 1950s, even earlier than the electronics industry. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that almost 80% of watch components worldwide now originate from China. For example,a great number of entry-level and mid-range Swiss Made watches are fitted with cases, dials and straps made in China.

So Chinese artisans have had a hand in the excellence of Swiss watchmaking for over 50 years.China is also home to manufacturers of flying tourbillons, one of the most prized complications in fine watchmaking. Some factories in Hangzhou produce between 1000 and 2000 per month, which are ultimately sold to American, European, and - most notably - Swiss brands.

5000 years of expertise

History provides us with the final proof that Chinese expertise is very much a reality: 5000 years of civilization have allowed the Chinese to develop a great number of inventions which are still ubiquitous in the world of luxury today. Here are just a few examples:

  • silk: first cultivated in China around 2500 BCE, it didn’t find its way to Europe until the expansion of the silk road during the 6th century.
  • porcelain: originated with the Han dynasty 200 years before the Common Era and reached its peak in the 12th century, long before it spread to the rest of the world.
  • wood lacquer: developed during the Shang dynasty as early as 1600 BCE.
  • cloisonné enamel: this technique dates back more than 700 years in China.

These days, the most striking evidence of the interest in Chinese expertise is the involvement of Hermès, the global benchmark for luxury, in the young Chinese brand Shang Xia. The latter, established in 2008 by Jiang Qiong Er with 90% of its financing coming from the French group, has its roots in many of these traditional crafts:

  • zitan (red sandalwood) woodworking;
  • bamboo marquetry;
  • cashmere dressmaking;
  • linglong, or the art of painting the interior of small objects;
  • the creation of eggshell porcelain;
  • jade sculpture.

These artistic techniques all but disappeared in the aftermath of Mao’s Cultural Revolution… but they have not been forgotten. Since the 1980s, the Chinese government has been strongly encouraging their reintroduction.

History doesn’t lie: Chinese excellence has been around for a very long time; not only in the production of luxury goods but also electronics and, of course, watchmaking. And yet, as with any industry, great variety can be found in the level of quality of the suppliers. The key is choosing the best.

At CODE41, we stick with those who know how to meet our very demanding Swiss standards of quality. Our approach has always been - and always will be - to prioritize expertise and quality when choosing our partners, whether they be Swiss, Japanese or Chinese. Our high-quality watches are produced in the best Chinese workshops, which have been providing many of the components for Swiss brands for decades now. We believe that excellence is a state of mind, a culture of expertise that can be found anywhere within any nationality