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From Chongqing: Shanhua & Kunlun

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August 29, 2012 10:11PM
There isn’t much information on the forums about watches from Chongqing. There are a few Shanchengs around, and AlbertaTime has a charming Kunlun, but there isn’t much else. Chongqing watches have become increasingly available on Taobao lately, and I bought a couple in NOS condition.

Shanhua (mountain flower) was a grade 2 brand.

The crown is unsigned. I expected to see a Chongqing-made ZCQ movement, but…

…instead it’s marked with the Mingzhu logo and a code, M4, under the balance. Why is there is a Guangzhou-made tongji inside my NOS Shanhua? Maybe the Kunlun I purchased from the same seller could help shed some light.

Kunlun, a grade 3 brand, was named for a large mountain range in western China.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the back off to see what movement is inside.

The fact that there is no factory name on the Shanhua and, unlike the Kunlun, it has an unmarked crown caused me to wonder whether the watches were made by the same factory. I noticed that the name on the back of the Kunlun is not Chongqing Watch Factory, but Chongqing Clock and Watch Company. I decided to try to find more information about it. I knew I wouldn’t find anything in English, so I searched in Chinese. The only thing I could find was that the factory closed at some point.

Not expecting to find anything useful, I searched in English as a last resort, and to my surprise I struck gold. Google Books has lengthy excerpts from Chinese Industrial Firms under Reform, a 1992 World Bank Publication. One of its case studies was Chongqing Clock and Watch Company, chosen in part because it was an early experiment in financial reform of a consumer durables producer. There are pages and pages of information. Much of it is about the effects of reorganisation on the company in the first few years of the 1980s, but there is a significant amount about the Chinese watch industry in general too. I found a copy and bought it for less than $5 plus shipping.

From the book: Chongqing Clock and Watch Factory was founded at the site of the failed Chongqing Musical Instrument Factory in the early 1960s. Experimental watches were produced beginning in 1970, but full-scale production wasn't approved until 1977. It became an enterprise-type industrial corporation in 1980, adopting the name Chongqing Clock and Watch Company. This unique status at the time involved merging with seven enterprises and a significant amount of investment in some others. Some of its watch parts were produced by these associated factories. It sold parts to factories in other cities in Sichuan, Yunnan, and Guizhou, and was by far the largest producer of watches in southwest China.

Shanhua watches were introduced in 1981 and sold very well. Due to some machinery problems beginning in the same year, the company had difficulty meeting the national standards for its grade 1 Shancheng brand watches, and in 1982 it used these substandard movements to create a new grade 3 brand, Kunlun. With the cooperation of Chongqing’s municipal government, the company sold Kunlun brand watches for RMB 45 each, below the minimum price (RMB 50) set by national authorities for a grade 3 tongji watch, thus undercutting its competition. There are a number of examples of the company similarly bending other rules. Kunlun watches were a huge success.

Once Chongqing worked out its mechanical problems, it found another way to get around fixed prices: it changed its product mix by increasing the proportion of Shanhua and Kunlun watches it produced. In order to achieve this, the company upgraded the quality of all of its brands. For example, Shanhua dials and casebacks were put on watches that would otherwise qualify as grade 1, while the very best movements were reserved for the Shancheng brand. The resulting increase in quality of all grades of Chongqing’s watches improved their reputation, and as a result their sales. This practice was not unique to Chongqing, and in the 1980s some other factories did the same thing. After price reductions on all grades in 1984, demand for grade 2 and 3 watches dropped. By 1985 Chongqing was producing grade 1 watches almost exclusively.

There is much, much more in this book. All of the information I found still doesn’t tell me why my Shanhua has an “incorrect” movement, but considering the result I’m happy it does.

From Chongqing: Shanhua & Kunlun Jpeg Attachments URL

saskwatch378August 29, 2012 10:11PM

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