The importers guide to buying wrist watches from China

watch wholesalers China

My heart will always have a special place for “Made in China” wristwatches. In fact, wristwatches were the first product I ever imported from China. They are cost efficient to ship and highly customizable. Wristwatches are also a fairly “small business friendly” product since they don’t require a hefty budget to get started with. Let’s begin with the technical aspect of buying watches from a Chinese wholesaler or manufacturer.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

As with every product, there’s no universal standard for “good quality”. A product is more than its name, it’s a system of components and materials. Another thing you should keep in mind is that Chinese suppliers expect YOU to provide them with detailed product specifications of your wristwatch. Therefore this is the first thing we’ll look into.

Case material

The watch-case is the biggest “quality indicator” of the watch and when it comes to the material you basically have two options: Zinc alloy and Stainless steel. The latter often costs 4 – 5 times more than a Zinc alloy case. Not only because stainless steel is more expensive than Zinc alloy, but also because it takes a long time to polish a Stainless steel case. The material of choice is completely dependent on which market segment you intend to reach. A stainless steel case will however be expected for any watch that costs more than USD 70.

Case thickness

Thin cases have been fashionable for a few years. Most Chinese suppliers can manufacture cases as thin as 6 mm. However, a case cannot be thinner than the movement that’s inside. Therefore you’ll be limited to movements from Japan and Switzerland since Chinese movements usually require a case thicker than 8 mm. However, the price difference is very small (USD 1 – 1.5) and most Chinese manufacturers can offer Japanese and Swiss movements.

Movement (clockwork)

The movement is the internal mechanism that makes an otherwise useless piece of metal into a fully functioning wristwatch. Most Chinese suppliers can offer various movements of different origin and quality. The price difference between a Japanese or Swiss movement is often small compared to a Chinese made movement. Personally I tend to recommend my clients to invest an extra dollar per watch and get a better movement.

The term “movement” originally referred exclusively to mechanical clockworks. However, the same term is usually (at least in China) applied to electronic quartz timepieces.

The dial, or watch face as it’s often called, is highly customizable. Most suppliers can offer customized colors and dials in various materials, often metallic. The dial is also where you should put your logo. Pretty much every Chinese watch manufacturer worthy of the name can offer logo print on the dial for a very low cost. Usually it doesn’t cost more than 30 – 40 cents extra per piece.

Watch strap

Unless you plan to start selling pocket watches (could be a good sell to some Berlin hipsters perhaps) you need a wristband. You have several options when it comes to the materials: zinc alloy, stainless steel, PU leather, authentic leather and nylon fabric.

Minimum order quantities

Most Chinese watch manufacturers accept orders as small as 300 pieces. This translates into an investment of USD 1200 to USD 6600. For natural reasons, the unit price is completely dependent on the quality standard of your selected components. However, this certainly is a product where small businesses can get a foothold without taking out a million dollar bank loan.

A few personal suggestions for wristwatch importers

My general advice for importers is to aim for the middle ground. You won’t be able to compete with Tag Heuer on quality and forget about competing with Wal-Mart on pricing. You need to be somewhere in between if you wish to launch a competitive product. Below I list how I would import watches from China:

1. Create a brand instead of using the suppliers’ brand. All you need to do is to design a logo in photoshop and select a few Pantone colors. A brand doesn’t have to be famous to be useful. In the long term, a brand increases the value of your company and provides you with a competitive advantage towards your competitors.

2. Invest a few extra dollars in decent components and materials. A stainless steel watch with a Japanese movement and good design is certainly going to offer a much better return on investment. Investing 50% more on the unit price can increase the pre tax profit margin of 400 – 500%.

Certification requirements

Watches with metallic cases (that’s pretty much all of them) requires RoHS certification. CE certification is not required according to the current definition, unless the watch is intended for children. In this case the watch must be CE EN71 certified. An Alibaba.com search provides more than 2 million hits for the term “RoHS watch”. However, I know from experience that plenty of these suppliers are offering fake certification.

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