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Chinese style on wrists

2014-05-16 09:03:59


Kong Lingjun is a pioneer, despite only beginning to sell enamel watches in 2013.

He says his brand unexpectedly won high praise from European critics at the recent Baselworld 2014, the world's leading watch and jewelry show in Switzerland.

"As someone in the watch industry for many years, I sometimes feel depressed seeing Chinese consumers who prefer foreign brands, and have the stereotype that Chinese watches are cheap," he says.

"So, you can imagine how excited we were to find more than 100 people, including some top Swiss independent watchmakers, wearing this watch at the fair."

Zhao Meihua from Kong's company got a rare chance to demonstrate cloisonne at Baselworld 2014. She says Chinese artisans may lag behind European counterparts in some areas, but not in technique.

"As long as we are diligent enough, it's not difficult to surpass them in terms of making delicate dials, but we still struggle with how to design images that mix Chinese characteristics with modern aesthetics."

Kong's watch has incorporated traditional scrolling landscape painting in its design, but he says there will only be more international influences with continuous creativity.

"Several luxury stores in Paris wanted to sell our watches, but I refused because I want to bring something impeccable next time and sell them by myself in the future," says an ambitious Kong.

Chang Wei, editor-in-chief of watch magazine Perfect Time, is also optimistic about the future of Chinese enamel watches.

"Modern watches came from overseas to China 400 years ago, so the industry has to follow some common rules," he explains. "But, it's time to share China's own understanding of watch culture with the world.

"When we are talking about international cultural trade, it goes far beyond flea markets selling antiques. It will be an irreversible trend that China will be selling more cultural items with high added value overseas. These enamel pieces will be a good representative."

Nevertheless, others remain cautious.

"Many enamel watches in Europe use miniature paintings," says Li Wei, head of the Chinese watch collectors society under China Horologe Association.

"Due to their rich tradition of Western painting, Chinese counterparts will be unable to compete with them in the field in the near future, though our cloisonne is of a very high level."

Wang Mengjin from the association says it is still too early to predict when Chinese enamel watches will catch up with Swiss ones, but he said Chinese watchmakers do not to duplicate others' techniques.

"Antique enamel watches decorated in Chinese style were made by Europeans for centuries due to their royals' interest in this mysterious, oriental land. These pieces made by artisans who had never come to China may look great, but also feel a little bizarre. It's time for us to finally show the world genuine Chinese style.

"However, if we really want our watches to sell well in the world's high-end market, we also need our own watch movements of top quality, in addition to a fine facade. The peak period of Chinese watches will come only if we achieve in both areas."

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