Posted on February 23 2021
A lot of it’s true. That £20 automatic that looks like a Rolex? Trust me, it’s junk.
But they’re just one end of the Chinese watch trade. The cheapest and lowest quality watches.
I don’t judge American cuisine based on the cheapest item on McDonald’s menu. And I don’t judge Chinese watches based on the bottom rung of the ladder.
I want to show you something much better. Still affordable and still Chinese. Watches that represent great value for money but also have excellent workmanship and an interesting heritage.
I want to show you the biggest and oldest of China's watch manufacturers.
The 5 Best Chinese Seagull Watches
Sea-Gull is a young company if compared to heritage Swiss brands. It grew from China’s watch factories of the 1950s. We’ll come back to that story further down this post.
First, let’s see the best watches that they currently produce.
This is the most widely available Seagull watch. It’s been a real success in the West and I love mine. It wasn’t my first Seagull watch, but it is my favourite.
It’s a stunning remake of the watch issued to the People’s Liberation Army Air Force.
Seagull has faithfully remade this 1960s piece - albeit with a larger 40mm case. They’ve taken an iconic aviation watch and recreated it down to the smallest details.
The design is distinctive and clearly Chinese. The straightforward round case and simple pushers are typical of the period and reminiscent of other chronographs of the time.
Where the design wins, is in the dial.
The cream dial is authentically vintage and cleverly uses colour to separate the different functions. The numbers and indices are gold, the hour hands blue and the chronograph hand is red. The effect is impressive.
The back may be more beautiful than the front.
Visible through the clear case back is the in-house Seagull hand-winding movement. It’s eye-catching and complex. I’d suggest that it’s unlike anything else available at this price-point.
This is the safest place to start with Seagull. A proven winner.
Seagull 1963 Chronograph
The Dual Time is an attractive Super Compressor watch.
It takes its design cues from similar dive watches from the 1950s and 60s. It’s less obviously Chinese than the 1963 Chronograph but it still represents tremendous value for money.
The Dual Time is a reasonably chunky watch with a 42mm case. This has the trademark double crowns of a Super Compressor style watch. In this model, the second crown rotates an inner bezel that records a second time-zone - making this is a GMT watch.
It’s a modern automatic watch, again powered by an in-house Seagull movement. Although it isn’t a legitimate diver - the water resistance is only 50M - it does have decent specs.
As well as the reliable automatic movement, there is a sapphire crystal and a substantial stainless steel bracelet.
This isn’t as obvious a choice as the 1963 chronograph. But it is another brilliant vintage-inspired piece from Seagull.
Seagull Dual Time 816.582
I’m a big fan of watches influenced by Bauhaus design. Obviously, most of these tend to be German. So it’s interesting to find this design aesthetic used by a Chinese brand.
This Seagull model does what it says on the tin. It’s a Bauhaus model. Simple, spartan and with a pared-down look.
Everything is straightforward. As it should be. A clean dial, with slim and legible numbers. A touch of colour - the blue hands - and a plain round case. All finished off with an unpretentious leather strap.
It works for me. And it’s very affordable. Particularly if you factor in the in-house mechanical movement. You’d pay significantly more for a German equivalent.
I’d definitely take this German-inspired minimalism over the multitude of mediocre Scandinavian influenced designs.
Seagull Bauhaus D819.612
Every big watch company makes at least one dive watch. This is Seagull’s, and it’s a cracking watch.
There’s nothing ground-breaking with the Ocean Star. Instead, it’s a modern dive watch that ticks all the boxes that it should.
- Reliable Automatic Movement
- 200M Water Resistance
- Sapphire Crystal
- Heavy-Duty Stainless Steel Bracelet
This chunky piece has a deep blue bezel and a matching sunburst dial. Along with the white contrasting hands and indices, the effect is of a very clear dial. It’s easy to read. There’s also a cyclops lens above the date window. All very practical.
Like the last model, this doesn’t scream Chinese design. What it does well though, is give you an attractive dive watch at half the price of a Swiss model.
And remember, you won’t see a watch like this on anybody else’s wrist.
Seagull Ocean Star 816.523
The Tank Commander is up there among my top Chinese watches. It’s unashamedly Chinese and references their military history. It’s a great alternative to the 1963 chronograph if you want something more rugged.
This is a really cool watch with a military-style. It even has a picture of a tank on the back!
It’s a bit of a tank itself. The case is 44mm and has prominent angular crown guards that really do their job. And that’s what I get from this watch. It looks like it was designed with a purpose in mind.
The colour palette, the bold numerals and the 24mm canvas strap. They all look practical for a military or field watch. Like the 1963 chronograph, this piece feels authentic.
Which it is - it’s based on a Seagull field watch from 1964.
Yes, it’s updated. The case is bigger and it has a sapphire crystal. But aesthetically, it’s true to the spirit of the original. It looks like a military watch from communist China.
Seagull Tank Commander Watch D813.581
A Short History of Seagull Watches
Major Chinese watch manufacturing is a relatively new business. Certainly, if you’re comparing it to European brands. It has a very different background too. Swiss brands tend to originate with individual watchmakers. This setup then morphing into a family-run business.
The Chinese watch industry is unique - or at least matched only by Soviet Russia’s entry into the trade. It was a large, state-run enterprise. I really mean large.
Beginning in the mid-1950s, China began to build watches based on Swiss designs. Out of this, emerged the ‘big three’ factories - Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin.
Seagull traces its roots back to the creation of those first factories in the 1950s and is one of the ‘big three’.
By volume, Seagull’s Tianjin factory is the largest watch manufacturer in China. That makes it one of the biggest in the world.
It was in Seagull’s factory that the first complete Chinese watch was designed and built. They’ve since stopped producing quartz models and have built mechanical watches exclusively since the late 90s’
They now release a wide selection of watches.
I’ll admit it. Seagull manufactures some uninspiring fashion watches. But as I’ve demonstrated, they also design and make some excellent models. I’m especially taken with the two military remakes and the Ocean Star.
There are also a couple of very nice homage models and a successful Bauhaus-inspired design too.
If you thought that all Chinese watches were cheap pieces or fakes, stop. Look at those five Seagull watches again. These are undoubtedly quality watches.
How many companies can claim to produce their own in-house movements? At the affordable end of the market, there is only a handful. Vostok, Seiko, Orient and a couple of others.
Seagull is among that group. An affordable brand that builds its own watches completely. From A-Z.
Let me know your thoughts below.