1,543 words

Note: names and locations will not be mentioned to protect the identities of those working in the watch industry and for those who wish not to be identified.

Uncomfortable Conversations

“That’s fucking bullshit!”

The city itself should have been enough to occupy our time and lines of discussions, but on that morning, it was not. Those words thrown at me were not calculated but an emotional response.

“So, you are telling me that you are fine with paying ten thousand dollars for a watch that has a significant portion of its parts made in a country known for cheap labour and inhumane working conditions,” I asked, referencing the several watches we both owned that had Swiss Made printed on their dials, when in reality according to more than one primary source, this was not true. Their movement parts, cases, hands, luminescent paint, and bezels were all confirmed to have been made in several manufacturing hubs in China instead. As a few minutes passed along with the few city blocks that went by underappreciated, my friend changed his belief system and position.

“Well, I’m getting the quality I expect, so, yeah, I’m fine with that.”

“Really? Are you, though,” I asked, referencing movements that would stop working without notice and bezel inserts falling apart from brands with recognizable household names. “And you’re fine with the cost of the product plummeting for the brand, yet they are increasing the asking price for these watches every year?” To this, I did not get a clear answer.

The discussion would be revisited later that week when my friend met one of the primary sources of this information, and though he and many others acknowledged the fact that they were being lied to about the watches they were buying, they would continue to keep buying these watches.

So, what bearing does this have on you, the consumer, and me as someone who receives watches in his mailbox to review for you as the intended audience?

The landscape of manufacturing in China has become proficient enough that we, both as consumers and as writers, can no longer apply the same standards when evaluating a product and how that directly relates to value.

Why This Matters

At the time of writing this article, the SAG-AFTRA strike has entered its third month, and unions representing automotive workers in both Canada and the United States are threatening to go on strike. These strikes are in response to changing realities as time marches forward, along with technological advancements. Whether this be artificial intelligence making writers, voice actors, and actors themselves obsolete due to studios claiming to own the performer’s “likeness” in the entertainment industry. Or the shift toward electric vehicles requiring fewer workers, resulting in the upcoming changes threatening the livelihoods of countless people.

This matters when pertaining to our conversation about watch companies which lie to their customers about where their products are made. Where a product is made carries a lot of baggage, and rightfully so. This is done to charge a premium for where the product is made, such as in countries like Switzerland, Germany, Japan, Canada, and the United States. There is no glamour in having the product that you spent your hard-earned money on being made in a manufacturing complex in China where the workers have not seen their families in months and are making a wage that would severely be below the poverty line where you reside.

Furthermore, in many countries across the globe, if workers decide to raise their voices about poor working conditions, they not only fear losing their jobs but also disappearing in the middle of the night, never to be seen or heard from again. Decades ago, Nike and its ambassadors were scathed for their products that were made in such conditions, and the discussion around blood diamonds is one that has left its mark on the jewelry industry. In the current environment, there is no accountability for the conditions of these manufacturing centres, and there is a great deal of secrecy in place to protect existing partnerships with foreign companies.

This is one of the many reasons why labour costs more in countries that are fundamentally accepted for having more rights than others. There are contractual negotiations that are ongoing, for working conditions continually change. By actively supporting these manufacturing decisions and nevertheless paying a premium, we have no right to complain about these matters, for we are just as much a part of the problem.

Guilty by Omission

Often, when we look at the caseback of watches from smaller brands that occupy the sub-one-thousand-dollar price range, we see the origin of the movement, and either no mention of where the watch was made, or rather, the location of where the watch was assembled is stated. Brand owners and those who deem themselves knowledgeable about the industry often take for granted the lack of knowledge that the general public has. At many watch trade shows, I have seen normal people (read: not an enthusiast) walk in off the street, lift a watch to inspect it, and then immediately ask if the watch was made in China. Often, they were met with a scoff that, when paraphrased, would read, of course, what else would you expect? There are a couple of brand owners who I witnessed with pride go into great detail about the fact that their watches are made in China. They would go on about the intimate work they accomplished with their partners and manufacturers there to achieve their goals.

This does not excuse omitting where the watch was made in hopes that the awkward conversation never comes up.

How This is Impacting My Reviews

Swiss watch brands have been elevating the prices of their product globally for years now. Every quarter, we receive word that one of the major brand conglomerates will raise their prices by a certain percentage, and we have become accustomed to this. The fact that they are now greatly saving on manufacturing as opposed to a decade ago is not something that is advertised or written about anywhere you read about these products. These cost savings are not passed on to the consumer; in fact, the opposite is done. The argument about costs rising in general across the board does not address this directly, for it is simply an evasion tactic aiming to avoid having the conversation in the first place.

The one sector of the watch industry which has been greatly impacted by this rise in manufacturing proficiency in China is the sub-one-thousand-dollar microbrand market. In years past, customers and reviewers alike would marvel at the level of quality a watch presented at such low prices. Manufacturing in China has reached a level where this standard is not something that should continue to be praised; it should be acknowledged as a matter of fact, and other factors should, in turn, be judged and criticized more.

Since the methods of manufacturing and quality control have been streamlined to the point where almost anyone with enough funds and time can produce a department store quality luxury watch, I will be shifting the focus of my reviews. The focus will be on the execution of the design, and this is where almost all of these microbrands are in trouble.

Since the majority of these smaller brands plagiarize all of their designs from watch brands that are either well-established, and of specific designs that are iconic, this raises an important question.

Where is the effort from the brand itself in bringing the watch to the market?

When speaking to two such brands, they were adamant about the value of the time they spent on the back and forth with their manufacturers in China. In the tech sector, we have learned over the last few decades, as several programming jobs moved to India and Pakistan, that working with people with language barriers and from other cultures is an accepted skill set. This is not something that equals hard work, as these watch brands make it out to be. It is difficult for them, for their expectations are unrealistic given how such partnerships have evolved across all industries, and they are desperate to add value to their product. I only know of one microbrand owner who they themselves have gone to visit their manufacturers in person. Everyone else is happy to conduct their business from a distance.

Naturally, this will result in more negative reviews, for there is not as much praise to be given anymore. Moving forward, there will be a greater emphasis on innovation and original designs. If I receive another watch that is of decent quality but has none of the above, it will be noted clearly, and this article will be directly referenced through a hyperlink.


As a consumer and active global citizen, it is important to ask questions and not resort to moral protectionism during an era in which most countries are politically moving toward industrial protectionism. There is nothing nefarious about manufacturing moving from Western countries where industrialization has been eroded to regions where the conditions make for valid and economically plausible industrialization. As inflation and general costs for essential goods continue to rise, it is your personal duty to ensure that your money is being spent well. This means that the level of humane labour and quality of materials used are worth your hard-earned income. I will aim to notify you, the reader, of this, moving forward, and I hope that you are appreciative of this.

– Time of writing: September 19th, 2023