Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Tianjin 天津 ST19 The First Chinese Air Force Chronograph 1963 (Reissue) 中国空军第一只航空码表1963(复刻版)







Model : The First Chinese Air Force Chronograph 1963 (Reissue) 中国空军第一只航空码表1963(复刻版)
Manufacturer : Tianjin Watch Factory 天津手表厂
Year of Production: 2010 (December)
Case Diameter : 
Weight w/o strap: g 
Movement Model : ST1901 (21 jewels) 
Type : Hand Wind

This is a reissue of the first chronograph for the Chinese Air Force, one of the most popular watches collected by the Chinese watch enthusiasts. 

There is an article in Tianjin Watch Factory website on this chronograph (the link is here). The article wrote that although a chronograph was a necessity for the air force personnel, in term of watch ownership, they were no different from civilians in that watch acquisition was a private matter and one would have to buy his own. Watches were mainly imported as the domestic watch industry was still at its infancy. The PRC government then decided to appoint a domestic watch factory to develop a chronograph that it would not only cut down its dependency on import but would also accelerate the growth of the domestic industry. At that time, there were only two factories which were more established, i.e. Tianjin Watch Factory and Shanghai Watch Factory.   Tianjin Watch Factory was finally chosen by the government appointed as it was the factory producing the first Chinese watch  'Wuyi' (see my 'Wuyi' here but not the first version) and, compared with Shanghai Watch Factory, it was nearer to Beijing being the administrative centre of the PRC. That decision was made in April 1961 and the project number was '304'.

Half a year later, 5 pieces of prototype were produced. At the end of 1963,  a second batch of 30 plus pieces of prototype were made.  In 1965, a further batch of 100 plus pieces of prototype were completed and it was finally sanctioned for production in December 1965. The movement was named as 'ST3'. In May 1966, Tianjin Watch Factory commenced the production proper and lasted till 1969. There had been about 3,000 pieces chronographs made in the period.


As this reissue is for chronograph '1963', the design probably takes after the second batch of prototype made in 1963. 


Inside this reissue is a ST19, a movement  developed from ST3 in 2002. According to wiki, it was based on Swiss Venus 175  the  tool-set of which were purchased by China for this chronograph project. This following information from wiki is interesting:
Venus 175 - A hand-winding movement with column-wheel controlled chronograph with 30 minute totalizer, no hour totalizer. Production ceased in the early 1960s.
Strictly speaking, the Sea-Gull ST19 is not a 'clone' of the Venus 175, as it is descended directly from a movement built on the same tool-set as the original Venus, transfered to the Tianjin Watch Factory in the 1960s for production of a watch exclusively for the Chinese air force. This ancient design was resurrected in the 21st century, and subtly but extensively upgraded to become the ST19. Due to its use in fake Omega Speedmasters, it is occasionally (and very incorrectly) referred to as a 'Lemania clone'.
From time to time, luxury Swiss watches are offered featuring refurbished vintage Swiss movements, including the Venus 175, however examples have emerged where Swiss companies have used the ST19 and claimed to use a vintage 175. Any such watch featuring more than 19 jewels and an escapement 'upgraded' to 21,600bph should be assumed to be a mis-labelled Sea-Gull ST19. 
Venus 175 had 17 jewels and the improved version, ST3, used in the original chronograph had 19 jewels. The modern ST19 has 23 jewels in Sea-Gull branded watches or 21 jewels  in this reissue by Tsinlien Sea-Gull Hong Kong (see the threads from Watchuseek forum on the on the jewel count here and here). Although there are actually 21 jewels, '19 Zuan' is printed on the dial; this is probably intended to be as closed as the original dial which used '19 Zuan'. Some of the earlier reissues were printed as '21 Zuan'.


Other than the above '19 Zuan' / '21 Zuan' print variants in the reissues, there are other variants among the batches churned out in different time periods both within China and outside China. The variants are: red  or clear (not filled with red paint) star logo,  acrylic or sapphire crystal (built in different bezel), sapphire or stainless steel solid caseback and signed or unsigned crown. There is also another 'variant', this 1963 has had the second hand and minute counter's hand incorrectly swapped at the sub dials. 


In 2007, the remake was issued by Tsinlien Sea-Gull Hong Kong as limited edition (limited to 208 pieces) for mainly China's domestic market. The limited edition had serial numbered stainless steel caseback. The number format was "NO. XXX/208 HK". The watch had a clear star logo, '19 Zuan' on the dial, unsigned crown, strap buckle signed with the star logo and  movement signed with "AIR FORCE 304".


This 1963 reissue is, too, from Tsinlien Sea-Gull Hong Kong. The imprint of "中國空軍第一表複刻版 (1963)" on the box cover can tell that as they are in traditional Chinese characters with which Hong Kong people are more familiar; it would have been "中国空军第一只航空码表复刻版 (1963)" in simplified Chinese if issued from the mainland.


[Added on 9 January 2011]
These are two images of air force chronograph that can be found in the internet that claim to be the first chronograph. Sea-Gull from the PRC rolled out a reissue in 2010 for the right image. The left image is probably the 1963 version and the right is 1966 version.

[End for addition on 9 January 2011]

More shots are here:
a. the watch in the box;
b. the watch on the box;
c. the movement 1;
d. the movement 2;
e. the movement 3;
f. side view;

[Added on 31 December 2012]

Many people have asked me about the method of acquiring the Chinese watches. In short, being based in Brisbane, the most effective way is buying through Taobao. However, Taobao is not that 'friendly' to customers outside of China. I have therefore been using Taobao buying agents to aid the hunts. From my experience in dealing with these agents, I prefer 86daigou as it is not only reliable but the fee is also competitive. I have a thread about this in WUS forum , see the link here. I hope this has answered the question.

[End for addition on 31 December 2012]


 
Other watches produced by Tianjin Watch Factory: