When it comes to horology, religion is Swiss. On a very rare occasion we venture into Japanese watchmaking, and on the even rarer occasion, Russian. However, not once in 25 years have I uttered the following words: buy a Chinese made watch. Yet today I’ll give you one reason why you should invest in Seagull Railway. Why? Without Seagull, no watch collection is completed.
In the late 1800’s and through to the 1930’s, Chinese Railway imported their railway watches from Waltham, US and later from Omega. Despite intensive search, so far, I have seen only one officially issued and numbered CR Omega pocket watch, and no Waltham at all. It is fair to say that those pieces are bit of a Holy Grail of horological railroadiana. But here is the good news: for us, the watch collectors on budget, there is still plenty of 1970s-1990s China Rail timepieces around to be collected!
Precisely: Seagull ST5 wrist watch with China Rail logo – the official railways timekeeper.
A word about the logo: the logo was designed by Chen Yuchang 陈玉昶 (1912-1969) and officially adopted on 22 January 1950. The whole logo represents the front of a locomotive. The upper part of the logo represents the Chinese character 人 (people), while the lower part represents the transversal surface of a rail. The logo means that China's railway belongs to the people. I just love it – such a clever, simple yet powerful synergy in a design!
What’s inside the Seagull?
In January 1955, on the basis of a Chinese government order to establish a watch industry in the north of the country, four men in a small workshop with limited tools set out to build China's first wristwatch. Starting with a Swiss Sindaco 5 jewel pin-lever design, they successfully completed the prototype on 24 March. This first watch was called WuXing (5 Stars). This low-grade watch went into very limited production, each unit virtually hand-made. From this humble beginning began what is now one of the world's biggest mechanical watch enterprises.
In 1966, the factory successfully developed the first 100% Chinese designed and built wristwatch, the Dong Feng (East Wind). The calibre ST5 was modern, thin, accurate and of high quality. It had 19 jewels, including jewels for the mainspring barrel. The ST5 met the National First Grade standard. The ST5 movement is prized by collectors for its distinctive 'Sea-Gull Stripes' decoration comprising graceful radiating arcs engraved deeply on the plates. Due to the hand-finishing, no two are exactly alike.
In 1973. The name East Wind was probably recognized as too political for the international market, so the case back logo of a windswept sea had a flying sea gull added to it, and the dial was signed SEA-GULL. This was the first exported Chinese watch.
The railways version features CR logo on the dial. I was able to pick this very fine example for only USD$90. An absolute bargain! And you would be crazy not to add one to your collection.
Performance wise, my 35mm cased ST5 was almost spot on – even in ‘as found’ low amplitude condition, due for service. Worth mentioning: high bit 21,600 bph!
Still not convinced to collect railway watches? I am not giving up - stay tuned for more!