AlbertaTime in China, China visit #3, Post #3 - June 11/12

AlbertaTime in China, China visit #3, Post #3 - June 11/12

Postby AlbertaTime » July 12th 2014, 9:16pm

June 11th and 12th started with Li Wei, calligrapher Mr. Zheng, and I taking a morning fast train to Tianjin to see a Mr. Li Qiu-sheng's clockmaking workshop.

I had been told to bring my suitcases as we would be doing an overnighter trip to Yantai after Tianjin, with a stop in the evening in Jinan, so it was promising to be a busy couple/three days. My plan was to fly from Yantai to Shijiazhuang on the afternoon of the 13th to se my brother MaRong after my time in Yantai, and Li Wei's plan was to fill the time in between as productively as possible.

LiWei explained to me during the morning trip to Tianjin that his goal regarding my membership in the China Horologe Association 中國鐘表協會 and my time in China this trip was to educate me more broadly about the Chinese timepiece industry as a whole, meaning I would be shown and taught the Chinese clock industry as well as the watch industry, including quartz, digital and smart, from pop market and entry level to very high-end, and from the beginnings centuries ago to plans for the future.

It's plain that I was being offered a spectacular and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to quickly and efficiently gain a fairly in-depth and up close education about how the entire Chinese watch and clock industry operates, and over the next weeks I did my best to very gratefuly understand and absorb as much as I possibly could of what was being presented to me. I was deep back in school, and thrilled about it.

One result of the Chinese Horologe Association's generosity is that I'll be sharing a lot of clock-related information during my posts on this trip, along with watch-related content. Some companies I encountered make both, other producers are clock-only. If you have no interest in clocks, please bear with me, I promise there will always be quite pure watch content coming around the corner.

That said, this post -- like others to come -- will contain a lot of wide-ranging information on Chinese horological history, from millenia ago to the present day. This specific post will focus on two companies, first the Tianjin Edwin Clock Company, Ltd. owned by Li Qiu-sheng (Rick Li), a small but prestigious Tianjin clock workshop (visited on the 11th) and Yantai Polaris State-Holding Co., Ltd., the oldest watch and clock company in China and one of the largest clock companis in the world (visited on the 12th)..

We arrived at Mr. Li's workshop about 11:00 after being picked up at the Tianjin trrin Station by Mr. Li, himself.

So, where to start? How about with this gorgeous photo of Mr. Li's chain-powered and hand built tourbillon movement (taken by Li Wei...all Discuz marked photo courtesy Li Wei).

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A clockmaker for over 40 years, Mr. Li is highly regarded in the Tianjin community for his original and inventive movement design work as well as for the legitimate reproduction clocks he sells to buyers world-wide. The next photo is Mr. Li explaining to me various aspects of his hand-built movements, and through English and translation software we did pretty good together ;-)

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And here's a photo Mr. Li had taken while he and LiWei were explaining the functioning of a machine built by Mr. Li ...

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...to efficiently and accuately produce these from solid rods...

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...and this is a LiWei photo of me having a Skype conversation with Mr. Li's son who handles North American distribution of the clocks.

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(I was fortunate over the next month to spend a few days time with Mr. Li in Shenzhen as well as Tianjin and, quite apart from his watchmaking expertise, I want to note that Mr. Li is a pure pleasure to spend time with. Good natured with a ready and intelligent sense of humour, it's easy to be smiling when he's nearby, and I'm really looking forward to meeting with him again next year, if future plans hold.)

I won't describe the details on the movements because they're a mystery to me in many ways, and because I'm certain a movement specialist can provide better information than I, but they sure are pretty, dontcha think. b-)

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This is one of the more unique reproduction clocks Mr. Li produces at his workshop. He explained that such clocks are very hard to regulate since, among other things, brass is temperature sensitive, affecting the travel length of the rocking mechanism.

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This is another example of a more classically traditional hand-done reproduction piece by Mr. Li, along with an old book article that was the inspiration for this build.

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And some photos of Mr. Li's shop.

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Mr. Li also has a wonderful collection of vintage clocks and clock mechanisms he was kind enough to share...

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It was late afternoon by the time we left Mr. Li's shop, and I learned my wonderful afternoon would be followed by a delicious meal with Mr. Li and his wife at the Villa of [url="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yuan_Shikai"]Yuan Shikai[/url], the former home of a Chinese general, politician and emperor (1859-1916), now one of Tianjin's very finest dining locations.

It's literally right on the banks of the Hai He, the river that flows through downtown Tianjin, and a place I consider one of the prettiest on earth. Plus, I got to play with a local kid being taken out by his Grandmother.

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Good times! :-)

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Most evenings would end there...but not ours :-). Immediately after dining, right next on the agenda, was a quick drive and then an on-foot rush to the Train Station for a fast train ride to Jinan, a normal 4 1/2 hour drive made in about an hour and a half by bullet.

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We arrived at about 10PM, and were to leave for Yantai about 11:30PM, but we had two fine reasons for this stopover: one, to drink a cup or three of smooth and fragrant [url="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kopi_Luwak"]Kopi Luwack coffee[/url] (look it up) at the intimate and well-stocked "23rd Street" coffee house/bar in Jinan owned by LiWei's friend, "Helen", and two: to visit for an hour or so with Helen because she's cool :-). Her English is excellent and she's just plain charming.

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I found the evening light in that tiny canal street area fascinating for photography...it was about 11:00 or thereabouts when these were taken.

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We left Helen's bar for the train station to catch an overnight "hard sleeper" to Yantai. From there, things weren't quite so beautiful for a few hours. The overnight train ride was well worth it, but not comfortable at all.

Hard sleeper photo borrowed from A World in Small Handfuls:

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Hard sleeper cots do allow you to lie down, but they're narrow, three high in the rail car, and when it's hot and humid and your car is also transporting some rude and noisy young folks, it's not a restful ride.

I got a couple of hours of hot, sweaty dozing, and that's all. A hard sleeper just gets you there slightly rested, and so we arrived, tired, at the Yantai station at about 10:00AM, where we were picked up and immediately, almost magically, whisked to (finally) very (as in OMG, is this awesome) comfortable surroundings: The 5-star Yantai Golden Guilf Hotel, a temporary home for, among others, the past Prime Minister of Australia, and n0w my home for the next two nights.

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A couple of hours much-needed rest later, we were met at the hotel by Ms. Wang Ling (Cathleen), the executive in charge of overseas markets for Yantai Polaris Timepiece IM. and EX. Co. Ltd (the export-import division of Yantai Polaris State-Holding...

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...who took us -- after a sunny walk to a mid-afternoon lunch at a local eatery...

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...to the day's first planned venue: The Polaris Horologe Culture Museum, only a few minutes walk along the beach. I'm pictured here with Mr. Zheng, the calligrapher.

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Now, if you want a great primer on the advent and progress of timekeeping in China, start with this very objective appraisal at the entrance to the museum...

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...and followed by reading these plates/floor plaques in order, illustrated by photos taken inside if I have them......

Water Clocks...

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...Rotation dials/sundials...

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...Escapement...

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...followed by other highlights...

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...and the entrance to the museum area itself...

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Here's a bunch more shots taken inside...feel free to ask questions about anything specific. I learned enough there's a reasonable chance I might be able to answer now in some detail :-)

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Note the gold-plated "do not take pictures" in this next photo. I asked and was directly told that Museum Director (Mr. Han?) had provided approval for me to take any, and as many, photographs as I chose and that I was free to publish the photos as I saw fit. I'm very grateful for the opportunity and the trust.

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I ;ove this clock...it rotates and the bottom ball mount section dislays the time around the world.

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This is an important display in the museum, It describes how a Jesuit Monk, Matteo Ricci (1522-1610) travelled to the Macao area in the early 1580s and introduced modern European clock design to the Chinese Emperor's court, re-igniting Chinese mechanical clock building after centuries of little progress.

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Examples of more modern but still vintage clocks...

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Shots taken of the interior courtyard of the Museum...

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An example of early advertising materials...

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...and this is a photo of Beijixing's very first factory location...

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...and a photo of the Factory founders.

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Another outside view of the Museum building...

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A shot of a number of modern Polaris/Beijixing watches in a display in the Polaris store inside the museum.

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We left the museum in the later afternoon, going directly, next, to a meeting at the Beijixing Polaris Board Room. The purpose of the meeting was to meet the company President, Mr. Zhang Zhao Ji and other executives, as well as to discuss LiWei's recent activities in the industry, to introduce Mr. Zheng, the calligraphic artist, as the designer of early promotional materials for the Beijizxing 100th Anniversary, and to discuss my activities and motives regarding Chinese watches but moreso to also discuss my understandings of China's current and future positioning in western horological markets. I was asked for, and provided, a fairly detailed and candid overview of my thinking, both positive and negative.

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Cathleen busy during our meeting...

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Mr. Zhang proudly displaying his Beijixing/Polaris tourbillon...

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After the meeting, Mr. Zhang very kindly asked us to dinner outside at a second-floor patio restaurant right on the Yantai beach, overlooking evening activities on the Yantai beach as the sun went down. No special effects on the photos, just the normal result of evening humidity on this very warm, moist and only lightly breezy evening.

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Please excuse the somewhat blurry photo of Cathleen Ms. Wang Ling), but it captures the feel of the evening very well: a comfortable evening meal, followed by a few hours of sometimes serious and sometimes humourous watch talk combined with relaxed friendship.

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Although this photo was taken during a period of more serious discussion, Mr. Zhang has a very friendly nature and an easy smile and he very kindly remarked to me early in the evening that he'd known right away when we met that he and I would get along very comfortably, and I'd felt exactly the same way, just as quickly. I look very forward to seeing Mr. Zhang at next years's Beijixing 100th Anniversary celebration and I'm grateful for the invitation.

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The last two photographs were taken as I tried to walk somewhat straightly back to our hotel, accompanied by LiWei and Mr. Zheng, the calligrapher, as we had a busy day coming tomorrow: a return trip to Beijixing;'s main factory building to see the Factory watch and clock store, followed by a trip to a suburban beijixing faciltiy where high end clocks (including the Beijixing Polaris 100th Anniversary limited edition clock) are made, followed by visits to two smaller but successful high end clock manufacturers and another great luck, before I was taken to the Yantai airport for my flight to see my brother MaRong. It's been a year too long and I was looking very forward to seeing him and QiRan, his wife, again.

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Last edited by AlbertaTime on July 22nd 2014, 7:37am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: AlbertaTime in China, China visit #3, Post #3 - June 11/

Postby biglove » July 12th 2014, 9:28pm

Again, many great photos!

I am thinking you are a bit of a celebrity over there? Am sure that they find your devotion and dedication to the history of their watchmaking as quite flattering?

Have wondered before, how exactly did you get so tuned in to Chinese watches?
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Re: AlbertaTime in China, China visit #3, Post #3 - June 11/

Postby AlbertaTime » July 12th 2014, 9:38pm

biglove wrote:Again, many great photos!

I am thinking you are a bit of a celebrity over there? Am sure that they find your devotion and dedication to the history of their watchmaking as quite flattering?

Have wondered before, how exactly did you get so tuned in to Chinese watches?


Maybe celebrity is a strong word, but I guess it's fair to say I'm well-known in Chinese watch circles now, and likely the best known non-Chinese person is that world.

The short version is: I bought a boring watch, went looking for better and found that Chinese watches were unexplored or little explored, and I wondered why...

...so I set about finding stuff out. It turns out that, among other things, essentially no-one had either wanted to or figured out how to access Chinese sellers from outside China. I figured out how to access the sellers, started to build the largest collection of vintage Chinese mechanical watches in in the western world at that time, and things kinda exploded on me :-)
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Re: AlbertaTime in China, China visit #3, Post #3 - June 11/

Postby biglove » July 12th 2014, 9:49pm

AlbertaTime wrote:
biglove wrote:Again, many great photos!

I am thinking you are a bit of a celebrity over there? Am sure that they find your devotion and dedication to the history of their watchmaking as quite flattering?

Have wondered before, how exactly did you get so tuned in to Chinese watches?


Maybe celebrity is a strong word, but I guess it's fair to say I'm well-known in Chinese watch circles now, and likely the best known non-Chinese person is that world.

The short version is: I bought a boring watch, went looking for better and found that Chinese watches were unexplored or little explored, and I wondered why...

...so I set about finding stuff out. It turns out that, among other things, essentially no-one had either wanted to or figured out how to access Chinese sellers from outside China. I figured out how to access the sellers, started to build the largest collection of vintage Chinese mechanical watches in in the western world at that time, and things kinda exploded on me :-)


I envy your passion and dedication to such!

Haven't found that within me when it comes to watches. I do love them and try, with what little knowledge I have, to appreciate them for the mechanical works of art they are.

Have to admit I have been far more passionate about the Mbuna cichlids I keep.

The old saying "he knows a lot about a little and a little about a lot" is applicable to me...
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Re: AlbertaTime in China, China visit #3, Post #3 - June 11/

Postby Airframer » July 12th 2014, 10:12pm

Awesome as always, AT! You mentioned American distribution for Mr. Li's creations - is there a website in which to view his wares?
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Re: AlbertaTime in China, China visit #3, Post #3 - June 11/

Postby hcharles » July 12th 2014, 10:13pm

Fantastic photo essay. It is fun to read of your exploits, and meeting all kinds of people. Kudos to you.
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Re: AlbertaTime in China, China visit #3, Post #3 - June 11/

Postby svaglic » July 12th 2014, 10:24pm

I think you are an adventurer who happens to be a watch collector. Who would have ever thought that watch collecting could open this many doors or take you on this many adventures? This is some great stuff AT, thanks for showing us.
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Re: AlbertaTime in China, China visit #3, Post #3 - June 11/

Postby conjurer » July 12th 2014, 11:37pm

As usual, A-T, you show us a world that is little (or completely) unknown to the West. A simply superb look at the Chinese horological art. At the risk of being viewed as a brown-noser, I feel honored to even post in this remarkable thread.

There are many of us who are mere dilettantes in this thing of ours; you are a true expert and correspondent.
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Re: AlbertaTime in China, China visit #3, Post #3 - June 11/

Postby AlbertaTime » July 12th 2014, 11:41pm

Airframer wrote:Awesome as always, AT! You mentioned American distribution for Mr. Li's creations - is there a website in which to view his wares?


My understanding is that most pieces are sold by auction (not Ebay), but Mr. Li is friendly and easy to communicate with. Drop him an email at 1103471068@qq.com.
Last edited by AlbertaTime on July 13th 2014, 9:42am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: AlbertaTime in China, China visit #3, Post #3 - June 11/

Postby AlbertaTime » July 12th 2014, 11:44pm

conjurer wrote:There are many of us who are mere dilettantes in this thing of ours; you are a true expert and correspondent.


Thanks, but...

Expert? Hardly. There's so much to know and I'm still very mch scratching the surface, but I'll happily accept correspondent because I do my best to write about and share what I'm learning.
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Re: AlbertaTime in China, China visit #3, Post #3 - June 11/

Postby conjurer » July 12th 2014, 11:56pm

AlbertaTime wrote:
conjurer wrote:There are many of us who are mere dilettantes in this thing of ours; you are a true expert and correspondent.


Thanks, but...

Expert? Hardly. There's so much to know and I'm still very mch scratching the surface, but I'll happily accept correspondent because I do my best to write about and share what I'm learning.


Nope. Not even close. Your posts remind me of the Grand Old Days of British Empire, before the Brits got all limp-wristed, when Very Learned Gentlemen would circle the globe looking for items and cultures of interest. To paraphrase Robert DeNiro in This Boys Life, I know a thing or two about a thing or two, and there's nobody in the West who's doing what you're doing. My miserable praise is hardly worth your time in appreciating, but kudos to you. Anyone who's got the balls and the means and the drive to delve into a subject like you do is worth putting on a fucking pedestal.
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Re: AlbertaTime in China, China visit #3, Post #3 - June 11/

Postby AlbertaTime » July 13th 2014, 3:30am

conjurer wrote:Anyone who's got the balls and the means and the drive to delve into a subject like you do is worth putting on a fucking pedestal.


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Re: AlbertaTime in China, China visit #3, Post #3 - June 11/

Postby AJC » July 13th 2014, 5:48pm

Unbelievable.

Hey, what's a digital slave clock?
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Re: AlbertaTime in China, China visit #3, Post #3 - June 11/

Postby Kahuna74 » July 13th 2014, 5:57pm

awesome pictures AT. I what to know about the digital slave clock too :?
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Re: AlbertaTime in China, China visit #3, Post #3 - June 11/

Postby AlbertaTime » July 13th 2014, 6:08pm

Kahuna74 wrote:awesome pictures AT. I what to know about the digital slave clock too :?


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slave_clock

Yantai Polaris Special Clock Co .,Ltd - Slave clocks
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Re: AlbertaTime in China, China visit #3, Post #3 - June 11/

Postby Kahuna74 » July 13th 2014, 7:41pm

Thanks AT good information.
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Re: AlbertaTime in China, China visit #3, Post #3 - June 11/

Postby AlbertaTime » July 13th 2014, 9:22pm

Kahuna74 wrote:Thanks AT good information.


The more I learn, the more I stay amazed at the size and scope of the markets for time pieces of all types.
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Re: AlbertaTime in China, China visit #3, Post #3 - June 11/

Postby AlbertaTime » July 14th 2014, 8:08am

By the way, movement guru Chascomm at WatchuSeek pointed me in a great direction for more details on this beautiful movement.

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He suggested Googling fusee and I'll note that this photo provides a glance at Mr. Li's original refinement: a ratcheted lever mechanism to replace the usual key wound internal capstan.
Last edited by AlbertaTime on July 14th 2014, 11:20am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: AlbertaTime in China, China visit #3, Post #3 - June 11/

Postby AJC » July 14th 2014, 8:26am

Holy schnikey! That one looks amazing!
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