After my somewhat realistic look at the world of cheap chinese made mechanical watches a year back, I took the plunge recently into my second ever Chinese watch, this time from Shanghai. (Note to self: This probably means my third Chinese watch will have to come from Beijing just to complete the holy trinity of Chinese watches)
My Shanghai this time does not have the pedigree of having an outstanding classic movement (unlike the Venus 175 found in the Seagull), nor is it a reissue of a “real” watch made by Shanghai eons ago. Rather, it is clearly a Chinese tribute of the Eterna Kontiki. Now, let’s put this straight upfront that this is a blatant copy, homage, duplication, ripoff of the well known Swiss classic. In no way does Shanghai even attempt to disguise this otherwise.
I f-ing LOVE THIS WATCH because I get a distinctive and well known design at a fraction of the price that a vintage Kontiki will fetch these days, complete with an in-house hand winding movement, the Shanghai B. This is a slimmer variant of the Tongji movement which was a landmark in the Chinese watch making industry. The watch costs all of USD 49.99 dollars (which you can find at Times International) inclusive of shipping which is really remarkable, but it does come with some quality control issues which I will touch on later. They ship from Singapore, so just take note of this. I did not realised this until it was shipped that I could simply have gotten them to ship to my Singapore address.
Of course there will be some detractors complaining that the watch lack originality of design, movement quality, branding powress etc. However, I find nothing wrong with it as there are plenty of Rolex Submariners and Zenith Pilot copies around even by fellow Swiss watch manufacturers. At least its not a watch pretending to be something else.
Now that we got this out of the way, lets go into the details of what I love and hate about this watch.
Dial, Hands & Lume
What really attracted me to the Kontiki design was the distinctive 12,3,6,9 triangular hour markers and corresponding 5 minute hash markers with smaller triangles pointing outwards. This design is not unique to Kontiki and can also be found in vintage Zodiac watches.
Now for the problems, the markers are not applied but rather stamped and can be seen clearly in this photo. Secondly, the lume is also not applied cleanly to the 12 and 6 o’clock markers and some lume paint spots can be seen on the 12 and 6 digits itself. Lume on the 3 and 9 o’clock markers seem to be applied more cleanly.
The thumbprint like symbol in the middle is very nicely done (see Timebum’s post for an explanation of what it represents). It looks to be stamped as well, but the stamping looks clean and without any blurring at the edges. However the printing of the Shanghai logo at the 12 o’clock position and the text at the 6 o’clock position (which simply states China, Shanghai and 17 jewels) are not as sharp as I would like it to be, with some bleeding at the edges. This might be due to the fact that the printing is done on an uneven surface. However on a cursory examination, the printing is neat enough, just do not look at it too closely.
The white, non-lumed individual minute hash markers forms a neat circle on the inside of the dial, surrounding the “thumbprint” rather than being on the outer side of the dial like most other watches.
Now here comes what I really like about the overall structure of the layout. The second hand’s luminous pip is exactly in line with this inner minute hash marks. In addition, the sharp end of the lumed portion of the minute hand also exactly “points” to this inner minute hash marks. The sharp point of the hour hand (not just the lumed portion), being shorter, also points at the minute hash marks!
I really like how all three hands falls in line with the inner circle as this really adds coherence to the overall design and is a design quirk that is not easily noticed unless one observes the dance of time for some period of time.
The hour and minute hands are simple stamped and polished elongated triangular silvers of metal with a portion in the middle where lume is applied. The second hand, on the other hand, is a thin stick of metal ending in a red tipped end, and interrupted by a lollypop of lume just before the red tipped end.
I can see some rough finishing on the second hand but the polishing on the hour and minute hands looks regular enough to my naked eyes. I cannot fathom if the underside of any of the hands are polished but I highly doubted it.
By the way, the lume is definitely not Superluminova nor Lubribrite and I did not bother to try taking a shot of it. You can refer to Timebum’s post for a lume shot if you so desire.
The watch comes with a domed acrylic glass which is in line with its vintage aspirations. It has no anti-reflective treatment.
Case, crown and lugs
For such a small watch measuring less than 40mm across, it certainly does not feel as comfortable as some of my other watches, with the main reason being the lugs which jut out rather than curve down to hug the wrist. For bigger watches, this lug design will definitely cause problems with the lugs “overhanging” one’s wrist.
The overall case design lacks a certain “sharpness” in the angles which appears more rounded. Perhaps a certain limitation of the machinery used to mill/stamp the case?
However as you can see in the above photo the lug is nicely polished and looks above its price point.
The Shanghai has a very elegant signed crown which is incredible at its price. I do not even think Seiko 5s are selling at this price, and if they do, I doubt if they have signed crowns.
The Shanghai’s case is also gently curved at the sides and polished with no alternating finishing to make the case more attractive. This is perfectly understandable at its price point.
The case back definitely deserves to be where it is, unseen from the public eye. This is definitely where the watch reflects its low cost (alongside the cheap feeling and stiff calf-croc strap).
The caseback is unadorned, only with some scratches proclaiming the movement name. The case back ridges are also unfinished and looks very cheaply stamped, not milled, which would have left much sharper edges.
Even at its price point, the case back looks and feels vastly inferior to its front. This is, I guess, a good thing that for its price point, Shanghai knows where to cut the corners.
I did not managed to crack open my Shanghai but found this excellent picture from WUS of the case back opened and the movement shown, alongside the stock red box that comes with this watch.
I do not profess to know anything about this movement except that it is a slimmer version of the Shanghai’s take of the Tongji movement that all Chinese movement manufacturers produces.
Please refer to the Watchwiki site for more information should you be interested in finding out more.
The movement is utilitarian in appearance and fully jeweled (17 jewels being the minimal for a fully jeweled hand wound only movement). Winding the watch is a pleasure, as you can feel the barrel slowly clicking. It is not as smooth as some of my 4S watches, but conveys a solid and steady feedback.
The movement is non-hacking and you also cannot “hack” it by turning the crown anti-clockwise unlike the 7S movement. Power reserve is pretty good actually and runs close to 45-50 hours for me.
Timekeeping is also regular with no discernible increase/quickening of the time as the power reserve runs down. This usually happens because as the power reserve runs down, less power is transmitted to the escape wheel, balance wheel amplitude drops, and the “ticks” and “tocks” gets faster and faster, translating to a quickening of time.
Please take note that this is all theoretical and I have also seen watches that slows down (rather than speed up) as their power reserve runs down. This was noticeable in my previous Seagull chronograph but not here.
Well done Shanghai! Take that Seagull!
I have to admit that I bought this watch firstly because of its Eterna Kontiki-ish looks and secondly for its ridiculously low price. I was not expecting much from it in terms of quality control and movement quality, especially from what I experienced from my Seagull.
Not surprisingly, I did spot some quality issues relating to the lume at the markers and the substandard case back but otherwise everything else looks to be perfect. There are no weird scratches on the dial or bits of dust under the glass. I did not managed to open my case back, so I cannot tell how clean the movement is, but the timekeeping is very regular, which is already saying a lot. The signed crown is a big big plus, but I would change out the stock strap as soon as I managed to find a suitable one.
Overall I’m surprisingly pleased with this beater of a watch with its unbeatable combination of good looks, low price, and reliability. If you can stomach having a Chinese watch amongst your Seikos (or Swiss, German, American), this is the one for you.