Turns out, Sea-Gull, which is the largest movement manufacturer (1/4th of the world’s total!) in the world, wasn’t even the first to release a version, they did it only after a third party came out with the idea, and watching the success they were having, well, they were having none of it and released theirs, in 38mm with solid caseback, which I show at the beginning of the post —of course, they released the original back in early 60s.
Thing is, Sea-Gull being the “official” brand, is charging more than thrice what everybody else, and the buy is not as straightforward as just going to AliExpress for any of the others. So, I figured, if the movement is the same Sea-Gull ST1901 (based on the Venus 175, mind you; Sea-Gull bought everything, stock, machines, and rights, from the Swiss Venus back in the late 50s), and the casing, dials and finishing are basically the same, why not save two thirds of their asking price going for another brand?
I have to mention here that this is the Chinese market, and they go by a different set of values than us westerners. There’s no point claiming which one is the original one, all brands use the same factories for their cases, dials, hands, etc; you won’t find this things happening elsewhere, and it boils down to simply: This is how China works.
I liked a lot the official one with red chrono hand, but everyone is having it, just check every idiot on Instagram, so I chose a variation with all blue hands save the tip of the chrono seconds hand, and lume in hands and outside the numerals —the brand that makes this version is Sugess, which is a hideous name, but at least was not printed nor engraved anywhere in the watch.
Also, the 40mm version of the official from whichever brand has short hands, and I can’t stand short hands; they use the same hands as in the 38mm versions, and in my wrists a 38mm looks silly.
There’s versions with domed sapphire or acrylic, with cases a bit different to accommodate. I rather sapphire for the obvious reasons.
As I was previously saying, I succumbed and got this version, with blue hands but the tip of the chrono seconds, and luminous material applied to hands and numeral dots. The subdials rings aren’t printed but physically marked on the dial and are a bit larger than the official versions.
It was beautiful and perfect in every way.
Except it wasn’t. The damned movement stopped randomly, my guess was dirt in the mainspring, or even a cracked bottom jewel on the balance wheel, who knows.
A note of caution: These type of movements have a little quirk in their design. As you push the start button, the arm that moves the connecting wheel between the seconds wheel and the chrono-seconds wheel slides into the space between columns in the column-wheel, but if the press it not hard and quick enough, the chrono-seconds wheel brake hasn’t went up a column and it’s still engaged, which results in the watch stopping and potentially damaging (as the seconds wheel makes contact with a braked wheel). The problem probably derives from the arm resting so far ahead in a column, in order to start the chrono as fast as possible. So, you have to press the start firmly and quickly, particularly when starting from zero.
In this video if you pay attention you can clearly see the problem:
Resuming, it stopped randomly. No worries, I chose that seller because it offered free returns, so I did and they refunded me every single penny. Talking with the seller they assured me it was not a common occurrence and they’ll have extra care next time. So, there goes this watch idiot savant and ordered another one of the same.
The return process is an infuriatingly slow affair, and you have to be on top of the involved shipping companies. To me it consisted in taking my package to a local company, which took it to my country’s central AliExpress warehouse. This warehouse takes ages acknowledging reception, and I had to upload more evidence (the pictures provided by the local shipping company) in order for my money to be released.
So, I ordered again and, guess what? It also came defective, only this time defects were cosmetic and not functional. One lume dot was half printed and the crystal was set askew. I’ve never seen a poorly set crystal in all my years having watches.
When I confronted the seller for the second time, they had the nerve to tell me that I should simply not order the luminous version, that it didn’t affect the watch, and that the crystal was not smooth. This was adding insult to injury.
What to do? The return and refund option is always there and you have 15 days since your order is finished or you confirm reception of the goods, but as I’ve said it takes a long time. So I figured it was best to try to move it locally… And then fuck the seller and ask for a refund without return.
Thus I did, I sold it as brand new —it was, with all its accessories included, I just took it out of its box to check that the movement was working and to notice its flaws— for a huge profit obviously, well, not huge, just for 170% more of what I paid, and in my defense I included an almost brand new, respectable brand, watch band that I had ordered previously (for which I’m also waiting a full refund, haha! I didn’t like it and asked the seller for their international return policy, they went out of their way and refunded me except shipping costs, refund didn’t came for a long time, asked them again and they included a refund for the shipping, which has been deposited; just waiting for my card’s issuer response —I’m a client, this wasn’t my first watch band from that brand, so there’s that).
Having sold it, and having waited the necessary time for the selling platform that I used to avoid any claims or returns, which fortunately was still inside the deadline for opening a dispute, I went and did with the seller on AliExpress.
You have always to document as much as you can when buying from them; In my experience they’re fair, but they need the evidence to go against their sellers. I had everything, of course, and in my dispute I mentioned this was the second time, from this very seller, that the item was flawed.
I asked for a full refund without return, which I knew wouldn’t come to pass. Seller insisted on full refund with return on private messages, which I ignored, seller proceeded with the same proposal on the dispute’s page. I declined and lowered my asking refund for two thirds original price. Seller insisted on full R&R. I didn’t accept its proposal and kept mine. At this point (when you decline and maintain your previous proposal, hence reaching an impasse) AliExpress steps in, analyzes the case, and presented two final resolutions: The original full refund with return, or 30% refund without return. Of course I took the 30%, that was what I was fishing for!
So, in the end, with the sale and the refund I got back 201% of what I originally paid. Not a bad deal at all! (Not my best either, just the last one in a somewhat long list of great deals I’ve managed along the years when buying or selling watches).
Worth mentioning is that the lume in these watches is a laugh, a sad joke, the worst lume I’ve ever seen. It lights up under a UV lamp and in less than 10 minutes it’s gone. You’ll need utter darkness to barely see it, and in about a couple hours you won’t see anything… So I asked myself why get a watch with a function that doesn’t work, besides the above mentioned problems with Sugess?
But, as I really like the watch —it’s beautiful watching it playing in the light, the golden indices and the blue hands shining so handsomely— I wasn’t about giving up, just try another model and brand!
Thing is, there’s millions of sellers selling the same things on AliExpress, lots of brands selling this watches: Sugess, Seakoss, Red Star (which I believe is just a line inside Seakoss, but I’m not sure), Pierre Paulin, Gulltron, and a dozen or three more. Most are basically exactly the same with just different dial printing or different colors and hands, but I managed to find a more different variation of the official versions: a Seakoss. Case was the same as everyone, dial was obviously made in the same factory as everyone, movement of course was the Sea-Gull original, but the hands were different, they reached! And the hour hand is a bit wider than the minute hand, which of course helps with legibility at a glance. Also, the chrono minutes hand is different than the running seconds hand —in most every other interpretation, subdial hands are both identical, and as I’ve said in 40mm the watch hands are short on the official versions.
So I contacted the seller and quickly explained my woes, they of course assured me it wouldn’t happen with them. Yeah, we’ll see about that, kind seller.
This seller was pricier by almost a third because they had the option of choosing an upgraded movement (by Sea-Gull, remember, they make the movements and sell them to everyone); it has a swan-neck regulator, which besides making the balance wheel bridge prettier and more interesting (the only ugly part of this movement), makes regulating easier and steadier: It’s a steel spring that applies force to the regulator, which in turn controls the size of the hairspring, actively making the watch run faster or slower, and it has a screw that applies opposite force than the spring, keeping it tightly in place against shocks, and making regulating much more precise —anyone that knows how to set a bicycle’s derailleur knows just how much more precise adjustments you can get with a screw instead of a lever.
This, I figure, has to count for something and maybe having the more expensive movement implies better quality control?
The movement in this watches, as mentioned, is the Sea-Gull improvement on the Venus 175: a column-wheel, horizontal clutch, manual chronograph at 21,600 vhp (6 ticks per second), with 45ish hours power reserve. You can clearly see the beautiful blue and tungsten-gray column-wheel that makes these types of movements so beautiful in the next pictures, on the top center.
The most famous chronograph of all times, the Omega Speedmaster (did you know that watch went to The Moon™?), has seldom used a column-wheel.
Column-wheel chronos are more expensive, more alluring, harder to produce, and have better pusher feedback than the standard cam-lever actuated ones.
Anyway, I still like the dial of my original luminous Sugess better, with its slightly larger subdials which are not printed but recessed, or beveled, or embossed, can’t really tell, instead of the smaller ones with its outer ring printed of the regular versions (but the subdial hands, all being the same length across brands and versions, reach better on the regular smaller subdials), but alas it was not meant to be, so I ordered an official version in Seakoss branding.
I’ll update the post when it arrives…
Oh, I didn’t mention any of the Chinese Aviation being issued these watches after being commissioned by the Communist Party back then, there’s plenty other sites to gather pieces of info about that elsewhere, and it makes for a fun information hunt, as every site has its own version of the events that supposedly took place… Just like today we have a plethora of brands and versions as to make it impossible to set straight.
For anyone interested, the dial and caseback reads in Traditional Chinese:
中国制造 – Zhōngguó zhìzào – Made in China.
And the caseback on the Sugess (haven’t yet sat to decipher the Seakoss, which has a couple more characters):
中國空軍航空計時碼表- Chinese Airforce flight chronograph watch.
Well, my Seakoss has arrived and while at first look identical to the Sugess, it’s on close inspection that its differences show.
From the vendor’s pictures (which aren’t always ideal) I thought the case was the same, but it’s not. It’s probably made in the same factory, as it’s the same general size and shape, but it has more angles, thus more detail, the light plays more with it than the Sugess. It has more work on it, more steps in its manufacturing and finishing.
Caseback is also different, with the base from which the decagon rises polished instead of rough. Also the engraving changes, without the ugly “Plan B”.
The crown is also different, slender and less protruding, I think it goes better with the long case, and with two different finishes: polished on the star and sandblasted on its base, instead of all polished, so the star is more easily viewable from whatever angle.
Both crystals are properly set.
Dial and hands
It seems the dial on the Seakoss is a bit different; while on both it curves beautifully inwards at the edges, creating a convex shape, I think on the Seakoss the curve is somewhat more defined, so you see it more. I like it better.
Hands are perfect, they properly reach, and they have a more solid color throughout; on the Sugess the paint (or lacquer, or enamel or whichever process they used) on the edges is visible thinner and more transparent than their central zones, while on the Seakoss no differences in color can be seen (with the naked eye), and the blue is a smidge darker, maybe just because the paint is thicker. In the pictures the blue is almost comic-book blue, in real life it’s very pleasant, deep and popping when the light hits it.
The long hands (watch minutes and chrono seconds) on both brands also curve inwards. The minute hand has a ridge down the middle, hard to see without magnification.
It’s like Sugess owners went to the factories that Seakoss uses and they decided to shave this and that to save money, which is very common in the Chinese industry (read the book I cite above), so they end up with inferior versions, maybe good enough for non-watch people who will never notice them (obviating a flawed movement, of course).
All in all, the Seakoss is several steps up in detailing, finishing, parts, and quality control, which justifies its higher price. After two defective Sugess’, I do think the Seakoss should be the preferred option, even considering the price difference: you get a much better watch (again, in WIS terms) than what a third in price suggests.
A beautiful watch without doubt! And, to me, almost free.