Is a Chinese $20 Watch Any Good?

I came across this cheap watch at a collector’s fair. It’s an unbranded Flieger-style watch. Though it’s clearly not Haute Horlogerie, I liked the design and the appearance.

The watch was obviously mechanical because I heard the keyless works rattle turning the crown anti-clockwise. It didn’t run though and after a quick inspection, I saw that the minute hand was stuck on the subsecond. The seller let me have it for a song so I’d just bought another timepiece.

I suspected it was a Chinese movement so I thought it would be interesting to show you what you get when you buy a watch like this from eBay or a similar website.

This may or may not surprise you but the dial wasn’t secured with screws. It was glued directly onto the bottom plate of the movement. Strictly, it doesn’t matter if the dial is secured with screws or with glue.

Of course, glue is very crude and it screams botch job.

Chinese standard movement
The bottom plate with the glue clearly visible. There’s also a strange tarnishing on the plate of the set lever spring

The movement is a Chinese Standard Movement or ‘Tongji‘. It was created in the 1970s by several Chinese watch factories joining forces. They studied many (Swiss) movements and combined all the best features in a prototype. The factories were ordered to stop producing their own movements and only produce the Tongji.

It closely resembles the Enicar AR1010. This isn’t strange at all because Enicar was very big in Asia.


As always, you have to begin by removing any power from the mainspring. Let the crown slip between your thumb and index finger and move the click away from the ratchet wheel.

Remove the balance and the pallets. Then, lift the ratchet wheel and the crown wheel and take out the barrel bridge.

Take out the cannon pinion on the other side (bottom plate) of the movement.

Chinese standard movement
Balance, pallets, ratchet wheel, crown wheel, and barrel bridge removed

Remove the wheel-train bridge to expose the wheel train.

I found a blob of grease or dirt in the 4th wheel bearing jewel on inspection. That’s strange for a new watch, if you ask me.

Chinese standard movement
A blob of grease like this stuffed in a bearing jewel will cause problems. Also, notice the finishing of the movement. We jokingly referred to it as the “curbstone” finish. Not to be confused with “Côtes de Genève”

The sub-second is mounted on a pinion with a long pivot instead of the 4th wheel. The 3rd wheel drives this pinion.

Chinese standard movement

Lift the 4th wheel, 3rd wheel, the sub-second pinion, and the escape wheel.

Remove the main barrel and continue with lifting the center-wheel cock and the center wheel.

Chinese standard movement
The top plate finished

Turn it around and remove the motion works.

Then, remove the set lever spring and the rest of the keyless works.

Chinese standard movement
Bottom plate finished

Clean the parts in the watch cleaning machine.


Start with the center wheel and the center-wheel cock.

Then, fit the rest of the wheel train and the main barrel. Replace the wheel-train bridge.

You might have to wiggle the sub-second pinion a little because it’s more wobbly than a wheel.

Oddly, the bearing jewels in the entire movement are completely flat. No recess to hold oil.

Perhaps that is to save costs and produce these movements cheaper. Or maybe that’s because these movements are so cheap that it makes more sense to buy a new movement instead of having it serviced.

Chinese standard movement
The wheel train with the wheel-train bridge and the barrel installed

Replace the barrel bridge, the ratchet wheel, and the crown wheel.

Chinese standard movement
The barrel bridge, crown wheel, and the ratchet wheel reassembled

Turn the movement around to reinstall the keyless works and then continue with the motion works.

Don’t forget to slightly lubricate the cannon pinion, return bar with its spring, intermediate wheel, castle wheel and the crown wheel.

Chinese standard movement
Bottom plate complete reassembled

Flip back to the top side and reinstall the pallets and the balance.

Be careful when you’re servicing a Chinese Standard Movement like this one. The shock protection springs are very loose.

It’s supposed to be a hinged anti-shock spring but the first one I opened pinged on the bench after I unhooked the second foot.

Chinese standard movement
The Tongji ticking away happily

Flip the movement to the bottom plate to install the hour wheel and the washer.

I used 2 dial stickers to secure the dial when I was certain that the holes for the hands were alligning correctly.

Chinese standard movement
The NoBrand Gluemaster in full glory again


  • The case feels rather light and flimsy.
  • The dial is glued directly onto the movement.
  • The bearing jewel of the 4th wheel was clogged with grease.
  • The anti-shock springs were loose while they should have been hinged.
  • The finishing of the movement is crude at best.
  • It’s cheap (I paid 5 euros).
  • It’s mechanical.
  • I like the design and the dimensions. Diameter is 40 mm without the crown with a 22 mm strap.
  • The dial and the lacquer are of a surprisingly good quality.
  • The movement keeps accurate time (amplitude of 280, rate of +4 sec a day and a beat error of 0.2 m/s)

It can’t hurt to buy a watch like this if you can buy it cheap. Don’t expect it to blow you away with quality and durability, though.

This is a perfect watch for the beach or a bachelor party.

Do you own a similar watch? Would you buy a watch like this? Let me know in the comments below.

About The Author

4 thoughts on “Is a Chinese $20 Watch Any Good?”

  1. I’ve worked on a few Chinese Standard movements, and have found them to be very basic, and for the most part, dependable. That said, the ones made in the 70s and 80s seem to be of higher quality than more recent models. Not too long ago, one of our big box stores had a skeletonized automatic mechanical watch for sale that was clearly based on a CS. They’re a good mechanical watch for someone who wants to learn how to service their own movements.

    This watch looks good. Think I’m gonna try and get one for myself.

    1. I’ve seen a couple recent ones up close and I wasn’t that impressed although they did keep good time after I serviced and calibrated them.

      The movements are cheap enough for someone to learn how to service watch movements but they’re also flimsy with crude finishing. I’d suggest something like an ETA 1080 or Unitas 6497/6498 to start with.

      If you can’t find a watch like that, I still have this one available 😉

  2. Did tgis tongji appear to be oiled upon assembly? Just wondering if my tongji came with atleast a small amount if any?

Comments are closed.