The Truth About Cheap Chinese Watches
Do low-cost Chinese watches offer good value for the frugal consumer? I decided to find out! I purchased a watch on Wish.com for the impossibly low price of $2.00 (shipping was an additional $2.00). If you don’t already know, Wish.com is an e-commerce website that features all sorts of merchandise that ships direct from China. And, yes, you can find watches for as low as $2.00 for men and women from Chinese merchants. So how good can a $2.00 watch possibly be? For that matter, how good are the plethora of cheap quartz watches that can be purchased for $1.00 to $25.00 on Chinese e-commerce websites? Here’s what you need to know!
In this post I share my experience in buying low-cost Chinese watches online. I share tips to help you get the best value when buying Chinese watches. Finally I show some brands that offer exceptional buys in low-cost Chinese watches.
My $2.00 Wish.com Watch Review
So this is the the watch (shown above)! Here’s the funny thing. I thought that the $2.00 price was for the colorful nylon Nato-style strap only. I was surprised to find on delivery that I had actually purchased a watch and strap for that low, low $2.00 price! Wow! The photo above shows the actual watch I purchased. The watch as listed on Wish.com is shown below.
This watch features a basic quartz movement in a stylishly thin metal alloy body with stainless steel back. It works (and is still working six months after purchase)! At some point in the next couple of years it may need a new battery, the only maintenance required for quartz watch movements. You can buy a set of tools for opening watch backs (needed for battery replacement) for well under $10.00 on Amazon.com. If you don’t want to go through that trouble, just replace the watch instead of the battery.
Why Quartz Watches Can be Made So Cheaply
Unlike complex mechanical watches, a quartz movement is basically a battery and an electronic circuit. It has few moving parts. Modern day inexpensive quartz movements are generally very reliable and keep time better than more expensive traditional manual and automatic watches. Watch connoisseurs may hate them for their ‘soulless’ simplicity, but they are real workhorses. Even the cheapest quartz movements will be accurate to within 15 seconds per month and run for years.
Buy ‘Em By The Dozen!
Buy a few ultra-cheap quartz fashion watches in varied styles and rotate them in coordination with what you’re wearing that day. Treat them like silk ties that you mix and match with your suits. That way, the cosmetics of your watch collection will lasts much longer due to less wear and tear per watch. That’s not a budget-breaking endeavor given the wide range of low-cost quartz watches you can purchase direct from Chinese merchants on Wish.com, Aliexpress.com, GearBest.com and BangGood.com. For less than $200.00 total, you can easily amass a collection of ten or more stylish, reliable watches.
But Wait, Aren’t Chinese Watches Junk?
No. Don’t believe the propaganda. In fact, if you buy a “Swiss Made” watch that retails for up to $1,000.00, it almost certainly is made with Chinese components. The design and quality control may be done in Switzerland, but nearly all of the components may be Chinese. “… In Swiss watch manufacturing, particularly for watches priced at less than 1,000 Swiss francs ($1,040) … they so often use Chinese-made parts.” –NYTimes, “A Watch Is More Than Its Parts”, June 10, 2020
The Megir brand Chinese quartz watch I feature later in this post is made by a Chinese manufacturer that does most of its business subcontracting watch construction for some of the most popular watch brands worldwide. That is true of many of the Chinese watch brands. Typically, their “bread and butter” comes from subcontracting for international watch brands. They know how to make watches!
A $10.00 Quartz Watch from China
This is a typical ‘fashion’ quartz watch sold for about $10.00 to $12.00 on popular Chinese e-commerce websites such as Aliexpress.com and GearBest.com. This Megir brand watch (Model M1010, shown below) has a quartz movement with second hand function, alloy body, stainless steel back and a leather strap with matching red stitching. The secondary dials are decorative and non-functional. It offers ‘chronograph style’ design (see explanation below) with basic quartz functionality. It should run for at least two years before needing a battery replacement.
I purchased this watch from Walmart.com (a US based e-commerce site) for $11.00 (including shipping). That price was competitive with the price listed on Chinese e-commerce websites and offered all the benefits of fast shipping from a local US based vendor. The watch has functioned flawlessly for my three months of ownership to date.
Low Cost Chronograph ‘Style’ Quartz Watches
Many quartz watches on Wish.com, Aliexpress.com, and other Chinese e-commerce websites that are priced below $15.00 are designed to look like chronograph watches but do not have functioning chronograph dials. The Megir watch I purchased (shown above) does not have working chronograph features. The secondary dial faces and hands do not function, nor do the chrono buttons. Only the basic hour, minute and second hand dials function.
The low-cost Curren Chronograph Style (Quartz) Watch shown above is a popular seller on the Chinese e-commerce market Aliexpress.com for only $13.00. It is also available on Amazon.com and Walmart.com for the same price. Like the Megir watch shown above, the chronograph functions do not work (for decoration only). However, it keeps excellent time and makes for a stylish presentation.
For Chinese quartz watches with working chronograph functions you will need to spend around $20.00 and more. The chronograph watch by SKMEI shown below offers fully-functional chronograph/stop watch featured for under $20.00. Personally, I never use ‘chrono’ features, but I do like the design. I’m buying these watches for style and to tell the time. Because they use simpler quartz movements they tend to be more reliable than cheap watches with more complex watch features. These watches are fine for keeping time but I would not recommend paying more than $15.00 for a watch with non-functional chronograph features. Usually, it is stated on the ad listing if the chronograph dials are non-functional or decorative only (read the full ad). All of the Chinese watch brands offer watch models with functioning chronograph features generally as the price approaches $20.00.
SKMEI Quartz Sport Watches
I wanted to highlight a Chinese brand of manufactured quartz watches that offers full stop-watch/chronograph functionality at an excellent price. SKMEI has a line of rugged quartz sport watches that offer fully functional stop watch and chronograph functionality. Many of these watches are sold for $13.00 to $20.00 on Aliexpress.com and other Chinese e-commerce websites. They are also sold on Amazon.com and Walmart.com. This SKMEI quartz watch was purchased on Aliexpress.com for $14.99 (free shipping). It comes with a stainless steel bracelet (I replaced it with this nylon Nato-style strap), full stop-watch functionality (all the buttons and dials work) and modest water resistance (30 meters). This brand offers good build quality and functionality on watches that retail for under $20.00.
Simple Classic Watches Offer the Best Value
Here is a Chinese brand Curren Quartz watch typically found on Aliexpress.com and other Chinese e-commerce marketplaces. I purchased this watch on Walmart.com for $11.00 including shipping. It is a classic design with an alloy body, stainless steel back and band. It has a Japanese quartz movement and basic water resistance (you can get it wet in the rain but don’t swim with it). It is a classic dress watch offering a level of quality you would easily pay up to $100.00 for in a retail store. If you stick to simple, classic watch styles (avoid cheap gold plating and gaudy design) you can find well-made Chinese quartz watches good for day-to-day wear in the $10.00 to $20.00 price range.
The $15.00 to $25.00 price range in Chinese quartz watches offers more robust construction and better design in general. Some watches in this range offer day/date, chronometer functions and steel body construction (better corrosion resistance than alloy). You will also get a nicer leather strap or a stainless steel bracelet. I would say that watches in this price range from China offer the best value for the low price.
Chinese Watch Shopping Tips
Be sure to compare prices before buying Chinese made quartz watches. Check both the Chinese e-commerce markets and locally on Amazon.com, Walmart.com and eBay.com. Prices can fluctuate wildly so comparison shop before buying to get the best price!
Something to consider when buying ultra-cheap watches from China: There is the possibility of getting the occasional watch that should not have slipped through quality control. Personally, that is a risk I accept when buying ultra-cheap watches direct from China ( I haven’t bought a bad one yet). It is possible to return a defective watch. However, the return costs for shipping to China (which you must pay) can easily be ten times more than you paid for the watch. The Chinese government subsidizes shipping from China (that’s why it’s so cheap) but return shipping from the US is very expensive.
Most low-cost watch cases are made from metal alloy (usually zinc alloy with a stainless steel back). As the price increases, you are more likely to find watches with a stainless steel case and back. Zinc alloy is more prone to corrosion over time. To protect the finish of zinc alloy watch cases, always thoroughly clean the watch with a soft cloth after each wear to remove sweat, grime and moisture. If sweat is allowed to collect on the metal alloy case, it will corrode and pit the finish. Stainless steel is more resistant to this type of corrosion. If you plan to wear your watch every day, seek out one with a stainless steel case and back. Finally, silver finish watches tend to age much better than their gold-plated counterparts, especially at these low prices.
Chinese Watch Brands To Look For:
Here are a few of the top brands in low-cost quartz watches made in China that are sold for $25.00 and under (in no specific order): Curren, Cadison, Naviforce, SKMEI Megir, LIGE, SMAEL, WWOOR … This list is just a starting point and not all inclusive.
If I intend to spend more than $10.00 or so for a quartz watch, I’ll check to see if any US based e-commerce stores like Amazon.com and Walmart.com (and vendors located in the US on eBay) are selling the same model watch (many times they are). It may only cost a couple of dollars more for the assurance that comes from buying the watch from a US based seller. Plus shipping is much faster when you buy locally (shipping from China can take anywhere from two weeks to three months).
Nowadays, few of us need a watch. We all carry smartphones that keep track of time. For that reason, low-cost, high style quartz watches can serve the same purpose in a wardrobe as a nice pocket square or silk tie. It adds a touch of style. Plus, glancing at your wrist to get the time always looks more elegant than pulling a smartphone out of your pocket.
These ultra-cheap quartz fashion watches are fun to collect and wear. They’re a great way to add a bit of color to your wardrobe without breaking the bank. They’re cheap, reliable, and have frugal style! -SplurgeFrugal