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Importing watches from China – A complete guide

by Fredrik Grönkvist


Importing watches

In this guide we explain what you must know about importing watches from China. Keep reading, and learn how your Startup or Small Business can develop custom designed and private label wristwatches. Also learn about customization options, tooling costs, regulations and quality assurance.

Product Specifications

Watch Case

The biggest price factor is the watch case material. You have two options: Stainless steel or Zinc alloy. The latter is only used in low quality watches, retailing for less than $50. Watches sold for above that price are almost always made of Stainless Steel, if exclude other less common watch case materials, such as plastic and silicon.

As for the case design, you also have two options, as explained below:

  • ODM = An existing watch case design, based on a ‘ready made’ mold.
  • OEM = A custom designed watch case, requiring the supplier to open a new mold.

Most Watch manufacturers can provide an extensive list of existing ODM products, which can also be modified (i.e., custom logo, back case engraving, custom designed hands and crown). However, if you intend to have an entirely new case design made, you need to provide one, or more, of the following:

  • CAD file
  • 2D design file (ISO or ANSI standard)
  • Physical prototype (i.e., 3D printed replica)


The movement is the essential component in a watch. Most Chinese manufacturers offer both low cost Chinese made movements, and the more common, Citizen Miyota movements. Some Watch brands prefer other movements, for example Ronda movements. However, it tends to be quite hard to find suppliers that can provide such high end movements, thereby forcing the buyer to arranging the movement purchase from the maker itself. That being said, most movement makers have representative offices in Hong Kong or in Mainland China.

Buyers based in the European Union must also ensure compliance with RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive), which restricts heavy metals in electrical components. Quartz movements are electrical components, hence covered by the RoHS scope. Most brand name movements, including Citizen Miyota movements, which are RoHS compliant, thereby making it easier to ensure compliance. I am, however, not aware of the same applies to low cost movements, from smaller manufacturers.

Design Customization Options

When importing watches from China, OEM refers to custom designed watch cases. ODM, on the other hand, refers to factory standard watch cases (i.e., cases for which a mold is already made). In addition the watch case, there are various design elements and components, that can be customized:

Clock face
  • Plating
  • Logo
  • Indexing
  • Print
  • Hands
  • Sapphire
  • Mineral
  • Back plate engraving
  • Crown
  • Wristband
  • IPX Standard (i.e., 10 ATM)

However, customized components require additional tooling (i.e., injection molds), which are without exception paid for by the buyer.


Most watch suppliers don’t manufacture straps ‘in house’, but purchase wristbands from specialized subcontractors. The Minimum Order Quantity (MOQ) requirement (50 to 200 pcs) for straps tend to be lower than the Watch MOQ, when buying factory standard straps. However, custom designed (OEM) straps results in a higher MOQ, often set at 500 to 1000 pcs. If you intend to purchase OEM wristbands, you need to prepare the following to the supplier:

  • Bill of Materials (Component list, material specifications)
  • Design drawings
  • Dimensions and size table

Product Packaging

Product packaging is also subcontracted to specialized packaging suppliers. Not manufactured by the Watch supplier. ODM packaging, i.e., a standard gift box with the buyer logo, tends to be offered with a lower MOQ (500 – 1000 pcs per design) while OEM packaging requires the buyer to purchase 2000 to 3000 pcs per design. The Watch manufacturer can mostly offer a number of standard ODM designs for the buyer to select, thereby reducing the need for OEM packaging.

Tooling Costs & Prices

Quartz Movement

The tooling cost is based on the number of custom designed components. Every custom designed component, be it the watch case or the hands, require new tooling, which is, with very few exceptions, paid for by the importer. Below follows a few reference prices:

  • Watch Case Mold: $200 – $300
  • Crown Mold: $120 – $200
  • Custom Hands: $80 – $150
  • Custom Clock Face: $40 – $100
  • Custom Back Plate Engraving: $20 – $40

The tooling cost for OEM watches is, in relative terms, very low. However, the tooling production time must also be factored into the cost calculation. The waiting time for new tooling can be up to 45 days, and that’s only for the first batch. When considering the, very likely, revisions, the total prototype development time can easily run up to 2 to 3 months.

However, customization has a small impact on the unit cost, which largely depend on the materials and components, rather than specific design elements:

  • Stainless Steel Case w. Ronda Movement: $19 – $24
  • Stainless Steel Case w. Miyota Movement: $16 – $22
  • Stainless Steel Case w. Noname Movement: $14 – $20
  • Zinc Alloy Case w. Miyota Movement: $6 – $8
  • Zinc Alloy Case w. Noname Movement: $4 – $5

There’s no right or wrong when selecting materials and components. However, most Watch manufacturers consider it unwise, and rightly so, to combine a Stainless steel case with a low cost movement – or even vice versa. Zinc alloy watches rarely retail for more than $50, while a Stainless Steel watch, costing just a few dollars more, can retail for $200 to $300. Hence, a small investment in quality can vastly improve your profit margins. That being said, in the end, it’s all about the price segment your company wants to target.

Prototype Development

The role of the watch supplier is to purchase and assemble components, not to assist with design. It’s your job to ask ‘the right questions’, concerning the suppliers’ production capabilities and customization options, and to provide the information required by the supplier to produce an OEM or ODM sample:

Watch Case
2. Photocopies
One (or more) of the following:


1. CAD file
2. 2D Design Draft (ANSI or ISO)
3. 3D Printed Design / Reference Sample

Clock Face
1. Indexing
2. Plating
3. Logo file (.ai)
1. Indexing
2. Plating
3. Logo file (.ai)
Back PlateEngraving Logo File (.ai)Engraving Logo File (.ai)
Strap1. ODM SKU
2. Photocopy
1. Bill of Materials
2. Design Draft (ANSI or ISO)
(standard crown on selected SKU)
CAD file
HandsSelect from catalogeDesign file (.ai)

As in every industry, it’s critical that you provide the supplier with clear, and consistent, product specifications and files. Don’t assume that the supplier will spot errors, fill unspecified gaps or report conflicting information. Vague information on the product specification can result in misunderstandings, and thereby cause severe quality issues later in the process.

Lead times are, as mentioned, another critical factor to consider whether to custom design the watch case and other components. Below follows a basic lead time comparison:

Tooling030 – 45*
Sample10 – 1510 – 15
Production25 – 4525 – 45
Total35 – 6065 – 105*

*Excluding additional mold revisions.

Notice that the listed lead times don’t take price research, additional sample revisions, contract negotiation, lab testing, quality control and shipping into consideration.

Applicable Standards and Regulations

Buyers based in the United States and the European Union must ensure compliance with various product safety standards and directives. Below follows an overview:

USCA Prop 65Regulates more than 800 substances in consumer goods. Compliance is when selling in, or to consumers in, California.
USCPSIACPSIA compliance is mandatory for Children’s products sold in the United States. Hence, CPSIA applies to children’s watches.
EURoHSRoHS restricts heavy metals in electronic components, and metallic parts in contact with said components. Hence, RoHS compliance is mandatory for both the watch case and the movement.
EUREACHREACH regulates substances in consumer goods. Compliance is mandatory in all EU states.
EUEMC DirectiveThe EMC (Electromagnetic Compatibility) Directive is applicable to all electronics products.
EUEN 71EN 71 is mandatory for toys and certain children’s products sold in the EU.

Compliance testing can be carried out in China, by a third party company, such as SGS, Asiainspection or Bureau Veritas. However, I advise you to hire a quality inspector to collect batch samples, rather than letting the supplier do it for you. There’s always a risk that they send a ‘compliant sample’, in order to pass the test.

Quality Control

Watch Supplier Office

A Quality Inspector can offer much more than just batch sample collection. The only way to avoid high defect rates is by inspecting the cargo on site, prior to balance payment and shipment. Below follows a standard Quality Inspection Protocol, for watches:

I. Visual inspection
1. Scratches
2. Damages
3. Plating
4. Logo
5. Engraving
6. Glass
7. Strap
8. Movement
II. Dimensions1. Case Diameter
2. Case Thickness
3. Strap Width
4. Strap Leangth
III. Functional1. Movement
2. Battery
IV. Packaging1. Logo print
2. Dimensions
3. Material Weight
4. Damages / Dirt
5. Export Packing
V. Physical Properties

1. Water Resistance
2. Glass Strength



Fredrik Grönkvist is the co-founder of ScandinAsian Enterprise in Shanghai. Since 2010, he and his team have helped hundreds of companies worldwide, primarily in the EU and US, to develop and manufacture products in China. He is also the main contributor on, a leading knowledge base for small- to medium-sized enterprises importing from Asia. For further questions, you can contact him on

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