Today, I am going to review another Chinese-made tourbillon timepiece, which is something that we do from time to time here on aBlogtoWatch. This is the Jiusko (good luck easily pronouncing the name) Tourbillon reference JLF0168L-SG limited edition watch, and I am taking a close look at it because for what it is, and the price, it isn’t half bad.
For many Chinese watch makers, producing a tourbillon is a holy grail, because for many of them, it is the ultimate position to take against the Swiss. With that said, the market for Chinese tourbillons is still rather niche, and without Swiss tourbillons out there creating demand, no one would actually buy a less expensive Chinese tourbillon. When deciding to review a Chinese tourbillon, I consider a few things. First, how well-built the watch is and how the movement appears to operate over time. Second, I look at the overall design to consider the watch’s appeal to a more global audience, as well as how it stacks up against the more refined designs of the West. When it comes down to it, there is a lot of collector interest in Chinese tourbillons, but few that make the cut.
I don’t think that latter statement is about quality or price. Meaning that people aren’t not buying Chinese-made tourbillon watches these days because they are prone to breaking or because they are too expensive. Rather, for a range of cultural reasons, the dials and cases around many of the Chinese tourbillons, as well as the complications included, simply don’t have the beautiful appeal as many more refined European designs.
If you think about it, this statement is somewhat ironic. Why? Well, the Chinese are often penned as being copiers – so wouldn’t they just mimic the design of popular Swiss tourbillon timepieces and put their own names on it? Oddly enough, that doesn’t really happen. What happens instead is a sort of odd hybrid of European design elements mixed with a lot of Asian influence, as well as a decided attempt to be unique. That’s right, the country often accused of not being particularly creative in their watch designs are trying to be creative in their more high-end models (at least, to a large degree).
Now, just because Chinese watch makers are taking a “design stand” in an attempt to produce something more original doesn’t mean those original designs are particularly good. In fact, over the last few years, we’ve seen an enormous about of creative juice from China. Just look at some of the watches at the 2015 Hong Kong Watch & Clock Fair here. There are lots of original designs, often bordering on wacky. That’s good for the Chinese watch industry, but is there a broad market for much of that stuff?
In 2012, I first wrote about Hong Kong-based Memorigin which was the first Chinese Tourbillon watch maker that seemed to have a great desire to be “original.” It’s happening slowly in the Chinese watch industry, but you are getting more and more of a market for Chinese tourbillons that really evoke the culture they come from. That is great, but I am still looking for that classic-looking refined Chinese tourbillon watch design. The concept of “less is more,” which is very important in timepiece design, isn’t always strong in Asia, so I’ve kept a keen look out for tourbillons from China that actually look like the types of watches “traditional tourbillon” fans might like.
With that said, the appeal of a Chinese tourbillon is very real, despite the oddity of so many designs that exist out there. In 2013, aBlogtoWatch reviewed the (probably not around anymore) Aatos Tourbillon which, despite being wonky, proved to be a very popular review in terms of traffic – even years later. There is a very real market for inexpensive tourbillons from China, and I think what consumers are looking for are the most “approachable” designs that allow them to satisfy this need. So this brings me back to the Jiusko Tourbillon that you see here.
From a design perspective, the JFL0168L-SG Jiusko Tourbillon watch isn’t like most other Jiusko timepieces, so in a sense, their rare tourbillon watches exist in a league of their own. This piece, for example, is number 9. I don’t know the total number they will produce, but this is the 9th piece of this model ever made. Jiusko (like many other Chinese watch makers who offer tourbillons) doesn’t produce the movement in this tourbillon watch either. According to them, the movement is produced by a factory in Hangzhou City in mainland China. So let’s first talk about this rather impressive mechanism.
The movement is known as the caliber 3320 and is manually-wound with what they claim is 72 hours of power reserve. I think I experienced a bit less than that – but more on that below. Oddly enough, one of the timepiece’s more amusing “quirks” is the power reserve indicator. Let me say that I was absolutely delighted to even find a Chinese tourbillon with a power reserve indicator. Most of these movements have the same complications that include a synchronized 24-hour hand and a day/night (AM/PM) indicator. These are easily the most simple complications to produce. Here, however, I found a Chinese tourbillon movement with a power reserve indicator – which is one of my favorite complications.
The power reserve indicator gauge scale takes up a certain amount of space on the dial, and the amusing part is that the hand never actually reaches the end of it. The winding limiter prevents the hand from going more than about 3/4 of the way along the scale sometimes. What does that mean? Well, the crown needs some serious torque to wind the mainspring barrel, so you need to turn it hard. Sometimes the crown will just fight you and stop winding, offering feedback that the mainspring barrel is fully wound. You really don’t want to force it. Other times, I wind the crown and the spring doesn’t fight back as hard allowing me to wind it all the way. In fact, the first time I went to wind the watch and it let me get the power reserve hand all the way to the end of the scale, I was like, “So it does work! The scale isn’t too long!”
Opposite the power reserve indicator is that day/night indicator disc so common in many Chinese “dress” watches. The reason I dislike these isn’t because knowing AM or PM time isn’t useful, but rather that these are meant to look like (at a glance) moon phase indicators. The arches on the bottom of the half-circle only serve a purpose on moon phase indicator discs and not AM/PM indicators. So these end up looking cheap, and most people don’t know why unless they really think about it. In fact, on this watch, the dial would look a lot more harmonious if they just made this element a synchronized 24-hour hand on a dial that looked a bit like the power reserve indicator. This would have offered some welcome “harmony” to the dial.
Going back to the movement’s specs, it operates at 4Hz (28,800 bph), which is both welcome and even uncommon in Swiss tourbillons (that mostly operate at 3Hz). This means better accuracy, and I think we can all agree that is important in a watch like this. The movement further uses 27 jewels and is comprised of 197 parts. The tourbillon itself is a flying tourbillon (nice), and it is rather large in diameter, making for a nice visual experience.
The flying tourbillon does look good even if it lacks the subtle hand-decoration and meticulous polishing of European tourbillons. The question is whether that finishing is worth tens if not over a hundred thousand dollars more in price. This tourbillon might not be the fanciest thing around, but it does the trick and doesn’t look terrible in the process.