The Grand Series is a Chinese Tourbillon by Hong Kong-based watch brand Memorigin. I’ve known the people who started Memorigin for a few years now, and their mission is admirable. Memorigin, and brands like it, is part of a youthful new crop of home-grown Hong Kong, Chinese, Singaporean and other Asia-based watch brands that are not only proudly produced in Asia, but are also designed there. Brands such as Memorigin were born in cities obsessed with European luxury watch brands and interest in wrist watches, in general. It makes sense that some of the many people who grew up with high-end timepieces now want to go into business for themselves producing watches — especially because there are so many watches being produced in Asia now (volume-wise more than anywhere in the world, by far). So, Memorigin is a Hong Kong watch, made in China, inspired by high-end European watches sold in the region.
The challenge for brands like Memorigin is simple: how do you actually produce something high-end for a customer not accustomed to high-end Chinese watches? In order to support low production numbers, brands that don’t produce lots of watch each year need higher prices per watch. Most consumers are not used to buying luxury Chinese watches. The biggest reason for this, in my opinion, is that no one seems to know what the defining character of a luxury Chinese watch should be. Until now, most of them have been copies or otherwise homages to European watches. At worst, it morphs into the replica watch industry. So, what is a luxury Chinese watch? Memorigin isn’t the first to answer the question, but their response is a mixture of both modern and traditional. On the one hand, Memorigin’s focus on making “exclusively” tourbillon watches certainly sees the brand held to one particular European notion of a luxury watch (having a tourbillon mechanism). Switzerland pounded Russia, China, Hong Kong, and other parts of Asia for a decade or more on how “a tourbillon equaled money,” not because of what a tourbillon does, functionally, but rather because buying one is very costly.
Thus, it was a major point of pride when Chinese mechanical movement-makers were able to produce their own tourbillons — perhaps lacking in the same level of decoration or finishing, but operating in a substantially similar manner to European tourbillons — at a fraction of the price. Since at least a decade ago, China has been able to very satisfactorily produce a tourbillon mechanism for a few hundred bucks (and that includes the watch), whereas the cheapest European tourbillon costs no less than $15,000 (and often much more). A few years ago that number was closer to $50,000. You can get a rather competent Chinese-made tourbillon for under $2,000 (see this additional Chinese Tourbillon review on aBlogtoWatch here).
There are some specialists in Asia that can create “Swiss-style” tourbillons, but they are rare and they require just as much time to produce as those in Switzerland. Tourbillon mechanisms in watches such as the Memorigin Grand Series are a base mechanism used by other brands. In fact most of the tourbillon mechanisms with complications I’ve seen produced in China are all versions of the same core design — with small changes here and there. There clearly isn’t much investment in making more or fancier Chinese tourbillons, which I find fascinating. This movement is neat, but as a serious watch-lover, I would say it is far from perfect. And then there is the issue that further complicates the matter for informed consumers: replica watches.
These Chinese tourbillon movements might be proudly displayed in a Memorigin watch, but something very similar to it is sitting in countless replica watches. Yes, there are plenty of fake Patek Philippes and Vacheron Constantin watches out there with, more or less, this same movement. I also believe that in at least some instances, these movements are coming from the same factories (great to see them go legit). I brought up this point to Memorigin out of concern, since I wouldn’t be the first one to notice that these movements are not too different from those in replica watches. I felt that, because the Memorigin watches are typically a lot more expensive than the replica watches (with similar movements), Memorigin would need to explain to consumers what sets these movements apart. Memorigin certainly offered a response.
The company didn’t deny that they ordered movements from factories that also produce movements for replica watches. In fact, I don’t think Memorigin has too many options. Let’s be honest, the market for Chinese-made tourbillon watches is niche (even in China and Hong Kong), at best. How many companies out there are even making tourbillons in China? Hong Kong has long since stopped being a major manufacturing city, as it is now mostly an administrative (and shopping) hub. Memorigin can’t physically set up shop and produce tourbillons on their own, but they can order them from a supplier. They also have access to everything else they need to produce a wrist watch, as well as a city of watch-hungry people to pull design talent from. That is, essentially, the formula for the brand, and they succeed in making a product that, while seemingly unrefined at times, is a very real expression of timepiece art from Hong Kong. That, alone, makes them interesting to me.
So what did Memorigin say to assure me about the quality and performance of the tourbillon movements they use in their timepieces? They took the issue seriously, and made it clear that their movements are, first and foremost, tested after they buy them. Ironically, this happens in Japan, by way of “Watch Repair Master” (the best name for a watch service center I’ve ever heard). Watch Repair Master checks the movements and tests them for performance. Each watch comes with a rate-result document and Memorigin is proud that their tourbillons are all rated at -5/+6 seconds per day. That’s not quite COSC Chronometer-certification grade, but close to it. For comparison purposes, appreciate that it was (at least until recently) not uncommon for an inexpensive Chinese-made tourbillon to be inaccurate to 20 seconds or more per day. I’m personally amused that these watches get final-checked in Japan, but I will say that it does reassure me.
Memorigin also says that the movements produced for them have unique decorations and bridge designs. At the least that means Memorigin is using a movement design and quality grade not found in less expensive Chinese tourbillon watches (though I do think a lot of those end up being replicas). In terms of tech specs, the movement isn’t that bad. It is an automatic and operates at 4Hz (28,800 bph) with a power reserve of 40 hours. The biggest feature on the dial is the open window for the 60-second, spinning, flying tourbillon. The dial also has the time (with hours and minutes — the tourbillon is the seconds indicator), a big date indicator (rare on Chinese watches), a day/night indicator, and a GMT indicator hand.
You can view the automatic movement through the rear of the case, and it isn’t bad looking. While the decoration isn’t hand-applied, it is a pleasant arabesque motif with decor on various levels. My biggest problem with the movement (and this goes for all the watches with this movement series) is that the tourbillon is so large that the display for the time is asymmetrical. This means that, because the tourbillon is so large, the point at which the hour and minute hands connect is slightly above the absolute center of the dial. So while the hour markers are in the “right spot” for where the hands are located, I really just want the axis point of the hands to be in the dead center of the dial, as is the case on most other watches out there. I’m not saying this is a big deal for everyone, but the only way I could justify this design decision is that it makes the tourbillon cage just marginally larger.
I prefer Chinese tourbillon movements to be as simple in complication as possible. One reason is that I rarely like how the complications are designed on a dial. The placement of complications and dial elements is rarely harmonious, and on most Chinese tourbillons, I end up feeling as though I’d be happy with most design elements removed. Years ago, I talked about this with Memorigin, and they did end up making more restrained designs. This Grand Series AT 1003 Silver is among the more restrained Memorigin tourbillon watches out there. I still think the dial has elements it doesn’t need, but it looks a lot better than some of the other watches out there with a movement like this inside. I still wish they’d used real flame-blued hands and further minimalized the dial elements — but overall, this isn’t bad.
The Grand Series case is a bit on the large size for a watch of this style. The steel case is 43mm-wide and 15mm-thick (with sapphire crystal on the top and bottom). I think that at 41mm-wide and 10mm-thick (without the GMT hand or day/night indicator), this watch would have been incredible. Then again, that would require a totally different, thinner movement. The case is water resistant to 50 meters, and the metal polishing isn’t bad. Memorigin offers the Grand Series AT 1003 in a gold-toned model, as well. Funny enough, even though both of them have steel cases, the Memorgin website doesn’t say “steel” anywhere. Rather, they refer to this natural steel model as “silver” and the gold version as “gold.” This could easily lead someone to believe the watch cases are in a precious metal, and not steel, as is the case. I’ll say again that finishing for the case is quite good, certainly better than what you’ll find on less expensive Chinese watches.
Attached to the Grand Series case is a real alligator strap, and it wears nicely enough. This isn’t a bad timepiece, overall, even if Memorigin hasn’t yet reached the point of making a must-have watch for Swiss tourbillon collectors. I do think, with time, even more design refinement, and some new movements, Memorigin could get there. My biggest final issue with the Grand Series AT 1003 is the price. Watch collectors will probably be asked to think twice before putting down almost $7,000 for a Chinese tourbillon because other Chinese tourbillons are available for so much less. It’s true that those “lesser” tourbillons might not perform as well as the movements in Memorigin. If there is anything the tourbillon taught us it is that perception is important. So, if most Chinese tourbillons cost only a couple thousand dollars, and the Memorigin is that much more, then how can it be taken as seriously as it would like? The answer to this is a long marketing campaign and a lot of consumer education. If, or how, Memorigin will do such a thing remains to be seen.
The price issue with the Grand Series tourbillon is analogous to other price issues in the watch industry — something that I know a lot about, but might have limited impact on general consumers. What I can say is that Memorigin has its work cut out if it is to educate consumers about why its tourbillons are now several grand better than seemingly very similar tourbillon movements in far less expensive watches. Price for the Memorigin Grand Series Silver AT 1003 watch is $6,749 USD. Visit memorigin-us.com for more information.
>Model: Grand Series Tourbillon Silver AT 1003
>Price: $6,749 USD
>Size: 43mm-wide, 15mm-thick
>Would reviewer personally wear it: Sometimes, when wanting to impress watch collectors friends with what a high-quality Chinese tourbillon is like.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Complicated watch lover on a budget who can’t afford a Swiss tourbillon, but doesn’t want a rank-and-file Chinese tourbillon with questionable reliability and performance.
>Best characteristic of watch: Demonstrates a lot of improvement over some early Memorigin watches, though the brand is still evolving. Dial finishing and appliques are generally well done, and the assurance of performance in the movement does assist the value proposition.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Movement provenance is of questionable demand to all watch collectors. Case is larger than a watch of this style should be. Movement position of hour and minute hands is not centered on dial. Price is comparatively expensive.