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The Merkur Fanzhi and Chinese watches

A Merkur Fanzhi watch



The phrase "watch from AliExpress" most frequently puts one in mind of shameless rip-offs of other brands with questionable quality. And yes, that does seem to be most of it. But some brands have put the effort in and made some fantastic original watches like this one, the Merkur Fanzhi.

What we have here is a lovely vintage-styled three-hander with a lot of charm and a very small price tag. At around £75 this is certainly one of the least expensive new-production mechanical watches you can find but the build quality and finishing compare favourably to watches that cost five (or more) times that.

Starting with the dial, which is slightly curved at the edges for that vintage aesthetic, the crossed lines give some nice visual interest to what would otherwise be a fairly plain affair. The indices are applied and polished with printed minute markers. Where things start to get a little more interesting is the dial text. At the 12 is the brand name in caligraphic Chinese script which makes a nice departure from the usual latin script and at the bottom is, quite proudly displayed, "Made in China", also in Chinese.

This is very clearly a Chinese watch made for the Chinese market and is therefore far more interesting to look at than something made for the tastes of others in mind.

The hands are similarly nicely finished, polished on one side, satinised on the other, in a way that both catches glints of lights and helps readability at different angles. The case has a mix of brushed and polished surfaces as well. The crown is even signed, which is a touch that some other brands don't bother with even at much higher prices *cough* seiko *cough*

The movement powering this watch is what Merkur calls the Fanzhi M01D and what the rest of us call the Chinese Standard Movement, or Tongji movement. Development of the movement was started in 1969 in order to provide a single unified movement design for the whole Chinese watch industry with the intention that it would result in accurate and reliable watches that would be available and affordable to all workers in China. As my knowledge of 1970's China is limited I can't say if the availability and affordability worked out but the accuracy and reliability certainly did with average daily rates of under ±30 seconds a day.

Overall, you're getting a hell of a watch for not much money at all. Even comes in a travel case.