by Youfang (游方)
In 1957, The Hamilton Watch Co of Lancaster
in America produced the world's first electronic watch. Instead
of mainspring, a battery was used to power mechanical system.
In 1960, Bulova invented a U-shaped piece of nickel alloy
with a vibration frequency much higher than the traditional
fly wheel thus offers a better accuracy than conventional
mechanical watches, which is considered as the second generation
electronic watches. In 1967, Swiss Centre Electronique Horloger
produced the first of third generation electronic watches
- quartz watches. In 1972, the first of fourth generation
of electronic watches with a digital display was produced
China’s development of electronic watches began
in the mid to late 1960s. According to The Chronicle
History of Shanghai Light Industry, Shanghai clock and
watch industry has produced all four generations of electronic
watches, from coil balance wheel system, turning fork device,
quarts movement to digital display.
In 1967 at the height of the Cultural Revolution,
a small plant called Shanghai Metal Watch Bands Factory,
that only had a few very basic and simple mechanical equipments
in its workshop, amazingly produced the first balance-wheel
electronic watch in China. A year later the production line
was transferred to Shanghai Ballpoint Pen Plant which was
at the time working on developing button mercury battery
for electronic watches. Mr Ye Gonqi was appointed as the
principal engineer for the pilot project, and the endeavour
soon yielded positive results.
In March 1974, a meeting to assess the pilot
project was hosted by Shanghai Light Industry Bureau with
the authorisation of the Light Industry Ministry of China,
evaluating the design for model SD2 coil balance wheel electronic
watches. The meeting took 6 days from March 25 to 30 and
was attended by 107 people from 44 relevant plants and related
organisations nationwide, among which 24 were technical workers
and machine operators from factories.
After a careful examination, the meeting determined
that the model has a sound design structure to ensure a good
accuracy and low power consumption, thus a decision to launch
pilot production run was reached. Shanghai Ballpoint Pen
Plant was required to prepare for mass production as soon
as the trial was complete.
The meeting also coordinated research project
on button cell battery for watches which helped to bring
notable progress in increasing battery capacity and suppressing
Before long, China’s first balance wheel electronic
watch (model SD2) was successfully produced by a special
task force at Shanghai Ballpoint Pen Plant which was consisted
of not just researches, engineers but technical workers.
It is a turning point for China’s watch manufactory marked
by a shift from the era of mechanical timepiece to the age
of electronic watches.
The test run for this model had continued for
quite a few years. In the meanwhile, in 1972, Wuxi Clock
Watch Plant in Jiangsu Province set for trial assembly of
17-jewel balance wheel electronic watches with components
provided by Shanghai Ballpoint Pen Plant. The product is
named “Red Star” but never proceed to commercial production
stage due to the lack of special equipments to allow large
The watches produced in Shanghai named “Facing
the Sun” eventually put into commercial production. The precise
date when the products hit the market could not be specified
now, but judging by its name that bears a distinctive trait
of the Cultural Revolution, it should be no late than 1976,
the year when the Revolution was officially ended.
  
Admin: The article has also
been published on Beijing Collectors magazine (2009-1)
and Clocks & Watches magazine (2009-2).
    
Sheriff of USA in China