I really do appreciate this story, what an honor to get such an insight! I invite you to read this watch-insider.com exclusive interview and to see the pictures.
Thank you Logan, it´s wonderful to read your stories coming from China. After being more then 20 years in the watch-industry I have to tell you that I personally never had the chance to meet an independent Chinese watchmaker.
Your interview is a real highlight for my blog!
Logan, please send us more such insights and please let us participate in the future projects of Mr. Zehua Tan.
This is what Logan wrote me:
“Alexander, yesterday I interviewed Zehua Tan, a Chinese independent watchmaker. He is not the most famous watchmaker in China, yet having a prestige among the Chinese watchmaking circle.
In his 20s, he was an apprentice of a small watch restoration store. At that period, he accumulated uncountable experience and knowledge of the watch movement and delicate tools using. Even today, he is still restoring some vintage watches and complicated pocket watches for fun.
20 years after his apprentice life, he moved to a lathe factory. At the beginning, he was only a lathe designer but in the later years of this period, he was the head of the R&D department of the lathe factory. This experience is a key of his watchmaking life and plays a very important role. The successful career gave him wealth and indispensable skills of watchmaking.
In his 60s, today, he is an independent watchmaker.
Let me now share this interview with you” … End quote
My Chinese contributor Logan interviewing the independent watchmaker Zehua Tan.
TZH: Zehua Tan
LG: Good afternoon, Mr.Tan. Nice to see you again.
TZH: Good afternoon. If my memory is correct, last time I showed you my latest piece, which is a basic movement with 8 days power reserve. Truthfully, I didn’t finish it yet, there are many details needing to be changed, you know. I’m doing things without any drawing. I always change my mind during the process of operating lathes because new ideas come.
LG: Oh, that’s more like many independent watchmakers in Switzerland. Is that a characteristic of independent watchmakers? Because you don’t use any CNC lathe and no computer is required.
TZH: Sort of. But the main reason perhaps is that we are free to do anything we like! All the content is in our brain and we can use whatever process we want and just show the content in the watch eventually.
LG: I see. We just mentioned watchmakers in Switzerland. How about telling me your favorite one.
TZH: I don’t admire any other watchmaker. You know, the reason why Swiss watchmakers always make more beautiful movement than the Chinese is that their great grandfather is a watchmaker but my great grandfather is a farmer. We have no air of watchmaking in Asia. I don’t know how to decorate a movement at the beginning and the complication is that no one in China can tell me the secret of ‘cotes de Geneve’ for instance. I made the tools first then I made parts. Objectively speaking, my way to approaching watchmaking is far tougher than the people in Europe are. Still, I want to be Philippe Dufour in China. I admit that no human language can describe the ascetically beautiful finish of his movement.
LG: You want to do a grande et petite sonnerie as your very beginning masterpiece to show your ability of making complications as him?
TZH: Absolutely not. You know, I was just an apprentice of watch repairing and a designer of lathe, I understand how a sonnerie works but I can’t design one myself. To me, making a watch movement by imitating the design in history is nothing. Thus, I think that the decoration is the foremost part of independent watchmaking, if not, at least more important than the design. Decoration is the soul of today’s independent watchmaking.
I’m working on a basic movement with 2 main spring barrels. That offer 8 days power for the escapement. I also made a cylinder hairspring. I made every plate by argentan because I don’t know how to electroplate small things like that and no individual in China can help me. Argentan is an amazing material that never is oxidized and it has a good machinability.
LG: Yes, many pocket watch movement used similar materials and even today, A. Lange & Soehne uses a similar material to make plates to salute the tradition of German watchmaking.
TZH: Yes, the hum of argentan is captivated after decoration and the most important thing is that argentan can keep that beauty for a long time.
LG: That’s right. Ok, could you tell me why you became a watchmaker, what reason drove you to set up an atelier?
TZH: Well, the reason of being an independent watchmaker is the enthusiasm towards watches. And if you ask me why you love watches, I don’t know how to specifically answer that. Perhaps people don’t know the exact reason of their hobbies. I am just mesmerized by those beautiful watches.
But I know the reason why I set up an atelier deeply. You know, when I was informed that the most globally famous watchmakers of China is Taiyu Kiu from Hong Kong and Xushu Ma from Beijing, I thought that their pieces are not in the top level of the world and I thought I can be better. When only 2 Chinese watchmakers stand in the international platform, they represent the level of Chinese watchmaking! If I could do better, there’s no reason to stroll at home. Therefore, I set up my atelier and stop almost all restoration work, started watchmaking. As you have seen, I’m approaching my aim.
LG: Wow, if I didn’t misunderstand your words, you mean you want to be the best maker in China!
TZH: Why not?
LG: You are so confident. But could you explain from what perspective you can be better than the current Chinese watchmakers?
TZH: Taiyu Kiu is pervious generation, it´s not good to comment him. But as Xushu Ma, he just became the candidate of AHCI. He has a good ability of movement design. His last piece is a cylinder-like vertically rotating tourbillion. That’s creative to some extent. But the shortage is decoration. His movements have no decoration and he doesn’t have a basic movement, you know, three hands movement. However, the difference between good movement and bad movement is not design. It is mainly the decoration.
LG: Mr. Ma’s movements do not have decoration.
TZH: It is not a good idea to point out the drawback of peers, but honestly, his movements are not well finished.
LG: Ok. Mr. Ma applied AHCI last year. Will you make this application, to show yourself in an international stage?
TZH: First, my piece has not been completed yet. Second, I don’t understand English at all. When my piece is done, you could help me to launch it in the international stage if you wish. You know, prestige is very important to an independent watchmaker. Philippe Dufour could not sell a grand complication movement when no one knows his name. But today he is famous, even his ‘simplicity’ can reach a commercial success.
LG: And the commercial value is an important index of the success of an independent watchmaker!
TZH: That’s right.
LG: Ok, thank you for your time. Looking forward to your new movement!
… End quote
The following pictures taken by Logan show the world of Mr. Zehua Tan; his workshop, his new movement project and some watches he is or was restoring.
His new movement project…
His restoration work…
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