It is time for us to start adjusting our perception of Chinese watchmaking. It is no longer ‘just’ about cheap labour and (mildly put) unoriginal designs. Instead, some watchmakers are shifting into intriguingly original mechanical creations and occasionally Haute Horlogerie levels of watchmaking. One such brand hard at work to change the perception of the Chinese watch industry is CIGA Design, a young company with quite a track record. The name popped up for the first time last year when the Blue Planet was pre-selected for the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève Challenge Award (which it ended up winning!). Now, a year later, we’ve finally had a chance to enjoy a hands-on with the fascinating CIGA Design U-Series Blue Planet in titanium and determine if it is any good.
CIGA Design is not a traditional watchmaking company but more a design studio that happens to create and sell watches. The company was founded in 2016 by Zhang Jianmin and is located in Shenzhen, China. Mr Zhang Jianmin is not a watchmaker but an industrial designer by trade and education. Prior to his watchmaking adventures, he worked as a graphic designer of guidance systems in public areas (airports, train stations, public roads etc.). Under the name of CIGA Design, Zhang Jianmin works with a team of eight international designers to create very original watches, with the Blue Planet being the stand-out creation to date. In just a few short years, CIGA Design has won multiple highly praised international design awards, including the Red Dot Design Award and, of course, the GPHG Challenge Award in 2021.
GPHG Challenge Award
Every year the watchmaking industry elects the best watches during the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève. Each brand is able to enter one or several categories with one or several watches, and the winner in each category (Innovation, Audacity, Horological Revelation, Special Jury Prize or the coveted Aiguille d’Or for “best in show”) is voted by the people and a jury of specialists. In 2021, CIGA Design entered the Blue Planet in the Challenge category created for watches retailing below EUR 3,500.
The competitors in the Challenge category consisted of watches from AnOrdain, Doxa, Furlan Marri, Massena Lab and Oris. The fact that CIGA Design won the Challenge award marks the first time a Chinese watch company has received an award for a mechanical watch, a sign that things might be changing with regard to the perception of Chinese watchmaking.
A smooth titanium pebble
If we start with the exterior of the watch, the CIGA Design Blue Planet looks and feels perfectly round, like a pebble. Although it’s something very common in the industry as it immediately reminds us of Ikepod, it matches the overall theme of the watch perfectly. Our review watch came with a titanium case, which measures 46mm in diameter and tops out at 15mm in height due to the domed sapphire crystal. The crown has a nice profile and feels very sturdy, although it can be a bit fiddly to extract. You need to get your fingernail underneath it to pull it out; a minor detail, which did not bother me but one to mention nonetheless. The whole case is a solid structure, with a recess at either end for the strap to tuck in beneath the “bezel”, and a screwed caseback with a second sapphire crystal. This crystal is inscribed with the GHPG logo and the category in which the watch won first prize.
From the get-go, it’s obvious this entire watch is about one thing: the unconventional display of time. We’ve seen similar types of rotating globes before, but this is perhaps the first time it has been done in this manner. The central section of the dial is a domed aluminium structure with a representation of the continents in relief surrounding the Indian ocean. You see parts of Asia, Africa and Australia, Antarctica and even some parts of Europe. This whole section rotates as time progresses. Surrounding the globe is a rotating ring for the minutes and a fixed ring for the hours. The minute ring does not rotate once every hour but actually rotates 390 degrees every 60 minutes to line up with the advancing hour indicator. As such, time is read in one location only, with the compass rose to indicate the hours and minutes. As an example, the close-up below shows you it’s 07:17 / 19:17 o’clock.
CIGA Design Mechanics
According to CIGA Design, the Blue Planet comes with a brand new movement. Although it looks very similar in design to an ETA 2824 or Sellita SW 200-1, the automatic movement in the Blue Planet has some particularities. First and foremost, the gearing for the hands! As mentioned, when the hour hand rotates by 30 degrees (or one hour, basically), the minute ring rotates 390 degrees. This lines up the hour and minute hand at any given time of day, something not found in conventional two or three-handed watches.
The technical specs are as follows: the movement beats at a frequency of 28,800vph and uses 30 jewels; the power reserve, once fully wound, is 40 hours; and the precision is rated at -15 / +30 seconds of deviation per day. And before you start screaming about that or possibly go on about how a mechanical movement should run within COSC specifications, this isn’t built as the world’s most precise watch, and that is perfectly fine. Yes, it could do with a bit more regulation, but in all honesty, I don’t feel it lets down the Blue Planet one bit.
The CIGA Design U-Series Blue Planet Titanium is worn on a very soft and supple blue Fluorine rubber strap with a signed pin buckle. When handling and wearing the watch, the level of comfort is surprising, and even on warmer days, the Blue Planet never felt uncomfortable or sticky. The strap tucks in underneath the pebble case and can easily be exchanged thanks to quick-release pin bars.
Price-wise, the CIGA Design Blue Planet Titanium feels like a steal, as it retails for USD 1,099 without taxes (and even as little as USD 899 in stainless steel). For that, you get a seriously cool, unconventional and award-winning watch that will very likely attract quite a bit of attention from others! The one thing that could make it better is the application of luminous material on the hour and minute rings and perhaps on the rotating planet.
For more information, please visit CIGADesign.com.
Sponsored post: This article is sponsored by CIGA Design. However, it reflects the writer’s opinion and has been written according to MONOCHROME’s editorial policy.