The CIGA Design Full Hollow is a watch made in China, a collaboration between smartphone giant Xiaomi and Zhang Jianming’s CIGA Design studio. It has a sleek, contemporary look that propels it into a different league when compared with most other mechanical skeleton watches costing less than €200. It won the 2017 RedDot design award, and the 2019 German Design Award. Many new micro-brands use the expression “democratic watchmaking”, in the sense of good watches at affordable prices, but to be honest, good design in cheap watches is very rare. CIGA Design is a glowing example of the best affordable watchmaking. I have already written about this CIGA Design watch in a hands-on review, and to find out more we spoke to Mike from CIGA Design UK. All photos courtesy of CIGA Design.
How did the collaboration between CIGA Design and Xiaomi begin? Was it based on a request by Xiaomi to CIGA Design, or did the initial impetus come from CIGA Design?
“The cooperation between CIGA Design and Xiaomi began on the Xiaomi-owned Youpin boutique e-commerce platform. When the platform was launched, CIGA Design’s ‘Full Hollow’ Series was the first crowdfunding campaign on the platform for a mechanical watch. Selling out all 6,000 units within the first 14 hours, CIGA Design grasped the highest Crowdfunding record for mechanical watches on Youpin.
“In light of this, CIGA Design attracted the attention of Xiaomi, who also expressed its intention of investment. The second watch from CIGA Design, the MY (Michael Young) series, won the iF Gold award and sold all 10,000 units on Youpin. The investment agreement was signed, and the funds were received within a week after the crowdfunding ended.
“To summarise, the primary motivation for Xiaomi’s investment is the excellent design of CIGA Design, and secondary motivation is the knowledge that CIGA Design products sell well.”
In this Xiaomi CIGA watch, is Xiaomi’s role in the operation mainly concerned with distribution?
“Not exactly. Xiaomi does not intend to interfere with CIGA Design sales or company operation. For CIGA Design, Xiaomi is both an investor and a provider of the Youpin platform. Xiaomi’s entry has laid a good foundation for CIGA Design to expand the market comprehensively. The Xiaomi platform has exploded the market, and other major channels now undertake sales, including JD, T-mall, overseas, and of course, the UK.”
The Seagull ST1646K-AAA calibre looks very modern. Was CIGA Design involved in developing the calibre?
“Yes, CIGA Design has established strategically deep cooperation with Seagull. Every quarter, CIGA Design and Seagull hold a seminar on designing and structure development for greater innovation.”
Is the Seagull ST1646K-AAA calibre based on a previous Seagull calibre?
“This movement is one of the core Seagull movements. CIGA Design has improved and upgraded this movement based on the original. CIGA Design grasped the core value of mechanical watches in the intelligent era, which is to show the mechanical charm to the greatest extent. Most men are curious and fascinated by precision machinery, so CIGA Design has demonstrated the charm of the machine to the greatest extent through a completely hollow-out (skeletonized) innovative prototype design.”
The CIGA Design Full Hollow is very user-friendly, with strap spring-bars that the user can change without the use of tools. But in the presentation package you provide a tool used for changing straps that have conventional spring bars. Did you change the strap specification at a late stage in design, when the presentation box had already been produced?
“The spring-bar tool is included as an option for attaching third party straps and is included as a convenience. As not all straps are quick-release, and in line with wanting to make our watches accessible to as many people as possible, it was felt that including this tool would enable the wearer to freely experiment with different straps.”
Was the concept of accessibility, making a design watch available to a large section of the public, important in the development of the CIGA Design Full Hollow?
“In Swiss watches, the price of hollow (skeleton) watches is much more expensive than that of watches with concealed movements. CIGA Design adheres to an affirmative design concept, which is to let more people enjoy better products. This concept runs through CIGA Design’s entire product research and development process.”
The screws on the case back seem to suggest that the watch can be opened by a watchmaker for routine maintenance. Is this correct?
“This is correct. Mechanical watches are precision mechanical products. The small case contains 97 parts, so mechanical watches need professional maintenance. Normally, maintenance is performed once every 1-2 years, and these screws will open up the case back for easy access to the movement.”
Should it be necessary, do you provide after-sales service for the watch? If so, are the service centres delocalized, for example in Europe and the USA as well as in China?
“We offer 24 months mechanical warranty on all our watches which is currently arranged through our UK site (cigadesign.co.uk) for European purchases. In the rare instance of a problem occurring, watches can be returned to us and replaced like for like to ensure that all of our customers have a fully working watch. After the 24-month warranty has expired, our watches can be taken to any qualified watchmaker for general maintenance and repair.”
On which market has the CIGA Design Full Hollow been most successful?
“CIGA Design currently generates 90% of its sales from China. From 2019, CIGA Design has gradually entered the overseas market and has signed agents in Indonesia, Russia, the United Kingdom, Malaysia, Switzerland and other countries. Sales growth is relatively fast, especially in December 2019, when crowdfunding for the Z Series Titanium Edition was 100% funded in less than 40 minutes and 600% funded in less than 24 hours! Up to now, the amount of crowdfunding is $700,000, and crowdfunding is still in progress.”
Does the CIGA part of your brand name mean anything?
“CIGA has no special meaning. It is the English abbreviation of the parent company–XIJIA XIJIA（玺) meaning ‘wonderful‘ in Chinese, which also represents a good vision for the company.”
The founder of CIGA Design, Zhang Jianming, has worked in many areas of design. Has he designed for any other watch brands?
“Mr Zhang Jianming is both the founder and chief designer of CIGA Design. He is currently focusing on the design of CIGA Design’s series of products and may cooperate with well-known watches in the future for joint design.”
How did Mr Zhang Jianming develop an interest for watches?
“Before commencing watch design, Mr Zhang Jianmin was a cross-border designer, engaged in graphic design, guides, and architectural design. He also served the Beijing Olympics and the Shenzhen University Games. During his career, he was invited to be a judge for the Shenzhen Watch & Clock Fair for five consecutive years. When he was a judge, he felt that the industry lacked originality, and the previous brand designs were too old-fashioned. So he decided to make an original design mechanical watch brand, which is why CIGA Design was born.”
You took part in the 2019 GPHG Watch Awards with the CIGA Design Single-Hand Mechanical Wristwatch Series Globe. Do you consider GPHG as a useful showcase for watch brands?
“GPHG is known as the Oscars of the watch industry. Many world-famous watch brands participate every year. It is an annual event in the watch industry. Every year, the world’s most innovative watch products are selected from around the world. CIGA Design was shortlisted to achieve a breakthrough in Chinese watch brands. It is also a recognition of the strength of CIGA Design, which can effectively improve CIGA Design’s influence and visibility in the watch industry.”
Thank you Mike! It’s worth keeping an eye on the CIGA Design website. Latest products include the Z-Series skeleton watches with their Richard Mille looks and tonneau case, and the quirky Aircraft Carrier in which the brand has at last added SuperLumiNova!