Time's Artisan: The Journey of Qian Guobiao, China’s Visionary Watchmaker

Time's Artisan: The Journey of Qian Guobiao, China’s Visionary Watchmaker

Nestled within the bustling streets of Dongguan, Guangdong, lies a modest workshop where a man dedicates his time to the art of watchmaking. This man is Qian Guobiao, known affectionately in the watchmaking circles as "A.Biao." His journey from a curious child dismantling radios to a revered independent watchmaker is a tale of passion, precision, and perseverance. At the age of 44, often playfully referred to as being "young," Qian already boasts a resume that spans decades in the realm of watchmaking.


Qian Guo Biao

            Qian Guobiao, born in 1975, showed an early inclination towards mechanics, a trait no doubt influenced by his upbringing in Ninghai county, Zhejiang province, known as the "home of molds" in China. This environment nurtured his penchant for disassembling any mechanical object within reach, including his father's treasured Shanghai brand wristwatch. During the 60s and 70s, wristwatches were among the "three basic household items," symbolizing both status and style. Qian fondly recalls being chased through alleys by his parents, a consequence of his relentless curiosity. Despite the scoldings, these formative experiences laid a robust foundation for his eventual journey into the world of horology.


After graduating from middle school, in 1991, he embarked on his professional journey into the world of mechanics by becoming an apprentice at a mold-making company in Ninghai, a town renowned for its manufacturing prowess. His enthusiasm for machinery swiftly translated into expertise, evolving him into a skilled precision mechanical engineer. In 1996, driven by a quest for broader horizons, Qian relocated to Guangdong, a move that significantly deepened his engagement with the realm of luxury watches. While his role as a precision mechanic served as an essential career milestone, his true passion lay in the intricate artistry of watchmaking. This fascination was further fueled by the similarity in tools used for mold-making and watch repair, enabling him to frequently indulge in his hobby of dismantling and repairing watches. He became known for generously offering his watch repair skills to colleagues and friends, often free of charge, a testament to his deep-seated love for the craft. At this period, his passion for dismantling watches remained undiminished. He carefully accumulated his earnings over several months, ultimately investing in an Omega watch, which he acquired specifically to study and explore its intricate mechanics.


In 2005, Qian Guobiao resigned and devoted himself full-time to watch repairs. In 2009, he published many papers in well-known industry magazines in China like “TRENDSTIME”and “TIME”, and posted many technical posts on forums, attracting many fans. Many netizens also sent their faulty watches to him for repair, and some even came to Dongguan to learn from him. Since then, Qian Guobiao has become famous in the domestic watch industry. In 2015, Qian Guobiao skipped the junior and intermediate examinations that are held every three years and directly passed the National Senior Watch Repair Technician Examination, which is a proof of his extraordinary watchmaking skills.


Typically, complex technical repairs for watches necessitate sending them back to their Swiss manufacturers, a process that can be lengthy, taking anywhere from three months to a year, not to mention the substantial maintenance costs involved. However, under Qian Guobiao's skilled hands, these repairs can be completed in a matter of days to a month, and at a more reasonable price. Prolonged exposure to high-end watches has deepened Qian's fascination with them. He views watches as the artistry of time, where within the confines of a small timepiece, one can observe each part functioning with precision, appreciate the harmonious blend of exquisite craftsmanship and unique design, and understand the meticulous watchmaking technology and spirit.


Qian notes that complex features like the starry sky, perpetual calendar, tourbillon, and minute repeater represent the pinnacle of watchmaking technology. Many of the watches he repairs encompass these intricate functions. The construction of these timepieces is both precise and compact. They require careful handling in daily wear to avoid impacts that could damage the movement components and affect timekeeping accuracy. In extreme cases, the balance shaft might break, and considering that the shaft's diameter is typically only 0.06 to 0.08 mm — roughly the thickness of an adult human hair — the complexity of repair becomes evident.


Therefore, to thoroughly grasp these sophisticated mechanisms, Qian has not only engaged in practical research but also sought out relevant English literature, studying with the aid of dictionaries and translation tools. As a result, an increasing number of watches with "complex and challenging issues" find renewed life through his expertise. Among the timepieces he has restored, the most valuable was priced at RMB$ 17.6 million, showcasing the high level of trust and skill placed in his watchmaking abilities.


Since 2008, amidst a schedule densely packed with watch repair appointments, Qian Guobiao manages to craft only one or two timepieces each year during his limited spare time. His extensive experience, shaped by countless days and nights immersed in the intricacies of watch repair, has honed his familiarity and expertise with these mechanical marvels. To date, he has meticulously created a total of seven or eight unique watches, each a testament to his deep understanding and passion for the art of watchmaking.


The pursuit of pure, unblemished craftsmanship, striving for perfection, is undeniably the signature of luxury timepieces. The epitome of this artistry is most vividly seen in the polishing process. In his craft, Qian Guobiao embodies this quest for excellence. Attaining a flawless finish and a perfect luster on each watch is a task of immense patience and skill. Each detail, from every fine line to each screw, and the chamfers, demands meticulous handwork. Even the creation of a single watch hand is a delicate endeavor, requiring three days of dedicated craftsmanship. This level of attention to detail is what sets Qian Guobiao apart in the realm of high-end independant watchmaking.


Introducing some timepieces crafted by Qian Guobiao, a standout is his AB-01 Double balance wheel, a project that spanned over four months of dedicated work in 2012. This watch features an upper balance wheel, distinguished by its strong design aesthetic. At the time of its creation, such a design was exceptionally rare and highly sought after. "The design process is the most challenging aspect of creating a watch," Qian Guobiao remarked. He explained that designing often involves prolonged contemplation over complex problems. So much so, that on occasions when a solution or a creative idea strikes him in the dead of night, he swiftly rises to jot down notes and sketch diagrams. This dedication to design detail underscores the uniqueness and innovation of his creations.

Following the unique creations previously mentioned, another remarkable timepiece in Qian Guobiao's collection is AB-02, a small second wristwatch featuring a classic black dial. This watch exudes a vintage charm, embodying a sense of antiquity in its design and construction. It boasts a traditional 3/4 bridge and is equipped with a free-sprung lotus balance, a sophisticated mechanism that fine-tunes the balance wheel with precision screws. Adding to its elegance is a rhombus-shaped balance cock and a feather crown anti-reverse ratchet, all meticulously crafted. The watch is further enhanced by its matte polishing, lending it a refined, understated allure. Each aspect of this watch's design reflects Qian's commitment to blending time-honored watchmaking techniques with his unique artistic vision.






Concluding his recent series of remarkable creations, Qian Guobiao introduced the AB-03 “Facing the Sky” This unique timepiece drew its inspiration from Qian’s bird's-eye view of the cityscape through his window. Struck by the parallel between the city’s orderly structure and the logical operation of a watch movement, Qian envisioned a watch that would encapsulate this synergy. To bring this concept to life, he embarked on designing an entirely new movement. His goal was to transform the traditional flat arrangement of watch movement parts into a more three-dimensional structure, reminiscent of a city’s skyline – with its rows of buildings, seemingly chaotic yet orderly, intricate, and rhythmic.


The back of the movement stands in stark contrast to the innovative layout of the dial, preserving the delicate and elegant aesthetics of traditional movements while simultaneously reflecting the stringent laws and order underlying a city’s operations. Holding this watch, one can gaze upon it from the front or the side and experience a sensation akin to viewing a city through a drone’s camera – a perspective that offers a comprehensive and fascinating overview. “Luminance of the Metropolis” is more than a timepiece; it’s a celebration of urban beauty and mechanical artistry, providing endless delight to its beholder.


Many of Qian Guobiao's friends who operate watch shops frequently request to showcase his creations as centerpieces in their stores. This gesture is a testament to the esteem and admiration his work commands in the industry. As of now, his exquisite timepieces are not for sale, making them even more sought-after and valued as exclusive and unparalleled treasures in the world of horology.

Qian Guobiao's passion for watchmaking extends far beyond his personal creations; he is deeply invested in nurturing the next generation of horologists and preserving the culture and values of this timeless craft.


His home has transformed into a hub for young watch enthusiasts from all corners of China, as distant as the Northeast and as close as the neighboring regions. These individuals, often members of the 'Watch Home' online community or referred by friends, come to learn the art of watchmaking under Qian's guidance. "With so many watches being sent from across the country, I realized I couldn't possibly repair them all on my own. So, why not invite these enthusiasts to join me?" Qian remarked. His concern isn't that training apprentices might leave him without work; rather, he worries about the scarcity of high-level talents in the country and the resultant dependency on sending watches to Switzerland for repairs.


Qian's commitment to his apprentices is profound – he not only waives tuition fees but also offers wages. "As long as someone has a genuine interest in watches and clocks and is willing to dedicate time to learning, they're welcome here. A background in mechanical molds is a bonus, helping them stick with the training," he explained. Over the years, Qian has welcomed many aspirants into his fold; while some stay only for a few months, others come to acquire skills for their own watch shops.

"We are all brought together by fate, and it's not easy to continue this collaboration," Qian reflects. He values his team immensely – a group that not only helps maintain and create new timepieces but also collaborates on significant projects.



Today, Qian's team has grown to over a dozen members. This unassuming private residence in Xiaqiao Xinyuan, Dongcheng, without any external signage, has become a quiet powerhouse in the watchmaking world, repairing approximately three to four hundred high-end watches every month. This achievement is a testament to Qian's vision of fostering a community of skilled watchmakers, dedicated to preserving the art and craft of horology.

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