hang Jianming, founder of CIGA Design, had a long career in industrial design before turning to watchmaking. He specialised in urban design, creating displays on China’s public transport networks. He spent more than twenty years in the industry, earning considerable recognition for his work.
In 2012, purely by chance, he was invited to sit on a jury at the Shenzhen watch fair. He came to see the watch as the ideal canvas for expressing his “own ideas, after 24 years working for other companies.” Shenzhen’s industrial ecosystem was conducive to realising his watchmaking project, which he wanted to be highly original – “pure, refined, different” – in a segment heavily marked by imitation.
- Series U Blue Planet
It’s all in the name: CIGA, the brand he launched in 2016, stands for China International Great Art. It turns established conventions of time display on their head. The creator’s approach begins with a reappropriation of the role of the hands, whose design has remained unchanged for centuries. “Each hand has two ends, so why not use both?” says Zhang Jianming, whom we met at the HKTDC watch fair in Hong Kong. “And conversely, why not use just one hand, instead of the two or three hands we see on traditional watches?”
The “non-synchronisation technique” developed and patented by CIGA Design relies on a special gear ratio to create a new watch movement with a time indication at both ends of a single hand. As the brand explained at the presentation of its Planet 001 model in 2014, “the thin end indicates the minute and the other indicates the hour.”
- Blue Planet Gilding Version
On the iconic Blue Planet model ($1,200), which was awarded a prize at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève in 2021 – a first for a Chinese brand – with its dial showing planet Earth under a large crystal dome, when the hour hand rotates 30°, the minute hand rotates 360°. This modification to the transmission ratio of the traditional movement enables the watch to indicate the hour and minute with a single hand and two rotating discs.
“The origin of the way we tell time comes from astronomy and calculations of the Earth’s rotation. This model is a symbolic representation of this concept,” Zhang Jianming points out. The designer’s mission is to break away from watchmaking classicism in order to offer ultra-contemporary models with a strong message at a very affordable price.
- Collaboration with Michael Young
He has a specific credo for appealing to new generations: “Reading the time on a mobile phone or a watch should be a different experience. For that reason, I don’t want telling time to be an easy experience with my creations. I want the time to be understood only by the person wearing the watch.” Zhang Jianming has also transformed the luminescence of his models from a utilitarian function to an aesthetic one.
- Series Z Edge
As he explains: “After centuries of evolution, Swiss watches have become rare and expensive. Here in China, our supply chain does not allow us to compete on the same level. But we can produce fashion accessories that don’t overshadow exclusive Swiss watchmaking, by taking advantage of the benefits we have here: lower costs and high production efficiency.”
- Series U Black Hole
With some 200,000 watches produced every year, CIGA Design is making the most of an ecosystem based on volume manufacturing, but giving its creations a more original twist. As an industrial designer used to building on a large scale, Zhang Jianming refers to the principles of the Bauhaus school, in particular the idea of “creating good products for the greatest number, not just for a fraction of the population”.
- Series U Ice Age
Most of CIGA Design’s models are equipped with modified Chinese Seagull movements, although some come with Japanese Miyota calibres. CIGA Design even offers a central tourbillon based on a Peacock movement, on the Mount Everest Homage Edition, priced at $3,000.
Working with a network of international designers, the brand has no intention of confining itself to the domestic market, which currently accounts for the vast majority of its sales. CIGA Design’s recently boosted global visibility will no doubt help it conquer new markets in North America and Europe, as will the international design awards – RedDot, IF Design, German Design Award – it has been accumulating for several years, projecting a different image of Chinese watchmaking.
- Series C Skeleton