Wednesday, January 24, 2024

The Grand Master of Peacock Watches: Wu Zhirong


Wu Zhirong(武志荣), 67, retired from his position in mold manufacturing and processing at Liaoning Peacock Watch Industry Co., Ltd. 5 years ago. After being re-employed, Wu became the factory director of Liaoning Peacock Watch Tool Factory, and he said the responsibility is even heavier now.

Liaoning Dandong Peacock Watch Industry, where Wu Zhirong works, originated from Liaoning Peacock Watch Factory established in 1957. As one of the three major watch production bases in China, Liaoning Peacock Watch is a modern light industry enterprise specializing in watch R&D and manufacturing.

Since starting at the factory in 1978, Wu has witnessed the ups and downs of China's watch industry and the journey towards today's high-quality development. In the past 40 years, he has been dedicated to one thing: making better molds to help Chinese watch brands rise. He said every minute and second at work, he could hear the "sound" of "time" passing.

In 1975 at the age of 18, Wu Zhirong was sent to Yongdian Village in Kuaidian County, Dandong City as an educated youth. "The local people were extremely poor, with no electricity and not enough food." In 1978, Wu returned to the city and entered Liaoning Peacock Watch Factory, becoming a mold worker producing watch parts. "For me, this was an entirely new beginning."

Returning to the city, entering the factory, and becoming a technical worker were the dreams of many young people at that time. However, it was by no means easy to become a skilled worker with solid technical expertise. "The most important thing in making molds for watch parts is meticulous attention to detail. The tolerance is measured in micrometers, with one micrometer equal to one hundredth of a human hair." To meet his master's requirements, Wu would often stand at the process bench for three to four hours. Many people gave up due to the pressure. "I cherished the opportunity especially and did not dare to be negligent in the slightest."

Wu Zhirong武志荣

After half a year, Wu's master said he had the qualities rarely seen in a "mold maker". With his own efforts, Wu became the team leader managing 20 workers one year later, leading his workshop to be the "pillar" in the watch factory's mold department.

In 1978, the reform and opening up brought spring breeze across China. By the mid-1980s, the "Peacock" brand had become one of the "three major items" (watches, bicycles, sewing machines) most important to people's livelihoods across Northeast China and even the whole country. At this time, Liaoning Peacock Watch Industry, together with Shanghai and Tianjin's precision machinery enterprises, formed the three pillars of China's watch industry.

In 1990, Wu followed his master to travel to Longines Watch Company in Switzerland to learn advanced mold manufacturing technologies. "This is where I saw the gap between famous Chinese and international watch companies. But it strengthened my confidence that we could also make molds at their level." The trip to Switzerland not only broadened Wu's horizons but also clarified his future goals.

In the mid-1990s, the booming market economy was impacting the decades-long planned economy. In 1996, Peacock Watch Industry moved into semi-shutdown. "Most of the workers left, having to face the pressures of making a living. I didn't want to see the watch factory collapse," Wu said. Nearly 20 years of work made him reluctant to let go of the feelings in his heart. "Although the business was struggling, I persisted until 1998 when I had no choice but to leave to support my children's education."

Right after Wu's departure in 2000 came the watch company's restructuring. "Moving towards the new century, it felt like a completely new beginning. So I returned," Wu said. The two years away seemed very long for him.

Wu was excited and determined to come back, while also clearly feeling the pressure brought by the technological revolution. "This was by no means just going back to the old practices. In the past we produced according to state plans, but now our products need to cater to market demand - everything has changed," Wu said. At that time, the first product he developed was a popular sports watch on the market.

"Since we hadn't produced this kind of product before, we had to start the manufacturing process for the watch parts molds from scratch." In order to research the 8205 extra-thin watch movement mold, Wu led a 6-person team, poring over materials day after day at the process bench. Finally they researched out the movement mold for the product in one week, causing sensational "breaking news" in Liaoning Peacock Watch and the entire domestic watch industry.

From 2000 until today, Liaoning Peacock Watch has evolved from sports watches to tourbillon and dual-tourbillon watches, now having researched and produced seven major series with over one hundred varieties. Economic benefits continue rising, while behind each watch contains Wu Zhirong's painstaking efforts and sweat. "When your work gains recognition from the industry and more people, you feel gratified and joyful inside," Wu said. The reason he could hear the “sound” of “time” passing every minute and second is it constantly reminds him, “There are still more technical challenges, don’t waste time, don’t waste yourself.”

After over 40 years not wasting time and dedicating himself to one thing, in 2018 Wu Zhirong was selected in the first “Craftsmen of the Great Watch Power” award held by China Light Industry Council and China Textile and Apparel Council, a well-deserved honor.

Wu Zhirong武志荣
How many chances are there in life to strive for one's dream? "My daughter and wife persuade me to rest at home at this age, but when I think the company still needs me to lead the younger generation, I want to work a few more years. Our generation's dream is for Chinese watch brands to become world famous. If I try a little harder, the dream would be a little closer," Wu said. His reason for persisting in his work is simple - to contribute the last of his energy towards Chinese watches going international.

"How many chances are there in life to strive for one's dream? If not now, then when?" The words of famous Chinese ping pong player Rong Guotuan have always been Wu's motto at work. Wu said that even though he is advanced in age, as long as there are technical challenges, he is willing to try and overcome them.

After being re-employed in 2018, Wu took on a technical cooperation project with a foreign company. This required him to lead the technical team to produce a one-time forming mold for the movement of a certain brand's sports watch using the “captive bar” method within the shortest amount of time.

"At the time, some advised me to avoid risks and retreat since I had already retired, warning that failure could ruin my reputation built up in the industry over many years." However, I believe life is only a few decades long. If not daring to strive at this moment, there may never be such a chance again in the future. "This was not only a good opportunity for technical cooperation but also a test of ‘Peacock’ technology by the foreign partner. If we didn't manage to get over this hurdle, we wouldn't be able to establish ‘Peacock's’ technology," Wu said.

With his perseverant character, Wu led the technical team. After nearly two months of painstaking research, they finally overcame this technical difficulty, winning an opportunity and honor for the company. One-time forming had been the dream of generations in the watch company, now realized in Wu’s hands as he broke the conventional method of copying the Soviet Union for mold manufacturing. The Swiss experts couldn’t help repeatedly praising when comparing the captive bar with the sample.

“Time will prove the quality of timepieces.” This is a saying deeply understood by Peacock’s people. Wu believes in the power of “time”. He can always hear the “sound” of “time” passing.

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