14 Sept 2005
Split-Second Timing(HKTDC Watch & Clock, Vol 04,2005)
This habit-forming technology is relatively new, but Luk says it is the way of the future. "They call them atomic watches in the US because they have the same degree of accuracy as the atomic clock - that is, one second in one million years," he explains. "The rest of the world calls them radio-controlled (RC) watches."
Regardless of what they're called, wearers of these watches obviously don't need to worry about being late for their appointments - provided, of course, that they are within receiving distance of one of the transmitters that sends out the time signal.
"There are only four markets in the world for RC watches - Japan, Europe, the UK and North America," Luk explains, noting that there are transmitters in Germany and the UK, one in Colorado that extends to both the east and west coasts of North America and two in Japan, in Tokyo and Fukuoka.
He adds that in Europe RC clocks and watches will automatically reset for daylight saving, but North America's different time zones and single transmitter make it necessary to reset the hours when moving about the country. "But the seconds will automatically be reset for accuracy," Luk affirms.
The technology has obviously evolved since the first radio time signal transmitter was set up in Germany in the late 1960s, originally for military purposes.
However, since the advent of Global Positioning Systems, the government-owned technology has been confined mostly to civilians and use of the signal is free.
There are other privately-owned transmitters that charge for signal use, including one on the Chinese mainland, but Luk does not see fresh markets opening for B.AT.'s watches until public transmitters are established in other locations. "This will not happen for a few years yet," he admits.
In the meantime, existing markets are sufficient for the company, which produces around 50,000 timepieces per month at its mainland factory in Shenzhen.
"We began R&D in 1998, and our first watches were produced in 2000," Luk recalls, adding that B.A.T. started with LCD digital watches and then launched its analogue watch range in 2002. "We believe we are the first to produce analogue RC watches in Asia."
The electronics engineer was inspired by the challenge of developing proprietary miniaturised technology to make RC watches after seeing some of the first models on a trip to Europe.
Luk set to work developing a movement and effective antenna that could be accommodated in a small watchcase, although B.A.T. also makes larger RC clocks.
B.A.T now makes around 40 different watch models, and is preparing to launch another 20 this month, including its first RC lady's watch.
"Some of our customers want us to develop ladies' watches with smaller cases and we're working hard in that direction," he explains. "It's difficult because there are a lot of components that have to fit."
B.A.T's current monthly production is supplied to some 20 regular customers in minimum orders quantities of 1,000 units, with delivery guaranteed within 50 days of order confirmation.
Movements, straps and plastic, alloy or stainless steel cases are made on the mainland, batteries are sourced in Japan and the ICs come from Germany and Taiwan.
"The market is still growing, because although Germany is a mature market, RC watches are a relatively new product in North America, Japan and the UK," Luk says. "We would like to do more business in the US and Japan."
Although the technology is the company's own, B.A.T. has yet to develop a brand, and for the moment is concentrating on OEM/ODM business.
However, Luk is confident that RC watches will establish more of a global following in future. "I think products like this will only be available in the existing four markets for the next 5-10 years," Luk predicts. "If the mainland introduces a public antenna then that will be another huge market."
WRITTEN BY ROBERT PIERCE
Bright Aggregation Technology Ltd