A "There is nothing Britain possesses," wrote the Emperor Quianlong to King George III, "that the Celestial Empire can possibly need." Except for one thing. Watches were the only foreign products that interested the Chinese elite.
Quianlong himself had a sizeable collection. While Britain resorted to gunboats and opium to force the Chinese market to open, it was a Swiss businessman who found the key. 21-year-old Edouard Bovet arrived in Canton in 1818 and almost immediately sold four watches for 10,000 francs - about a million US dollars today.
Edouard Bovet decided to stay in Canton, establishing a watchmaking dynasty that lasted 80 years. Very soon in China, "Bo Wei" became synonymous for a watch. In the currency turmoil of late Manchu China, BOVET watches spread throughout the country as a medium of