THERE may be no substitute for the quality of a Swiss-made watch, but Hong Kong - the world's largest exporter of watches and clocks - still has the mass watch market wound up. And the rapidly expanding consumer market in China may prove an interesting battleground between the producers of traditional timepieces and mass-producing Hong Kong. The international watch market is growing: Estimates by the Swiss Watch Industry show that world production of watches and movements (the inside of the wrist watch) reached 877 million units in 1992 - a six per cent increase over the previous year. Hong Kong exported more than $30 billion worth of watches and clocks last year. The Hong Kong manager of the Swiss watchmaker Omtis, Monise Beraha, said China was an exciting market, with many of the traditional watch brands already well known and accepted. In that increasingly status-conscious society, a watch is the most easily displayed luxury item. This put the Swiss at an advantage, with brands such as Omega and Rolex involved in a good trade, according to Mr Beraha. Although China offers a mass-market, Hong Kong watch manufacturers are placing a greater emphasis on quality and the need to establish recognisable brand names to compete on the mainland. Many of Hong Kong's watch manufacturers have shifted operations to China for economic reasons but have experienced a drop in standards at the same time. Japanese watch makers have advised in the past that Hong Kong needs to send more technicians to China and to introduce linear assembly lines to help monitor quality. Despite Hong Kong's market dominance, it was the Swiss who invented the game, designing the first individual personal timepieces about 300 years ago. They still reign when it comes to design and watch movements. Swiss companies are the largest producers of movements, which are supplied to many Hong Kong manufacturers for use in their own products. Although the Swiss watch trade has not been without its moments of crisis, suffering drops in international market share as first Japan and then Hong Kong entered the market, the major companies have endured. Part of the secret of Switzerland's endurance has been its ability to adapt to new trends and products, according to the International Watch Company (IWC), which was established 125 years ago. Despite numerous difficulties over the years, from financial hardship to the domination of quartz watches, IWC has survived and, in recent years, returned to the forefront of the market as mechanical watches surged back to popularity.