Five men discuss their holy grail timepieces
We look at five men and their pursuit for the grail watch in their collection
What is it about the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Extra-thin Tourbillon that you like?
This was beautifully designed by the late Gérald Genta in 1972. He was a legendary watch designer who also designed the Nautilus. To this day, 44 years later, the Royal Oak remains timeless and elegant. I like the fact that the watchmaker hasn’t made many changes to it, so it’s very true to the original.
It is breathtaking.
It definitely is a piece of art you can take everywhere. Another thing I like about it is that it’s something for everyone. To the person who doesn’t know much about watches, it is easy to appreciate its simplicity. To someone who’s into collecting, he will understand how difficult it is to make one.
You really love your watches.
I’ve always been inquisitive about the way things work. It all started when I was a teen. My uncle, who was a huge collector and who doted on me, asked me to go along with him to get his Rolex serviced. When they opened the back to take a look at the watch, that was it for me. All the bits and pieces of mechanism got me hooked. I found myself trying to learn and understand how those mechanisms work.
So you like the science behind it.
You start by looking at the mechanism, and then go on to design details. Things like Gérald Genta’s Royal Oak, Nautilus and Submariner have endured for many years. They don’t redo the whole thing but make little updates to keep things current, such as making the markers bigger because people like them. So when you look at the new and old, the watch remains iconic. It’s sort of like looking at the new Porsche 911 and the early ’90s air-cooled. There’s an evolution in the design, and not necessarily a revolution.
Is there a watch that you regret parting with?
Definitely my first watch, the Rolex GMT Master II. I wasn’t used to wearing watches all the time, and when you put it down, you had to reset it. It was a pain. But looking back, I should have kept it. It was my first serious watch. But you know, from there, that watch became the Milgauss, then the Explorer II, and I have both the new and the original Steve Mcqueen. It took nine months to find one in good condition, which felt like forever.
You made a career switch?
Yes, I was working a nine-to-five job as an engineer. It wasn’t particularly fun, given the amount of red tape that went with it. But it was also because I couldn’t spend enough time with my wife. She works as a tutor and her days off didn’t coincide with mine. I decided to quit my job to become a tutor as well. People think of tutoring as a dumping ground, but I couldn’t care less. It worked for me and I get to spend quality time with my family.
You are not doing too shabbily from the looks of that timepiece you have.
This Rolex? It was a love at first sight for me, really. When I saw it on the Internet, I knew it was going to be my first real watch. I never really liked the previous models, but when Rolex came out with the first Oysterflex YachtMaster, my attention was caught. I thought, finally, here’s something cool. Also, I’m quite a fan of rose gold and I thought the strap was brilliant. It’s not flashy at all and I think it blends really well with my clothes, so if I were to get any attention at all, it would be the right kind. After all, I wear it for my own satisfaction and not to show off.
When did you get it?
I got it to commemorate my 30th birthday and to celebrate something I achieved. It was also with the approval of my wife (laughs), so I guess it’s not just about me. It represents us.
Do you hardly spend on yourself?
You got that right. Honestly, I don’t care that much for luxuries and branded goods. I can make do with just the basics most of the time, but I reckoned a good watch would be a nice reward after all this time. The Oysterflex feels really significant.
Next up, a Patek Philippe?
Funny you should say that. There hasn’t been many watches that have caught my eye, but the 5270 Perpetual Calendar struck me, even way before I saw my Rolex. I couldn’t afford it then and I still can’t right now. But when I get it, that would mean a lot to me. I mean, it’s a Patek Philippe. It’s stunning too, and I think the 5270 is the best interpretation of a Patek. It’s sleek and the dial looks sophisticated, but everything is well-organised. Buying it would mean getting a work of art.
How long have you been eyeing the De Bethune DB28?
I fell in love when I saw it two years ago. The design is so avant garde. I mean, look at the lines, silhouette and finishing. You can see the amount of thought put into it. The lugs fit snugly on your wrist, minimising any movement. The moonphase isn’t just a disc, it glows, and if you looked at the entire thing through a loupe, you’d be amazed. There’s so much room for things to go wrong and yet nothing has, there’s not even one hairline scratch. Not a single imperfection.
This is the ultimate grail, you say?
Yep. I have seven levels of grails before I hit this. My next grail is the classic Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and then it may be an A. Lange & Söhne. Once I hit my ultimate, I’m pretty afraid to think of what will come next.
Wait. How long have you been collecting watches?
Eight years. I love watches, maybe too much for my own good as it can really hit the pocket. I now have 10 in my collection, which includes a couple of Seikos. A lot of people come to me for watch advice and the good thing is, I’m not a watch snob. I like my Seikos. At the end of the day, a $10 Casio could be more accurate than a $10,000 watch. But timepieces are a lot more than that. It’s about the charm.
What’s in your collection right now?
A Rolex Submariner, Tudor Chronograph and Georg Jensen dress watch. I was thinking about changing up the Tudor for something else, it is my very first mechanical watch, and so is very hard to let go.
Yeah, breaking up is hard to do.
My goal for my collection right now is to diversify and build on it with different watches. Now that I have a steel sports watch, a dress watch and something mechanical, I wouldn’t mind a vintage piece. I’m looking for one produced in 1987, my birth year. I have the Rolex GMT Master II, Pepsi, on my mind.
They do have it from 1987 but they are really hard to find. It’s not too extravagant, but as soon as one is available on the market, it’s usually gone in a heartbeat.
So I suppose the MB&F LM101 is your ultimate goal?
One of it. I admire MB&F for doing what it does. The brand itself does things no one else is doing and it does them so well. I love a lot of the pieces, but the LM101 spoke to me the moment it came out. It’s an amazing design and the frosted dial did it for me. I love the suspended balance wheel and I could stare at it for hours. When I do get it, it has to be t ied to a special occasion in my life.
When did you start getting interested in watches?
I’ve always been attracted to the idea of wearing one, being one of the very few trinkets guys can wear. When I was living in Australia, I was always looking at them, but it wasn’t when I moved to Singapore that I got hooked. All with the help of my friend William ( Tee). I’ve learnt a lot from him. We catch up regularly to go window shopping.
What do you look for in a watch?
I like to keep it simple – time-only or with a small date window. I’m not too fond of all the different complications. A watch doesn’t need complications to be cool. To me, less is more.
So your first Rolex was a gift from your dad?
Yeah, for that I’m very grateful. He doesn’t know anything about watches but he thought it would be nice for me to have one that sees me through the future. This is the “no date” Submariner and I could wear it every day with anything. I have a Ball Engineer Master II Diver as well, my first mechanical watch. Both are well-seasoned, banged up and scratched. But they are built to take that kind of treatment.
Whatever floats your boat.
To be honest, I like watches that can be used and abused. A lot of people ask me what watches are good investments. I tell them: don’t buy it for the money. Buy what you like! Most watches are made to outlast you anyway.
Getting to know watches can be a slippery slope...
Once you start, you can’t stop. I’m one of those who like to acquire useless knowledge, so when I chanced upon an article on the IWC Perpetual Calendar while interning at a magazine, I got hooked. It’s amazing how a tiny mechanical device, without computer aid, can tell you so much. For the life of me, I’ll never be able to figure it out completely. I mean, look at the Jaeger-lecoultre Master Ultra Thin Perpetual. It’s certainly pretty to look at, but there’s the material, the guy that sits over a bench, polishing tiny components with his hands, and the guy who assembles them all. Watch making requires a fanatical attention to detail that surpasses even haute couture.
Don’t bash this one around.
(laughs) I know this contradicts what I said before, but this will be extremely well taken care of whenever it comes into my hands. I love the symmetrical proportions of the silver dial and how timeless it is. Jaeger-lecoultre has a lot of history, and the 868 movement in this watch is beautiful. It’s pretty insane to make a perpetual calendar that’s 4mm thick. It tells you the full year, day, date and month. Plus there’s the moon phase. It doesn’t even need adjustment for ages. Plus, there’s only one spring that moves all the gears. Without computer aid. Amazing.
William tee, 33 Chiropractor at Chiropractic First
Tee has always been curious about the world around him. As a boy, he once accompanied his uncle to a watch shop. His eyes widened when he saw the back of a Rolex get flipped open. The piece of machinery inside fascinated him no end. He grew up to become a serious collector of watches. After six Rolexes and one Patek Philippe Nautilus, Tee hopes to add the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Extra-thin Tourbillon to his collection soon.
Pang yuxun, 30
Teacher & co-owner of a tuition centre
Pang is neither watch nerd nor watch snob, but a practical man. Usually a stickler for functional basics, he rewarded himself with a Rolex Oysterflex Yacht-master in rose gold on his 30th birthday as a way to mark an important milestone in life. So what will it be at the next milestone? “A Patek Philippe,” he beams. “And it will have to be the 5270 Perpetual Calendar. That will be huge for me.”
Ang wei yang, 32
Assistant brand manager for Glenfiddich & The Balvenie
After graduating from university and on his first job, Ang started buying a lot of fashion watches from night markets. He liked to mix and match. But then his boss said to him, “Why don’t you save up and buy a proper watch?” And so he did. He started to read up more, scouring watch forums like watchuseek.com, and that was when the watch lust took seed and grew into an obsession.
Jeff lin, 29
Chiropractor & co-owner of Crossfit Urban Edge
He has a few watches in his box: a steel Rolex, a mechanical Tudor and a dressy Georg Jensen. He wants his first vintage Rolex GMT Master II (the Pepsi bezel) soon, but when it comes to holy grails, it’s the MB&F LM101 Frost that sets his heart aflutter. This “frosted” finish hails from the late 18th century, where frosting meant protecting dials and movements from oxidation.
Zachary wickeremasuriya, 26
Marketing communications executive at The St. Regis
Zachary can’t have a watch that sits in his cupboard all day. Yet, if it’s an intricate piece, he will be afraid to wear it out. “It looks like the only time it will appear is in my will, and I’ll be dead by then,” he jests. But he does love a watch that’s simple and clean, which shows in the Jaeger-lecoultre Master Ultra Thin Perpetual on his wrist. It’s not his to keep yet, but he’s working on it. No holy grail is unattainable.