Artist Eng Tay’s love for Pan­erai watches is a nat­u­ral ex­ten­sion of his pas­sion for an­tiques and con­tem­po­rary art, dis­cov­ers Candice Chan

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Artist Eng Tay’s Pan­erai col­lec­tion

If you own a few Pan­erai watches or are a fan of South­east Asian art, chances are, you would have heard of Eng Tay. Born in Kedah, West Malaysia and based in New York for the last 40-odd years, Tay is a well-known artist that has held more than 100 solo ex­hi­bi­tions world­wide. His pieces may be found in the per­ma­nent col­lec­tions of the Fukuyama Mu­seum of Art in Hiroshima, the Taipei Fine Arts Mu­seum and the New York Univer­sity Depart­ment of An­thro­pol­ogy among oth­ers.

He works across dif­fer­ent art forms such as etch­ings, paint­ings and sculp­ture, and is known for ex­press­ing the con­cept of fam­ily through his sig­na­ture rounded, or­ganic fig­ures. A con­sis­tently good per­former at art auc­tions, his Four Mu­si­cians paint­ing re­cently sold at Sotheby’s Modern and Con­tem­po­rary South­east Asian Art auc­tion in Hong Kong for HK$68,750, sig­nif­i­cantly higher than the es­ti­mated price of be­tween $30,000 and $50,000.

Like many artists, Tay is fas­tid­i­ous about his im­age. Dressed in an over­sized striped col­lared shirt and a for­mal jacket, he is adamant about leav­ing his hair in its tou­sled con­di­tion and keeps the same in­tense ex­pres­sion through­out the pho­to­shoot. “I’m an artist. So it’s im­por­tant that I look like one and not a busi­ness­man,” he says. But scratch past that brood­ing artist per­sona and we find a jovial man who is happy to en­gage in an­i­mated dis­cus­sions rang­ing from cross-coun­try driv­ing, to con­tem­po­rary art and Pan­erai watches.

The 68-year-old is a pro­lific col­lec­tor of Pan­erai watches, with an im­pres­sive col­lec­tion of more than 40 time­pieces, among which are some very valu­able and rare ex­am­ples. He is also an ac­tive mem­ber of Paner­isti, a pri­vate com­mu­nity com­posed of Pan­erai col­lec­tors. “I first heard of Pan­erai in 2000. At that time, no­body liked the brand be­cause its watches were so big,” he rem­i­nisces. Tay him­self was ini­tially in­tim­i­dated by their ex­tra-large pro­por­tions, which partly ex­plains why his first pur­chase – the PAM 21 – was only made four years later.

To the unini­ti­ated, the PAM 21 is what they call the Holy Grail for all Pan­erai col­lec­tors be­cause it is the first spe­cial edi­tion Vendôme Pan­erai watch (those that were re­leased af­ter the Richemont ac­qui­si­tion in 1997). Hailed as the de­sign that fol­lows most faith­fully to vin­tage Pan­erai time­pieces from 1938, it mea­sures 47mm in size and is pre­sented in the Ra­diomir case shape in plat­inum and with a hand-wound vin­tage Rolex move­ment. Only 60 pieces were ever pro­duced.

Some 11 years since that un­for­get­table first pur­chase, he re­counts re­search­ing his buy as if it hap­pened only a week ago: “I was on the in­ter­net and saw a guy of­fer­ing to sell his PAM 21...the watch was of­fered at auc­tion for US$38,000 but he wanted $55,000!” Its value has since shot through the roof, with a piece go­ing for €103,500 at Artcu­rial’s Pan­erai Only auc­tion in 2014. It was in fact con­sid­ered by some col­lec­tors as a steal be­cause it is val­ued at up­wards of $200,000.

Be­fore Pan­erai watches came on Tay’s radar, he was a mod­est col­lec­tor of vin­tage Ca­sio and Seiko watches. “I love old things like an­tiques. I don’t like plas­tic,” he says. His pref­er­ence for ob­jects of yore ex­plains why most of his Pan­erai ac­qui­si­tions be­long to the vin­tage (1930s to 1980s) and pre-Vendôme era (1992 to 1997). Even his re­cent pur­chase, the PAM 785 set, com­posed of the Black Seal and Lu­mi­nor Day­light Spe­cial Edi­tion, are reis­sues of


pop­u­lar pre-Vendôme ref­er­ences. These watches were made in 1996 for ac­tor Sylvester Stal­lone and named af­ter the film Day­light to co­in­cide with the movie that the ac­tor was film­ing at the time of his pur­chase.

Rein­tro­duced at the end of 2014, they were pre­sented as a col­lec­tor’s set of 500 lim­ited edi­tions and housed within a pear­wood box in­spired by the pre-Vendôme Lu­mi­nor. The set is also com­posed of a minia­turised model of the hu­man tor­pedo (Sil­uro a Lenta Corsa or Slow-speed tor­pedo) on a teak base, as well as a book about the mil­i­tary equip­ment of the Royal Ital­ian

Navy’s spe­cial forces — pre­cious Pan­erai para­pher­na­lia for the hard-core col­lec­tor.

When we spoke in Au­gust, Tay was in Sin­ga­pore as a guest of the brand’s His­tory and Le­gend ex­hi­bi­tion held at the ION Or­chard Sin­ga­pore. Housed within vit­rines, Pan­erai’s con­tem­po­rary mod­els from the Sub­mersible, Ra­diomir 1940, Lu­mi­nor

1950, Ra­diomir and Lu­mi­nor fam­i­lies took their places along­side his­tor­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant watches and pre­ci­sion in­stru­ments that the brand used to pro­duce for mil­i­tary use. Among these pre­cious ves­tiges of the past were two of Tay’s own watches: A Ref 3646 Ra­diomir from the 1930s and a Ref 3646 Ger­man “Kampf­schwim­mer” model with an anony­mous dial from the 1940s.

The Ref 3646 mod­els were pro­duced in var­i­ous ver­sions be­tween 1938 and the 1950s, when Pan­erai was ac­tively pro­duc­ing watches for the Royal Ital­ian Navy, Egyp­tian Army and the Ger­man Kriegs­ma­rine. It was also dur­ing this pe­riod that they were ac­tively de­vel­op­ing in­stru­ments such as depth gauges, com­passes, and torches. The Ger­man “Kampf­schwim­mer” mod­els, named af­ter the Ger­man frog­men, were made with no brand­ing and let­ter­ing on the di­als to pre­vent the divers from be­ing iden­ti­fied if they were ever caught. Al­though there re­mains no of­fi­cial records on how many of these watches were made for the Ger­mans, they are very rare and par­tic­u­larly sought af­ter by col­lec­tors be­cause they re­flect the in­ti­mate re­la­tion­ship the brand shares with the navy.

Tay also owns a Ref 3646 model made in 1938 that comes with a Cal­i­for­nia dial (com­posed of Ara­bic and Ro­man in­dices). These were the first di­als on the Ref

3646 un­til they were re­placed with self­il­lu­mi­nat­ing sand­wich di­als fea­tur­ing ra­dium, and then lu­mi­nor. The tran­si­tion pe­riod also marked a change in the bezel de­sign to ac­com­mo­date the thicker sand­wich di­als.

Other high­lights from his col­lec­tion in­clude the Ref 6154, com­plete with its faded brown dial (orig­i­nally black) and worn lu­mi­nous mark­ers. Known as the Egiziano Piccolo, it was made for the Egyp­tian Navy in 1954, in a very lim­ited se­ries and is hardly ever seen at the re­sale mar­ket. It was last put up for sale at a Christie’s auc­tion in 2012 at a pre-sale es­ti­mate of $80,000 to $120,000 and was sold for $326,500. At that time, it set the record for the high­est price ever achieved by a Pan­erai watch. Tay is also par­tic­u­larly fond of his Ref 6152 from the 1950s that fea­tures a blueish Ra­diomir dial along with a Rolex move­ment. There are only 24 watches bear­ing the 6152 ref­er­ence and Tay be­lieves his is the only one in the world with a blue dial.

“My re­la­tion­ship with Pan­erai goes be­yond col­lect­ing. It is about the com­mu­nity,” he says, re­fer­ring to the Paner­isti. His re­la­tion­ships with some of his fel­low like-minded col­lec­tors have grown into last­ing friend­ships and he thor­oughly en­joys their get-to­geth­ers. The an­nual P-day, when Paner­isti mem­bers get to­gether at a dif­fer­ent part of the world each year to cel­e­brate their shared pas­sion for Pan­erai, is some­thing he looks for­ward to par­tic­u­larly. Tay hosted the P-day in New York in 2010, dur­ing the com­mu­nity’s 10th an­niver­sary, with a cock­tail re­cep­tion at his SoHo stu­dio. To com­mem­o­rate the oc­ca­sion, he also made and sold prints of the PAM 360 (cre­ated for sale only to 300 lucky Paner­isti mem­bers), with all pro­ceeds ben­e­fit­ting The Mul­li­ga­neers, a char­i­ta­ble or­gan­i­sa­tion for fam­i­lies of sick chil­dren in need. He has plans to do the same with the PAM 634 (his lat­est pur­chase), the new 500-piece watch that is only avail­able to Paner­isti mem­bers and is sold ex­clu­sively in Pan­erai bou­tiques.

These days, aside from his Pan­erai watches, Tay also buys from Patek Philippe and A. Lange & Söhne. When he’s not in­dulging in his watch col­lect­ing hobby, you can find him shop­ping for con­tem­po­rary art (he owns pieces from Keith Har­ing and JeanMichel Basquiat) or cross-coun­try driv­ing in his four-wheel Ford Ex­plorer. “Be­fore I’m un­healthy, I would like to see the world. I missed all these when I was younger and had to work. Now, I’m free,” he says.

Clock­wise from bot­tom: Ref. 3646 Ra­diomir Pan­erai (1930s); Ref. 3646 “Kampf­schwim­mer” with anony­mous dial (1940s); Ref. 6154 Ra­diomir 1940 (1949); Ref 6152/1 Ma­rina Mil­itare (1950s); Ref. 6154 Ra­diomir 1940 (1940s)

Eng Tay

An oil-on-can­vas piece, ti­tled Song of Mem­o­ries, by Eng Tay

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