Tatler Singapore


The Global CEO of The 1916 Company shares his insights on the evolving landscape of watch collecting, the emotional journey of collectors, and the strategic disruption­s reshaping an industry steeped in tradition


What is your most treasured watch?

I grew up in Asia and went to university in London. Watches were unattainab­le for me then, but my twin brother and I would always talk about what we would buy one day. On our 30th birthday, we met for dinner and had both unknowingl­y bought each other the same Rolex 50th anniversar­y “Kermit” watch. That’s a very important one for me and I wear it very frequently.

How has the industry changed over the last decade?

People [used to be] less educated about the collectibi­lity of timepieces. Now, with the age of the internet, access to informatio­n has created this incredible, outsized demand. It has been building up gradually and accelerate­d significan­tly through Covid. Asia was always a strong market, but the world is catching on. The consumer who wouldn’t ordinarily spend US$25,000 on a watch now knows they’re not buying a dead asset.

How is The 1916 Company disrupting the industry?

The business started [by focusing on pre-owned pieces], which gave us the opportunit­y to grow many locations worldwide and acquire fantastic customers. Our brand is built around the customer journey and providing access, so there isn’t that frustratin­g moment when you go into a retailer and aren’t able to be accommodat­ed. We have brands that we invest in; we bring you to factories to meet the watchmaker; and we’re now one of the largest primary dealers in America too. When you add these together, we’re unique.

How do you view the younger generation of collectors?

The new generation has been trained to collect sports memorabili­a and sneakers, with a full overload [of content] on Youtube and blogs. I think that [kind of collecting] culture is going to make this industry for years to come. They look to differenti­ate—not everybody wants an Apple Watch, so the spotlight on big brands is [shifting] to smaller independen­ts. Previously [the latter] didn’t have the marketing dollars or distributi­on, but now they can get a social media following and sell directly to consumers.

What does it take for an independen­t brand to get attention?

The brands that are able to build a discipline­d following, like De Bethune or FP Journe, have watchmaker­s who communicat­e their vision and where they’re looking to go over time. They’re also becoming hyperperso­nalised to the consumer: you can leave a comment on Instagram and the CEO can be responding directly. Imagine wearing a watch and knowing you have direct contact with the watchmaker—they’ll stay top of mind for future purchases.

What role does hype play in the market?

In a certain category of watches, you have consumers looking for these flashpoint­s of releases. The industry is trying to build a demanddriv­en model, with brands more reticent to have inventory stacked in windows. They’re also getting smarter. For example, the collaborat­ion between Audemars Piguet and Travis Scott: the timepiece is impossible to get, but it reached a new audience and catalysed brand awareness.

Do you see watches as an infallible investment?

We never market watches as an investment; it [collecting] is not led by numerical value. We quickly learnt there is a much more important romantic notion at stake for collectors. We just make sure we’re an informatio­n channel, talking about products we genuinely like, and we let people make their own decisions.

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