An Interview with Watch Expert Tom Chng

Tom Chng is the founder of the Singapore Watch Club (SWC), a horological community involving watch connoisseurs and horological enthusiasts.

Want to learn more about watches and the world of horology? We speak with Tom Chng, founder of the Singapore Watch Club, to find out where one should begin and why vintage watches are worth investing right now.

What should one learn as a beginner watch enthusiast?

It is important to learn about one’s likes and dislikes. There is a sea of watches out there to be appreciated and loved, but we all have varying tastes and values. For most people, a good watch could be one of the biggest ticket purchase of our lives, and it is important to understand why it carries such a price tag, and the significance of a timeless mechanical timepiece.

Tudor Black Bay

What would you normally tell someone who’s new to luxury watch collection?

Learn, research, and keep an open mind. The first piece is always very experimental. Pick up a timeless classic, and wear it! It’ll give you invaluable insights to your likes and dislikes, which will give you a better idea of what your next watch will be, and how you want your collection to look like.

Rolex Submariner

There are so many luxury watches in the market, where does one even begin? And what brands would be good to start with?

The first piece should be a popular icon and there are many reasons to this. These evergreen timepieces have endured the test of time for a reason. They tend to be strong in style and highly recognisable. They offer generally good value for money, while allowing you to acquire your personal taste. They also hold their value well, giving you the option to upgrade at much less depreciation.

Watches that fulfil the above criteria are Rolex sports models, Omega Speedmasters, Cartier Santos, Jaeger LeCoultre Reversos and Tudor Black Bays.

Jaeger LeCoultre Reverso

What is the first thing you look out for in a timepiece?

Everyone has varying tastes, but in my opinion, it’s all in the details. A good watch should reflect exceptional amounts of efforts and craftsmanship. Case design is a big one, an interesting shape will always catch my eye. Hands, lugs and fonts are commonly overlooked, but are key elements that could make or break a watch’s design. The movement architecture is also as important as its finishing and decoration.

How do I determine whether a timepiece is worth collecting?

There isn’t a hard and fast rule for this, buy what you like, but know what you’re buying!

What do you find fascinating about horology and what started your love for watches?

My first horology moment occurred when I peered into the display caseback of a mechanical watch. Those tiny little springs and gears, they work together with such precision to keep track of what is basically our existence on earth. I got sucked further into it as I learnt more about complications and decorations. Some of the master watchmakers’ undying strive for perfection inspired me even outside of horology.

Why should we invest in vintage watches?

Vintage is the flavour of the month right now, without a doubt. Recent auction performances have drummed up the interest in this genre of timepieces and the primary market is adapting to it, with the recent wave of vintage-inspired timepieces. Vintage watches were made differently from the watches of today, and definitely the watches of tomorrow. The charm and allure of a well-maintained timepiece from yesteryear is hard to describe. There’s nothing quite like it, and never will be again.

What is considered vintage, and how do we upkeep the maintenance of one?

This is widely debated amongst academics and experts but I think an age of 30 years would be a good gauge. Tritium or radium dials would more often than not qualify as well. Treat the old guy like you would with your grandparents. With care, regular checkups and refrain from water contact.

Cartier Santos, available on Maxi-Cash e-shop

What are the top five mistakes a horologist make when starting his/her own collection?

  1. Thinking that you don’t want a “common” watch
  2. Believing that you’ll never sell your first watch
  3. Following trends
  4. Thinking that watches are expensive purely because of “branding”
  5. elieving an in-house movement is essential

What are the most common misconceptions about watch collectors?

Many think that watch collecting has a high barrier of entry, and is a community of snobs. Some budding enthusiasts are also intimidated by other collectors and are reluctant to participate. It’s just like any other hobby – you make friends, you share opinions, and you have fun! At SWC, we’re all about learning and sharing. Ultimately, we’re looking to heighten our level of appreciation for watches, sophistication as buyers, and mature together as a community. Watch collecting can be a solo hobby, but it is so much more fun and engaging with like-minded members. We aspire to be a friendly and united community, fuelled not only by passion but also friendship and growth.

What’s your opinion on smart watches? Do you own one?

I think smart watches serve a very different purpose, and a very different target audience. I know many who wear both, one on each wrist! No, I do not own one, unfortunately.

How would you describe the watch collecting trend in Singapore?

a. Do people in Singapore prefer to collect out of interest or do they seek out watches as an alternative investment?
b. Do people here prefer personalised watches/limited collection or branded watches?

Singapore is a unique market. Despite our small size and population, we are without a doubt one of the watch capitals of the world. We are a huge market and both for consumption and export of luxury watches. The community here is also very mature and experimental, making it a great starting ground for many artisanal independent watchmakers. The collectors here know what they’re buying, and are not afraid to buy into a promising brand early on. In many way, we are a trendsetting market for the rest of the world.

a. Definitely out of interest and culture. The luxury lifestyle is quite evidently ingrained in our society, and Singaporeans do believe that a good watch will demonstrate a certain level of sophistication.

b. I don’t believe there’s much of a correlation there, a good watch will always be a good watch, limited or not.

Omega Speedmaster

What can we expect at the Faces of Time Watch Festival? Give us a preview of your talk!

I will be discussing the differences in purchasing from the primary and secondary markets, and tips and tricks to spot a fake watch! Also, some insights on starting a collection and the current vintage wave.