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Winston Kwang is not like most of the other watch collectors we have profiled. Passionate about craft beers and timepieces, among Singapore’s pioneer importers of craft beer (they were typically generalised as beers from origin aka Belgian or American back in those days) 12 years ago, he professes to drink more alcohol than water. Having started 4 years ago, he’s also a relatively new connoisseur of fine watches but the breadth of his collection showcases Kwang’s philosophy of “patronage”.
“Don’t buy watches for investment purposes, buy because you love the watch.” – Winston Kwang
Patronage of the arts was important in art history, particularly during medieval and Renaissance Europe, when aristocrats and wealthy elite used their means and influence to endorse their political ambitions, and social positions; but more importantly, they supported independent, promising artists. As a result, Winston Kwang’s watch collecting philosophy tends to avoid the mainstream and into the brands which offer such compelling propositions that he feels compelled to support their endeavours so that future generations can enjoy the fruits of their labour.
“My watch collecting journey started with A. Lange & Sohne.” – Winston Kwang
Merely weeks away from the Patek Philippe Watch Art Grand Exhibition, I was puzzled by Kwang’s first step into the world of horology, “Why did you start with Lange instead of say, Patek Philippe?”
Kwang: Maybe because of my upbringing? I tend to stay away from the big brands like Rolex, Patek and Audemars Piguet. Im not denying the quality of those brands and their watches. Rolex tool watches are impeccable but somehow, over the years, the fervour for Rolex has become so crazy in both the lack of availability and the surge of “flippers” (consumers who buy at retail and then resell for insane prices on the grey market). I mean the steel watches are the same price or more expensive than the gold editions. A Patek Philippe 5711 sells for $60 to 70,000 today and it’s not even brand new! They make great watches, please don’t get me wrong, it’s a personal preference. It’s your money, do with it as you will but not for the wrong reasons – certainly don’t buy to flip for profit.
Jonathan, LUXUO: What about the argument that is often raised in defence of ‘ willing buyer and willing seller’?
It spoils the whole hobby. It’s not about the enthusiasts any more but watch traders and I don’t like that. I will never support that movement. It used to be an East-Asian phenomenon but now the West is getting into it as well, believing that Patek Philippe and Rolex are ‘great stores of value’. The mentality is that now these brands are investment pieces. i don’t believe watches are investments, you can say that they retain their value better but pray that there’s no recession because when it hits, all this is going down when the secondary market gets flooded with pre-owned timepieces. Don’t buy watches for investment purposes, buy because you love the watch. If you want to make money, you’re better off with real estate.
Kwang is among the first in Singapore to pick up the Montblanc 1858 Split Seconds Chronograph in Bronze. To him, the combination of exceptional hand-finishing and high complication offered the most bang for buck. Launched at SIHH 2019, the 1858 split-seconds featured a traditional Minerva pocket watch calibre which made the timepiece a little larger than its vintage styling would have let on. Still, the monopusher or single-button chronograph is crafted to the nth degree.
“You’re talking about a split-seconds chronograph for $50,000 with that level of finishing. There’s no way you can get something equivalent from any other brand.” – Kwang on the bronze 1858 Split Seconds Chronograph
Retailing for a little over US$30,000, Kwang needed little convincing to pick up the Minerva crafted Montblanc 1858 Split Seconds Chronograph. At it’s core, the Montblanc split-seconds chronograph is powered by the MB M16.29 found in earlier 1858 chronographs, here the addition of a module gives the base calibre rattrapante or split-seconds functionality. “It’s a no brainer, ” he points out, “It might even be a little bit ‘cheap’ for a high end splits-second chronograph when something of this calibre from Patek Philippe might set you back $100,000. Montblanc’s split-seconds chronograph was priced at only a slight premium over their regular manual-winding chronograph. It’s incredible value even if people warn me there’s no resale value.”
Winston on watch resale value
“I’m a sucker for things which provide incredible value,” he admits, “and if I buy everything with resale value as one of the deciding factors, it stops being a hobby. If you want to look for resale value, buy property. If you want a hobby, buy what you love. I don’t understand when other collectors talk dollars and cents.” Indeed, the splits-seconds are considered a high complication in the realm of fine watchmaking: used to time different events that begin but do not end together, the chronograph seconds hand can be stopped independently of the other and then made to catch up with the first hand after the intermediate reading has been taken and so forth. With the hundreds of parts individually hand polished and chamfered, the idea of “resale value” at this unbeatable price shouldn’t even enter the buying equation. That said, Kwang points out that the hands are not entirely aligned and when pushed about his feelings on the matter of imperfections, he explained.
Winston on the importance of customer service
These are hand-crafted objects. The imperfections are not a big deal to me. Let me explain, mechanical watches can be fixed but what is a big deal is when brand managers deny that there are issues. I had an issue with one of the first brands I supported when I started collecting watches, the seconds hand didn’t reset to zero. The boutique person told me that “it’s just three seconds.” When I made a complaint to the brand manager and asked for a replacement, she told me that she wasn’t inclined to do so because I had gotten my timepiece from an AD (authorised distributor) instead of the brand boutique. I was incredibly upset, I felt like it didn’t matter that I had supported the brand through one of their retailers instead of going directly to their boutique. I was really turned off. When they offered a leather strap in exchange for my “troubles”, I was like, “do you think I’m hard-up for a strap?”. I was very disappointed, I sent my watch in for servicing and when I got it back six months later, they had conveniently forgotten that they had also offered me a complimentary leather strap. I only wanted the strap on principle and to nickle and dime me in this manner, the arrogance turned me off the brand and not long after, I stopped buying from that brand.
Provenance and heritage are important points to consider when watch collecting but to Kwang, innovation is what got him hooked on Armin Strom, in particular, the Mirrored Force Resonance. Scientifically speaking, resonance in mechanical watchmaking refers to a phenomenon which develops when a watch or clock possesses two oscillators – typically balance wheels but also applicable to pendulums (in very old clocks) – and the two begin to beat with the same frequency. The watchmaker’s intent is to theoretically achieve better accuracy as a result of a more stable beat rate; hence Armin Strom’s Mirrored Force Resonance is a new take on a very old concept conceived by Christiaan Huygens in the mid-17th century, and later explored by Astide Janvier and Abraham-Louis Breguet.
Resonance is a sophisticated and demanding horological technique that has rarely been attempted. Winston decided to support the independent watchmaker because their’s was an architecture which achieved synchronised rates or resonance in the least amount of time. Where F.P. Journe’s Chronomètre à Résonance uses the air and vibrations of the base plate to achieve resonance, the Armin Strom Mirrored Force Resonance uses a direct clutch, synchronising in 10 minutes over F.P. Journe’s hours. “I was sold on the idea that this resonance effect was also obviously visible on the twin seconds hands on the Armin Strom,” confesses Kwang.
“I didn’t like the initial dials at first but I also prefer to adopt a wait and see approach when a brand releases a new innovation in case there are some teething issues.” – Kwang on why he didn’t buy the 2016 Armin Strom Mirrored Force Resonance when first released
The resonance clutch spring needed to realise the Mirrored Force Resonance’s twin display of seconds was so technical that the brand’s team, under the direction of technical director Claude Greisler, was left with no choice other than to create what it needed in house. Like Calibre ARF15, the resonance clutch spring comprises only a traditional horological material: steel. Greisler and his team spent fully three years perfecting the shape and characteristics of the spring: calculating, optimising, simulating, testing, and improving again and again until the spring had the optimal, unique form needed to connect the two sets of oscillators, each comprising twin balance wheels and balance springs. Precise adjustment of the distance between the two regulators is necessary to incite resonance, which sees the two balances finding a concurrent rhythm in opposite directions so as to continuously average out errors for maximum accuracy.
Launched in 2016, Kwang hesitated putting money down for the initial Mirrored Force Resonance because he didn’t like the dials and wasn’t entirely convinced that a relatively young independent watchmaker like Armin Strom had completely worked out all the kinks in their new Mirrored Force Resonance complication. Then, when the brand collaborated with famed watch artisan Kari Voutilainen in 2018 for editions with his signature engine-turned guilloche dials, Kwang was sold on the timepiece.
Bart and Tim Grönefeld might seem like newcomers on the independent watchmaking scene but theirs is a family legacy spanning over more than a century, with foundations established in 1912 by their forebear, Johan Grönefeld. Bart and Tim, the third generation of Grönefeld watchmakers to live and work in Oldenzaal which imbues their creation with a familiar yet unique aesthetic.
World of Watches and Luxuo met up with the brothers Bart and Tim over lunch in August where they recalled childhoods spent playing to the cacophony of sounds from the Saint Plechelmus church clock movement, close to the location of their grandfather’s (Johan) workshop. The church clock, created in 1913 by Royal Eijsbouts in the village of Asten, The Netherlands is equipped with a remontoire mechanism, a necessity given that the clock’s display was positioned much higher than the movement and thus required greater than usual force – beyond what a conventional escapement could handle. Furthermore, frigid Holland winters often froze the hands of the clocks and so the Royal Eijsbouts church clock featured a minute hand calibrated to jump every 30 seconds, breaking any ice which may have formed; ideas which the brothers translated into a wristwatch which intrigued Mr. Kwang.
Kwang also adds that his gold model retails at only a CHF5000 premium more than the steel edition which tilted his value equation into the “must buy” category. His Grönefeld 1941 Remontoire is also an accidental piece unique. “It was not only huge bargain but I also got them to customise and flame-blue my governor wheel mechanism. I heard that not long after my piece was delivered, they started charging for customisation,” explains Winston.
For Baselworld 2019, Tutima updated its highest-end collection with the Patria Admiral Blue, a more accessible option with a case made of stainless steel. Recently distributed in Singapore by Sincere Fine Watches, the brand made its official entry into the nation state with a collector’s party at Winston’s American Tap Room beer-bar at Waterloo Street.
“There aren’t that many pieces of the Patria Admiral Blue available for sale. This made the timepiece very compelling to me.” – Kwang on the Tutima Patria Admiral Blue
“The appeal of the Tutima Patria Admiral Blue to me was its cold rather than baked enamel dial,” says Winston Kwang, “cold enamel is used more on jewellery.” Materially speaking, cold enamel is a pigmented epoxy resin which gives the effect of enamel without the use of the grand feu treatment while approaching the finish of grand feu dials. “I was also impressed by the German 3/4 plate with four gold chatons. For the $9,000, I got very fair value for the timepiece. I also considered the fact that Tutima, a brand better known for its entry-level watches, has only a 5,000 piece production and their high end collection is a fraction of this. Meaning that there aren’t that many pieces of the Patria Admiral Blue available for sale. This made the timepiece very compelling to me.”
The finely finished, manually wound Caliber 617 of the Tutima Patria is lovingly manufactured down to the last detail in brands new Glashütte manufacture. Founder Ernst Kurtz had initially set up shop in Glashütte but was forced to move to Memmelsdorf, north of Nuremberg when the Soviets started to unionised watchmakers into a central collective. Dieter Delecate, a former associate of Kurtz’s, subsequently took the company over and by 2011 had eventually moved the brand back to its ‘ancestral home’ in Saxony.
“It is not as well finished as a Lange,” admits Kwang but he adds, “however, for the price, its value proposition outweighs its more established Saxony counterpart.”