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Interview: Tom Chng, Founder of Singapore Watch Club

“There’s so much more to the world of haute horlogerie than the price tags."

By day, Tom Chng is a financial crime investigator and consultant. But while his job sounds exciting, the 27-year-old has another passion. “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,” he reveals.

About a year ago, the watch aficionado started the Singapore Watch Club (SWC) — an interest group for people passionate about watches and the art of horology. “Passion was the founding vision of SWC,” Tom explains. “It’s essentially a clubhouse for the discerning watch connoisseur. We debate critically about all aspects of horology: Construction, innovation, heritage, decoration, you name it.”

Monthly meetings, which Tom says “can get pretty big”, are get-togethers that the members really look forward to when they gather to check out each other’s latest acquisitions. The club also organises private events with watch brands for members to get a more personal experience with new and exclusive timepieces, and delve deeper into the brand’s heritage. As it is currently an invitation-only club, prospective members get an informal introduction at the get-togethers before being properly inducted later.

Lest you think this is a snooty, exclusive club for the privileged, Tom assures us their members come from all walks of life. “We have prolific collectors, vintage experts, phenomenal photographers, technical gurus and excellent writers. Some can even service watches! The one thing we all have in common is our love for the art of watchmaking and we enjoy learning from one another.”

What are you hoping to achieve with Singapore Watch Club?
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.

How many watches do you have in your personal collection and which is your favourite?
I’ve got a humble few. All of them are my prized possessions but I’ve been fortunate enough to meet crazy collectors with insane collections, all over the world. 

It’s hard to pick a favourite but if I had to I’d choose my Manufacture Royale 1770 Voltige Piece Unique (below). This watch means a lot to me as it represents my first venture into the world of independent watchmaking. It’s also extra special as I was involved in the design process from start to finish. I’ve also customised the rotor, so this is one watch I can truly call my own. And of course, it being the only of its kind is the icing on the cake. Besides, it’s a great watch from a great brand!

What's your grail watch?
As a full-fledged watch geek, my grail would have to check a few boxes. I’ve always been a huge fan of Jaeger-LeCoultre, in particular their Reversos. Their strong heritage and technical prowess really attract me. The Reverso is also without doubt a horological icon. My grail from the house of Jaeger LeCoultre would be the Reverso à Eclipse: A Reverso that features a “curtain” dial that can be opened to reveal a beautiful mini painting. It is classy, timeless and intimate: the perfect heirloom piece.

Top: Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso à Eclipse featuring a depiction of Van Gogh's famous Sunflowers painting, limited to five pieces

In your opinion, what's one misconception people have about the watch industry?
This isn’t so much a misconception but something that I find to be unhealthy for the industry: In this day and age, watches tend to be viewed as status symbols. This mindset strips away any inherent artistic values and degrades watches to nothing more than an expensive piece of jewellery for bragging rights. There’s so much more to the world of haute horlogerie than the price tags; it’s a very interesting marriage of art and science to be explored if one focuses on the right elements.

What to you has been the most exciting development in horology in recent years? 
In recent years, the introduction and fusion of materials in watchmaking that make watches more efficient, accurate and durable has had me on the edge of my seat. One material that really stood out to me is silicon. Silicon is hard and light without the disadvantages of metal, namely sensitivity to temperature changes and magnetism. These properties make it the perfect material for a watch’s balance, hairspring and escapement. It directly improves reliability.

Being several times harder than steel and resistant to wear and tear, silicon parts require no lubrication, translating to longer times between servicing. Its lightness also helps to improve efficiency. Take the Patek Philippe 5550P Advanced Research (below) for example, its calibre 240Q Si boasts an improved power efficiency as opposed to regular 240Q without silicon parts. Of course, silicon has its trade-offs. It doesn’t hold up to shocks as well as metal and any breakage would require a replacement. Further experimentation and implementation of more materials can be expected for the coming years.

What watch trends have you spotted this year and what are you predicting will trend next?
Not to take anything away from any brands out there but of course we’ve seen our fair share of Hindi numerals, blue dials, bronze cases, tourbillons and PVD coatings in recent years. More recently, smaller watches are making a comeback. The big, oversized case craze is undergoing a correction as we speak. And yellow is the new black! I reckon yellow gold will soon be popular again. This sentiment is supported by Audemars Piguet’s unveiling of a yellow gold Royal Oak collection at this year’s SIHH.

Ex Managing Editor

Like most people these days, Melissa tells the time with her phone. She considers serious timepieces works of art and thinks the perpetual calendar is the handiest complication to date (pun not intended). She's also a Grammar Nazi but promises not to judge if you can't tell the difference between "guilloche" and "guillotine".

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