Singapore Watch Club: Two Years OnWritten by Alvin Wong
Co-founder Tom Chng on the challenges of keeping it real.
Guests at the Singapore Watch Club's 2nd Anniversary bash, co-hosted by The Hour Glass
There is nothing like the scent of new blood to tingle the senses of watch brands. In a business known for preaching to the converted, the promise of a new audience bristling with youth, enthusiasm, and potentially deep pockets, is akin to discovering a new oil well in an over-drilled field.
When the Singapore Watch Club (SWC) came onto the scene in 2015, with a social media-savvy following numbering in the tens of thousands, and an unabashedly inclusive ethos that welcomed enthusiasts at all levels of horological appreciation, the club quickly garnered attention of a watch trade pining for new customers.
SWC’s profile grew quickly. After the initial rounds of getting-to-know-you exclusive luncheons and assorted shindigs, the club even managed, with the help of major retailer The Hour Glass, to enlist Ulysse Nardin to produce a limited run of commemorative watches for its second anniversary.
But along with the hype comes the challenges of keeping what is essentially a community of hobbyists grounded, especially with the possibility of monetised partnerships beckoning. We speak of co-founder Tom Chng for his take on SWC’s journey so far.
From left: Andreas Boesch, managing director of Ulysse Nardin, Asia-Pacific; Tom Chng, co-founder of SWC; Michael Tay, group managing director of The Hour Glass
How has SWC grown in these two years?
The fundamental values of the club haven't changed. The whole point of the club is to generate interest among the local watch loving community, and make it an easy and accessible platform for new enthusiasts to learn more about the hobby. That said, as the number of members grow, we are also quite careful about who we bring into the club. The stakes get higher as the club grows, and we don't want any ill-willed people to spoil what we have built so far.
What do you mean by "higher stakes"?
Basically, when more people are involved, there is a higher chance of conflict and falling out. Ego is a big issue in watch collecting communities, and we are making extra effort to keep that in check.
How do you intend to do that?
Max Busser (founder of independent brand MB&F) told me very early on that many watch clubs have come and gone, usually torn apart by ego and politics. And it would be really sad because these clubs started with their members' hearts in the right place. I guess it is about constantly reminding myself why we started this in the first place - it is about sharing a love for horology.
SWC member William Suryoputro (left) and SWC co-founder Lim Wee Yong admiring their new Ulysse Nardin timepieces
How is the SWC being engaged by brands so far?
Our involvement with brands so far have been limited to cocktail events, private dinners and such. This has been really helpful for our members to get to know the brands, as well as people behind them.
And there is the collaboration with Ulysse Nardin for your second anniversary watch.
The partnership came exactly as a result of such interaction. We were at a lunch with Ulysse Nardin's previous CEO Patrik Hoffmann, organised by The Hour Glass. Prior to that, we didn't have much knowledge about the brand or its know-hows. But that meeting opened our eyes to the brand's different expertise from enamel dial-making to cutting-edge movement innovations. From there, the conversation turned very organically into creating special edition watches, which resulted in our commemorative watch.
Ulysse Nardin Singapore Watch Club limited edition
Are commemorative editions going to be a thing for SWC?
Prior to Ulysse Nardin, we didn't think we were going to make a watch like that. Such an idea would've been a very long shot. We are not a large club, and we didn't expect that a watch brand would go out of its way to collaborate with us. In fact, we met in February 2017 and the watches were delivered in November! I have to add that we are very thankful to The Hour Glass as well. They must have weighed in on the whole process to make it come through.
How have you grown personally in your watch collecting journey?
My tastes have changed quite a bit. The last time we spoke, I was very much into exploring the independent watchmaking scene, as well as the big icons - Reversos, Speedmasters, Submariners, and the like. Now I see myself gravitating to the artisanal side of horology. I'm really fascinated by enamel dials, miniature painting, skeletonised dials, engraving and so on. The finishing of a watch ranks really high on my list now, too. And I think I have become better at identifying which watches offer good value for money.
Alvin promises not to be a douche when talking about watches. He may have scoured the Basel and Geneva watch fairs for the past 15 years, and played an instrumental role to the growth of Singapore's pioneering horological and men's lifestyle publications, but the intrepid scribe seeks to learn something new with each story he writes.