Bonding over luxury watches

Members of #PatekAcademy, an Instagram affinity group, taking photos of their Patek Philippe watches during a catamaran cruise encircling the nearby islands in the Singapore Strait.
Members of #PatekAcademy, an Instagram affinity group, taking photos of their Patek Philippe watches during a catamaran cruise encircling the nearby islands in the Singapore Strait. PHOTO: NYTIMES

Millennial-aged watch collectors from the region meet in Singapore to talk about timepieces and trade tips

Over one weekend in late August, a group of 11 millennial-aged watch collectors from Hong Kong, Sydney, Shanghai, Taiwan and Yangon converged on Singapore.

The attraction? A celebration of #PatekAcademy, a new Instagram affinity group that had 2,655 followers a little more than two months after it was founded.

But Patek Philippe, the family-owned Swiss brand known for its horological expertise and elegant style, did not have a thing to do with it.

"We're creating our own community," says Mr Shoyo Kawamura, 23, the group's co-founder, who compiled the guest list, organised events and picked up the tab once his guests were in Singapore.

Instagram is the group's raison d'etre - several of the members are well-known influencers (@horoloupe and @singaporewatchclub). They just enjoy the company of contemporaries with similar lifestyles and interests, such as cigars, whiskey and fast cars.

Mr Kawamura says: "Collectors like us have more influence than watch magazines now. We post authentic watches that we've paid for with our hard-earned money."

Mr Kawamura is finishing a marketing degree in Singapore and helping to manage his family's vast portfolio of private equity investments. His focus includes Singapore and Malaysia.

For #PatekAcademy, the budding tycoon hosted three GTGs (watch-group slang for "get-together") - a dinner at Straits Clan, a private club; a late-night party at Zouk, and the highlight event, a Saturday afternoon jaunt on a luxury catamaran that encircled nearby islands in the Singapore Strait.

During the four-hour trip on a blisteringly hot day, the men smoked Cohiba cigars and sipped drinks as they searched for shade to take photos of their Pateks - many on wrists, others carefully arranged on a blue tarp laid on an upper deck.

They talked timepieces, quizzed one another on Patek esoterica and traded tips on how to find rare watches.

The girlfriends who went along (none of whom is a watch collector) donned bikinis and sat on beach towels, chatting, before the buffet lunch.

Mr Kawamura rolled up the sleeves of his white linen shirt to display his blue-faced Ref. 5270G Perpetual Calendar Chronograph on his left wrist.

Released in 2011, its dial was packed by Patek with the day and month at 12 o'clock, a 30-minute counter at three o'clock, a moon phase date at six o'clock and a seconds indicator at nine o'clock.

It is one of the 30 to 40 watches in Mr Kawamura's collection, which includes a number of Pateks, but also Rolex, Piaget, Hublot, Omega and Breitling - some of which he bought and others that were passed down by his father.

"Collecting is a huge part of my life," he says, estimating the value of his watches at more than $1 million.

To show his friends, Mr Kawamura had brought along a Patek 5170G-001 18-Karat White Gold Chronograph with Breguet numerals and a black dial, co-branded with Tiffany & Co.

"For young collectors, buying is easier now," Mr Kawamura says, recalling that when he first started collecting at age 14, he had to pore over glossy catalogues.

"Now, it's all available on the Web. You see a watch on Instagram, and boom, there's the price and its whole story - everything in a single click."

During the cruise, some of the men chided the other founder of #PatekAcademy, Mr Andy Zhang, for getting tiny scratches on his watches - he wears six in rotation - while cooking and playing with his two toddlers.

A Shanghai native who lives mostly in Sydney, Mr Zhang works in his family's property business, based in the Philippines, and in his fashion boutiques.

Four years ago, Mr Zhang began what some call the first Instagram hashtag group for watch lovers, #LangeNation, connecting fans of the A. Lange & Sohne brand. Now, with more than 9,000 followers, it has begun to host official events with the German watchmaker.

He says: "Brands used to ignore social media, but they don't now. It has reshaped the whole industry."

"They prefer selling to clients they know, to protect the brand," he added, pointing at what he calls his "milestone" watch: Patek's 40th Anniversary Nautilus Chronograph, Ref. 5976/1G. He bought the white-gold timepiece last year after meeting a senior Patek executive at a private dinner.

Mr Zhang recalls: "He called Geneva that day for me. It was the last piece available."

Like Mr Kawamura, Mr Zhang is a member of the Shanghai Watch Gang, founded last year.

They say it is the largest millennial watch community, with more than 8,300 followers on Instagram and a Facebook page, and regulars attend the get-togethers at the 442 Club, a private club in the Shanghai Xintiandi development.

Mr Kawamura hopes to ride what he thinks will be a potential wave of millennial demand by opening his own vintage and rare-finds shop.

In preparation, he is considering two watchmaking courses in Switzerland next year.

He says: "It's a matter of time. People our age are getting exposed to collecting through social media. There should be more coming."

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 07, 2018, with the headline 'Bonding over luxury watches'. Print Edition | Subscribe