And that's when we thought: why don't we create a column and invite watch collectors of all sorts to come over and share with us their personal experience and stories? Heck, we can even take a picture or two of their prized possessions so we can share all of these with our readers too. So we thought, and so we did. Today, we bring you our inaugural "My Watches and I" instalment with Alex Lau, a successful wealth planner cum watch collector who happens to have a really fine taste especially when it comes to collecting independent timepieces, certainly not the least of which a unique Laurent Ferrier he has help ed design. Our founder Jason Mai has recently caught up with him and below is their conversation and of course, there will be pictures. Read on and enjoy Alex's unique watch collecting journey.
AL = Alex Lau
JM: Alex, thank you for joining us today. Can you begin by telling us a bit about yourself and how did you first get into the hobby of watch collecting?
AL: Sure, I’m a wealth manager serving high net worth clients, professionals etc. I’m always interested in watches because it’s very rare you find something mechanical with elements of art, design, and technology all bundled in a 40mm case. The subtle differences between and variety of watches also intrigue me. For instance you can see all these different brands, watch faces different movements etc.
JM: Indeed. What was your first ever serious watch then?
AL: A lot of people go for a Rolex, or an Omega as their first watch, but then I wanted something a little bit more classical, dressy. And my very first watch was actually an IWC Portugiese Chronograph. Back then I was only 21 and I needed to get something within my budget, so I went for that. And that's the watch that really got me into really classical dress watches. A lot of people love Rolexes but I just didn’t have that connections. Perhaps it’s because I’m not a big fan of the idea that if somebody has it, I’m gonna have one too. I’d much prefer qualities such as exclusivity, uniqueness, relatively speaking.
AL: My next watch was actually a Jaeger, again something within my budget.
JM: Was it a Reverso, or?
AL: No it wasn’t actually! It was in fact the Master Hometime with a subtle Aston Martin logo on it. Because I’ve always wanted to own an Aston Martin (hearty laughs). Not sure if you’ve seen it, but it really reminds me of the Philippe Dufour Simplicity with the 3-9-12 hour index arrangement. Apart from that it also gives you dual time zones. It’s really nice, the case size is like 38-39mm.
AL: Yes, really subtle. With a really pretty dial!
JM: So what’s next from there? When exactly did you fall in love with independents?
AL: I was 23 when I bought the Jaeger and it’s kind of my step towards the higher echelon of watchmaking. Later, I went on to become one of the most successful financial advisors in my district and I thought, as a treat, I wanted to use a bit of my funds to celebrate that moment. With a budget of HKD200,000, I was looking at Nautilus, Calatrava and others. But then after some online research (by Googling “Nice Watches”) I became really attracted by the independents. Those that make only 1,000 watches a year or so with exceptional level of finishing. That’s when I discovered this whole new world of little known but spectacular brands like F.P.Journe, Kari Voutilainen etc.
JM: That certainly resonates well with your general pursuit of exclusivity.
AL: Yes a little bit. And I loved it when people look at my watch, not know what it is and go “What is that? That’s a really noble looking watch there, is that a Patek? ”. And Philippe Dufour once said that watches are selfish. You don’t buy it for other. You buy it purely for yourself. And I cannot agree more. And that’s when I pulled the trigger on the F.P.Journe Chronometrie Bleu.
AL: First of all, its blue dial. I love blue (laughs). Secondly if you look at the movement, it’s stunning, in terms of finishing and its modern design. Everything about the watch is unique and subtle.
JM: And I assume your hunt for independent pieces didn’t stop with a Journe?
AL: Indeed. Fast forward two years, after becoming more financially established and getting to know a few people in the business, I’ve decided to go for a customised Laurent Ferrier: a Galet Micro-Rotor.
JM: Which is the object of our very interview today. Tell me, what do you like most about your LF.
AL: The subtlety. And I also want to own a watch that combines the element of heritage and finishing from an independent watchmaker. Ferrier, having been a watchmaker for Patek Philippe – a brand with strong heritage - for more than 35 years, you know for sure his independent creations have to be spectacular. It also has what I believe the most beautiful automatic movement out there.
AL: Exactly. And some would argue that traditional dress watches need to be hand-winding, can’t use silicon etc. But in terms of aesthetic, the movement is simply stunning. I also talked to a friend of mine who linked me up with Laurent and I asked him was it possible to commission a customised dial. And he said yes!
AL: I looked back to some of the vintage Pateks and I found out that Breguet numerals were huge back then, which only appeared on special pieces from Patek. So in my mind, having Breguet numerals on my Laurent Ferrier is a no-brainer.
JM: Fantastic. You also told me the other day that the design of your LF was based off a unique Patek Calatrava Ref. 530 auctioned by Phillips in 2016?
AL: Correct, interestingly the Ref. 530 actually surfaced AFTER I’ve commissioned my LF. The Ref. 530, in steel case, actually ended up being the most expensive Calatrava ever sold! I guess that means I have pretty good taste. Now that I’ve owned the LF, I hardly wear my Journe again and it will hard to find another watch to replace it. So it’s kinda my daily watch now. I love its size, its perfectly rounded case and its subtlety in general.
AL: It does! In comparison the Journe actually doesn’t wrap around my wrist that well. When I put on the LF, it just feels that it’s made for my wrist. And every time when I turn the watch over and look at its movement, it puts a smile on my face.
JM: Very well! Did you acquire any other watch recently?
AL: I did. I recently bought a De Bethune DB-25 in rose gold. I know De Bethune is known to be really wild, but I’ve opted for its classical pieces. This time around I even commissioned a uniquely sized movement from De Bethune, again via a close friend of mine.
AL: I’d say somewhat. I’ve had clients with massive interest in watches, so yes it does help to have a nice watch that could serve as a conversation opener, especially when you are speaking to high net worth individuals. They’re usually curious about what you’re wearing and if you can tell the story behind it, they kind of appreciate you more for that. Also, as a professional I’m almost always in a suit, so I need a dressier watch.
JM: Is that why you tend to prefer time-only watches? Since they appear dressier?
AL: Indeed. I love my watch without any complication, not even date. For example I’d love it if Patek can make me a modern Nautilus without a date as my weekend watch. But nowadays you’d be hard pressed to find a sport watch without a date. Maybe a Daytona, but I’m not sure if I want to own a Rolex (laughs).
AL: I’d say there are two watches that I’d actually trade my entire collection for. One is the unique F.P. Journe that was auctioned in the last Unique Watch. The blue dial was absolutely stunning and I’ve never seen a watch that could give me that level of excitement. I know I said I prefer time-only watches and all that, but this particular unique F.P. Journe tourbillon really is something to die for. The other is the Philippe Dufour Simplicity. I actually have a picture of that in my office. It really is the pinnacle of time-only watches and in terms of independent watchmaking, it is Dufour who made it famous. He’s the maestro.
JM: Thank you Alex for your sharing.