We’ve heard from Dr. Bernard Cheong on the topics of minute repeaters and watch collecting as an investment here. He inevitably provokes stimulating discussion with his informed opinions and views. This year Dr. Cheong was invited to be the first non commercial ambassador appointed by the FHH (Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie), which is a terrific honor. Dr. Cheong graciously gave me access to his speech, which was the closing of the FHH 2011 Convention. It addresses the retail sector and is a view from the collectors in Asia, giving a special glimpse into the world of the FHH. Here it is in its entirety.
Greetings and best wishes for the years ahead from South East Asia,
My name is Dr Bernard Cheong, and I have been collecting timepieces for the last 38 years. I am now 53 and am working to live to 120 years.
We all want to live long. Being a doctor and a collector of history and watches, I am both working and enjoying adding years to my life.
I have never been a salesman, a trader or sold any significant watches except Panerai as an experiment many years ago.
I want to share with the retailers that when you are selling precious watches, you are not a merchant. You are professionals that help people (1) to live longer, Medical research shows that people live longer when they can enjoy the fruit of their labor, and ONLY a watch allows the owner that privilege at all times 24 hrs a day (2) to live better , (3) to preserve families (4) to plan heritage and (5) to change cynical young people into better citizens.
All these things, I could not to do as a doctor. I did by helping people to collect watches. If you remain a merchant, then you will remain in the 20th century.
In Asia, top watch retailers are asset advisors, and educators, and plan collections with the customers. TheHourGlass was my first experience with a top 21st century retailer. The FIRST time I bought a watch from TheHourGlass was in 2002. I got not only a RG Ulysse Nardin Freak, but as a GIFT, a 18 watch hard wood box that cost $800 usd in those days! I was a walk in customer!
Today, I have filled that 18 empty spaces with watches from TheHourGlass. And I have bought 6 more boxes and cases.
Specifically in Asia, people need portable assets with consistent values across international borders. They need assets that are small, and of a broad spectrum of values, from a few hundred dollars to a few million dollars. Only high quality, rare watches have this ability. 2 big financial crisis taught Asians that real estate and bulky items cannot be taken out of a country.
From 1998, the people in Asia have also moved from buying “brands” to buying “watches”. Although the psychology of brands and their ability to bestow status is a real power to be handled with great care, the independent makers who are genuinely contributing to bring watch collecting to the next level is of very high importance.
If we do not use independent makers or help promote them, we will always be selling ONLY “luxury goods” and not be able to move into the higher levels of dealing with engineering and art.
I am sure everyone is trying to see what I am wearing today..I am wearing a Peter Speake Marin Thalassa, a watch that I collected just 6 hours ago! I am struggling to pay for this…but I believe in it. This after I still own countless Pateks, Langes and RM tourbillons. Because a work like THIS…is like my Dufour Simplicity. A landmark item.
My belief in MB&F, Opus by Harry Winston, Ulysse Nardin, Patek and Richard Mille…and even Grand Seiko among many others are as strong.
In 2004, when New York’s editor of WatchTime asked me if independent watchmakers will ever survive on the market and whether watches will ever become investment tools, I said yes to both. Goldpfeil had just failed some years before.
Today, nobody will ever question the appeal of the independent’s creations. No one will ever see the prices of 2004 again.
If we always assume that the customer will lose money on his purchase, we cannot carry an air of confidence. How can wine merchants and art dealers sell their delicate and perishable wares as investments, when watch retailers who carry more lasting, more infinitely engineered and intricate products, that are more rare and that which will continue to cost more to produce in equal quality, YET still not be convinced that we are helping our customers spend wisely?
Old watches with fungus and rust are not going to be made that way any longer.
I think that looking at old antique watches is not healthy. Because that is NOT what the watch industry is after 1998 today. Metals, dials, crystals and lubricants have changed. Watches made today will not age for hundreds of years.
People still see old watches from 1970 and believe that their watches will look like that after 30 years! Not at all.
In fact, that is one reason why ROUND and simple watches still sell very well, although to be honest, many are VERY boring. It is because many people believe that the watches will age into old faded dials with round cases! That is what they see in auction books!
No. Today, watches are like man made jewels, BUT only more rare and much more costly to make, if to be made well.
Watches are at the forefront of DESIGN and ART and TECHNOLOGY.
In fact, if you ask architects and historians, they will tell you that for MAN MADE artifacts, DESIGN and ART is supreme in value retention and investment.
More importantly, I hope that we will all think seriously about the fact that high quality watches will become more costly, and that demand will grow much more due to the changes in the world and the internet. All consumers and customers MUST be taught that. This is a golden age of buying to collect.
We have to believe in our own products, and believe that they are of great value. Before we can tell our customers the same thing.
Although I do see careful planning and building of timepieces as an alternative investment to wines and art, many are still unaware of the potential of watch collecting. I am so optimistic, that I often tell friends to start with a BOX for 18 watches as a minimum. Never just buy ONE watch.
Even big brands and small makers are all hesitant to say their works are “investments”. However, I am proof that a good portfolio of timepieces require less space and maintenance, and has the higher and safer potentials of growth in one’s personal assets.
The world has entered an era of watch collecting en mass since 1998, and I feel that it is time for the industry to create a solid foundation to properly accredit and certify values of timepieces, before the market becomes manipulated.
The formation of the Foundation of Haute Horology is a positive step. It should become the board which gives LEVERAGE into what and which watches are legitimate works of horology or art. Even design.
We need a secondary referee, and a reference for values. We need a Foundation that is powerful and respected. Customers will always look up to a Board of Academics and the Foundation must become one.
Thank you and best wishes for all.