Ahead of Watches & Wonders we profile five ardent watch connoisseurs.
THE SEASONED COLLECTOR: Carson Chan
For someone who has been exposed to high-end watchmaking for quite some time, Carson Chan is frustrated that many people within the industry have difficulty explaining things in detail – and that frustration has spearheaded the 46-year-old’s goal as head of the Greater China mission for the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie (FIHH), which is the organiser of Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) and Watches & Wonders. Chan was the managing director for Bonhams, and left to head up FIHH’s Asia Pacific team a year ago, working on strengthening people’s knowledge and understanding of fine watchmaking from a neutral source. He is the catalyst for FIHH’s education, training and cultural promotion in the region, hoping to offer industry people and the public an impartial place to study through training and lectures.
What is your first watch memory?
The first watch I received was a digital Alba from my father. I still have it – not sure if it’s running though! I was in fifth or sixth grade.
What led to your love for timepieces?
My love for watches has to do with cars. I left Hong Kong in the mid-80’s for school in California and stayed on for university. I studied international business and was extremely interested in cars but had no engineering background or training. I started racing in an amateur way. I volunteered during my summer holidays to work in a garage in return for usage of the facility and discount on ordering parts and tools, so I’m a self-taught engineer. When I moved back to Hong Kong in 1997, I had no friends or family here and was bunking with a friend in Kowloon City so I couldn’t own a car. That mechanical itch acted up so I looked into watches, bought some watch tools and took a watch apart and found that it’s similar to automotive engineering, and it satisfied the mechanical urge I had. I find it very therapeutic to take a watch apart, put it back together and see it running. Others appreciate watches for their aesthetics; I go from inside out and appreciate how they work.
If you could own any watch in the world what would it be?
I’m quite different from the usual watch collector – there are watches I find interesting and they’re a little off the beaten path. There’s this German brand called Junghans that I’ve been meaning to look at. They’re very retro and not very expensive; they still use plexiglass instead of sapphire crystal.
What are your thoughts on smartwatches?
I don’t own a smartwatch because I’m busy enough with phones as it is. In relation to high-end watchmaking, I think it actually helps the industry. Smartwatches appeal to younger consumers – without smartwatches they would never put something on their wrist. When the time comes and they understand and appreciate the art and craft behind a mechanical watch, it will educate the younger consumer.
Which timepiece is your most prized possession and why?
The watch I bought when my first child was born – an IWC Ceramic Pilot Split-Second watch.
What are your three favourite models? And why?
I don’t have a favourite model – it’s difficult to say what your favourites are as it’s like asking what wine you like best. It depends who you’re with, where you are, what pairs nicely with it. I have a soft spot for one I built in 1997 from ordered parts. It’s by no means a nice watch – it’s just a regular manual wind with a sweeping second hand. It’s a bit small but the first time I experienced the process of manually building a watch. I’ll never sell it.
What is the most important criteria for you when investing in a watch?
How brands present the watch is the most important for me, it has to reflect the true value as well as the history and background. You need to really like the watch. Personally I’m not concerned in its value or potential return – you invest in stocks and property, not watches. They are meant to be worn – to me it’s like buying a Ferrari and locking it up, it goes against the original design.
Will you be visiting the upcoming Watches & Wonders? What are you most looking forward to at the fair?
Of course – I’ll be there from 9am to 10pm every day! I’m looking forward to the end of it [laughs]. But seriously, the format will be different with forums and discussion groups so it’ll be very exciting.
Around how many watches do you own?
I own around 60.