Ahead of Watches & Wonders we profile five ardent watch connoisseurs.
THE CONTEMPORARY COLLECTOR: Karson Choi
Meeting with Karson Choi, chairman of Halewinner Watches Group, is initially intimidating. Choi is the son of Hong Kong’s ‘King of Toys’ Francis Choi Chee-ming, and manages one of the top five luxury watch retailers in Greater China. The 29-year-old is nothing but friendly, down-to-earth and relaxed, offering us tea before we get started. The group, comprising 12 retail outlets of Halewinner and Unique Timepieces, represents over 40 of the world’s top watch brands. Does Choi have a favourite? No, he replies shyly, though he hands over a custom-made Roger Dubuis Minute Repeater Tourbillon for our inspection. The case back is engraved with “Karson Choi x Roger Dubuis” to commemorate the one-off watch he received.
What is your first watch memory?
In my childhood, I was fascinated by a cartoon character themed plastic watch sold at a local convenience store. I really wanted to buy it but I was a fat kid and food was my first priority.
What led to your love for timepieces?
I highly value time management. Having a watch on my wrist allows me to be time conscious. It is also a way to express myself and plays a major role in terms of my outfit. The clothes have to match the watch, always.
What was your first watch?
My first watch was a Casio digital watch. It had the dual functions of being a calculator and a timer. A watch that embodies the function of calculator is a fascinating idea to a kid. My first luxury watch was a Tag Heuer given to me as a gift, it was incredible to look at and impossible to beat.
If you could own any watch in the world what would it be?
It would be my first stainless steel Tag Heuer watch which I have been unable to find anywhere in my old house for the past 15 years.
What are your thoughts on smartwatches?
Fine watches and smartwatches target two different markets. Fine watches are about the heritage of a brand and its technological breakthroughs in terms of fine watchmaking; whereas smartwatches are aiming at a range of functionalities that cater for daily life. They’re art and science and neither one can take over the other.
Which timepiece is your most prized possession and why?
My first Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore. It was the very first time in my life that I fell in love with an object. It has an elegant look while at the same time its shape, size and straps are very sporty. It is a combination of luxury and sportiness.
What are your three favourite models? And why?
The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak series always has a place in my heart and takes up quite a percentage of my collection. A white Royal Oak Concept GMT Tourbillon that came out recently is the definition of beauty. The Roger Dubuis Hommage series is also fascinating. I was lucky enough to receive a one-off Minute Repeater Tourbillon from Mr. Roger Dubuis, which I am wearing today. The Greubel Forsey Tourbillon 24 Secondes Vision is my new favourite. It has everything that Greubel Forsey has to offer but in a much more subtle way. The dial is not completely open like their usual way, and the best part is when you turn the watch over, a 72-hour power reserve on frosted plates and an incredible glass dome are hidden underneath.
What are the most important criteria for you when investing in a watch?
It should be a love at first sight moment. I think whether a watch is a limited piece or utilises any type of special material shouldn’t be the only reason to buy a watch; ultimately it should be all about passion. A watch for me is also an accessory that should be worn on my wrist on a daily basis and not just for the sake of showcasing.
Will you be visiting the upcoming Watches & Wonders? What are you most looking forward to at the fair?
Yes. I look forward to seeing something that I can fall in love with. It’s thrilling because instead of seeing all the prototypes in SIHH, the watches at Watches & Wonders are delivered and available immediately here in Hong Kong.
Around how many watches do you own?
I prefer not to say since my wife [former model-turned -mother Irene Wang] will be reading this, but in the range of no more than double-digits – my army of old plastic Casios don’t count.