Ahead of Watches & Wonders we profile five ardent watch connoisseurs.
THE SARTORIAL COLLECTOR: Mark Cho
Any seasoned gentleman knows The Armoury is their one-stop shop in Hong Kong, from rows of immaculate ties to boxes of polished shoes and niche vintage accessories housed in a gleaming case at the forefront of the store, it has it all. Co-founder Mark Cho is evocative of The Armoury’s ethos, decked out in a bespoke suit with vintage eyeglasses and armed with a near complete collection of Grand Seiko timepieces to show us. Born and raised in London, the 32-year-old worked in real estate before moving to Hong Kong. He met co-founder Alan See at renowned tailor shop W.W. Chan & Sons, and the two shared the vision to bring niche brands from around the world to Hong Kong, thus the birth of The Armoury in 2011. With a love and knowledge for style, it is no surprise Cho has an extensive collection of vintage and modern timepieces and is attuned to the nuances of fine watchmaking.
What is your first watch memory?
The first watch I received. My mother bought it for me when I graduated from high school at 16. It was an Omega Seamaster Professional.
What led to your love for timepieces?
When I was working at HSBC in London, I got my first paycheck and walked past this store selling secondhand watches. I saw a beautiful Omega Chronostop – it was super cool and at a reasonable price so I bought it. From there, it just spiralled out of control really. I’m definitely more into vintage, though I do try and collect a variety.
If you could own any watch in the world what would it be?
The one I’m after right now is a unicorn. It’s a Grand Seiko watch from the early 1960’s but in platinum, which is vanishingly rare. It’s selling for about anywhere between US$20-30,000 (approximately HK$155-232,000 at time of press) which is a pretty wide range.
What are your thoughts on smartwatches?
I think smartwatches are cool. I don’t have a smartwatch or an iPhone and the Apple Watch is the only one I would consider. I check my phone every two seconds anyway so it’s not that big a deal. I see a lot of people in the industry wear two watches. If it became more the norm and didn’t look as goofy then maybe I’d wear both as well.
Which timepiece is your most prized possession and why?
A toss-up between either my Patek Philippe Nautilus 3700 from 1978 or my Grand Seiko SBGW033. Both approach perfection. The Nautilus was the first ‘way too expensive’ watch I ever bought. It represents one of the finest time-only sports watches of all time. The form of the Nautilus is iconic and yet at first glance it is deceptively simple – the details as usual make all the difference. The original design had two hands with no seconds, another nod to its simplicity. The SBGW033, possibly the least romantic name ever, is the reissue of the first ever Grand Seiko from 1960 for Seiko’s 130th anniversary. It is very rare when a reissue rivals the original inspiration. Virtually all aspects of the appearance are the same as its ancestor but it has been upgraded with a domed sapphire crystal and a modern manual wind movement. I bought this watch on a whim. It was selling relatively cheaply a few years ago but I quickly realised just how fine it is and now I wear it more than any other watch I own. The proportions are perfect and the finishing is superb. Until someone handles it in person, it is not possible to explain simply how beautiful it is.
What are your three favourite models? And why?
That’s really hard to say. It’s always chopping and changing – even the ones I use regularly I rarely use two days in a row.
What are the most important criteria for you when investing in a watch?
The movements matter to me a lot, and the accuracy and collectability a little bit, but ultimately the aesthetics. I sell suits all day long so the watch is a part of my outfit.
Will you be visiting the upcoming Watches & Wonders?
I haven’t actually been before. We’re a dealer now and we know a fair few people in the industry; I also do a lot of research on the forums. I’m definitely interested in going, but it depends on timing.
Around how many watches do you own?
At the peak of my collection I owned 44; but now it’s gone down to the mid-30’s as some of my watches are for sale at The Armoury and others I’ve sold to friends. When you have a larger collection there are definitely pieces that never get worn and I like wearing pieces from my collection regularly.