In Wrist Watch — a column dedicated to ‘watch spotting’ in the wild — our resident horology writer Randy Lai chats to key individuals whose collections demonstrate some aspect of excellence (e.g. craft, rarity, historicity). This month, he calls in with Mr. Carson Chan — a quintessential ‘car-turned-watch guy’ and, even more intriguingly, the FHH‘s Head of Mission in Asia.
For what probably amounts to a century in internet years, we’ve all known the critical role the Greater Chinese market plays in keeping the luxury watch industry afloat: Together Hong Kong and Mainland China account for around 21 percent of Switzerland’s annual watch exports. To all but a particularly incurious few, that’s hardly newsworthy. Yet for a region in possession of such purchasing punch there is a disproportionate lack of representation in the industry itself; with most senior brand roles occupied by European expats, to say nothing of the craft of watchmaking. That is unless of course, you count Carson Chan — better known by his online sobriquet, ‘Watch Professor’.
A quick glance at Chan’s résumé makes clear that few in the industry have done as much over such a sustained period to foster ethnically Chinese voices in the dissemination, consumption and, ultimately, appreciation of fine mechanical watchmaking. A scientist by vocation, Chan returned to Hong Kong in 1997 — initially, to run his own business. Over the past two decades he has held positions with a ‘who’s who’ of industry bigwigs: first, as GM of Richard Mille; then as Bonhams’ Head of Watches; and most recently, as the Fondation de Haute Horlogerie’s Head of Mission in the region.
In the latter role (notably, for the same industry body which organises the annual ‘Watches & Wonders’ tradeshow) Chan spends his days educating members of the public and watch trade alike, going so far as to offer FHH-certified training for those who are deep into the discipline. This same sort of scientific rigour that suffuses Chan’s work also applies to his collecting — indeed, both come from the same place. “My passion for watches stemmed from my automotive interests,” says Chan. “After my return to Asia, the lack of opportunities to drive and tinker with cars turned me onto mechanical watchmaking. I tried as much as possible to treat the process of studying watches as I would disassembling a car: Understanding the micro aspect of mechanical watchmaking is what has fueled my passion everyday. Long-term, that’s much deeper and more meaningful than simply just speculating on price — something that’s very popular in Asia.”
Below, Chan shares five watches with us that espouse his philosophy.
IWC Pilot Dopplechrono in ceramic (Ref. IW378601)
“This is the pre-Top Gun version of the IWC split-seconds chronograph, typified by an all-black aesthetic save for the crown, pushers and buckle — which are all in stainless steel. It’s fitted with a vertical three-day date display, small seconds (at nine o’clock), a black dial, the distinctive 44mm case; and was produced in a limited edition of 1,000 pieces.
I’ve always loved the utilitarianism of IWC. That was a particularly strong element of the split-seconds chronograph and the complication has always been a particularly attractive match for ceramic. All told, I’ve had this piece for about 14 years and always enjoy wearing it.”
H. Moser & Cie Endeavour Concept Perpetual Calendar (in DLC titanium)
“The Endeavour Concept is arguably the simplest, most elegant take on the perpetual calendar I can think of. While many of the apertures are akin to what you’ll find in a more traditional wristwatch (e.g. date at three; power reserve at nine), in order to maintain a clear aesthetic, Moser opted to remove the leap year indication. (You’ll find this discretely hidden away on the movement side of the watch.)
In addition, the perpetual calendar is easily controlled via the crown and is even capable of being adjusted bidirectionally — unlike most perpetual calendars, where the indications can only be set forwards. The date indicator consists of two large discs overlapping one another and is programmed to ‘jump’ instantaneously. To make things even more impressive, this particular example is unique — a bespoke commission I requested from the brand two years ago.”
Jaeger-LeCoultre Grand Reverso Ultra-thin ‘Tribute to 1931’
“In keeping with the Moser’s simplicity — ergo, minimal branding; no logos — I’m also a huge fan of the JLC Reverso. In a word, the design is ‘compulsory’ for any serious watch collector. This particular example is the ‘Tribute to 1931’ in chocolate brown, released by the brand in 2014. Reportedly inspired by an early Reverso design drawn from the JLC archive, this version is made in pink gold with a brown dial, offered on a cordovan strap by bootmaker Casa Fagiliano.
The use of the calibre 822/2 movement helps to keep the case’s thickness down to a very reasonable 7.3mm and — true to the original Reverso — there’s only one dial. I simply can’t overstate how much I love the design’s simplicity: If you look closely, there isn’t even a logo!”
Omega calibre 321 Speedmaster (Ref. ST105.012)
Being that this particular Speedmaster is almost 55 years old, it’s hardly surprising that it has a tangible aura of escapism and adventure. (The name says ‘driver’s watch,’ but the caseback makes you think ‘moon watch’!) Inside, the Lemania-made calibre 321 is nothing less than a work of art. Many many iconic brands are all unified by their adoption of this movement, including Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, Roger Dubuis and so on. The fact that Omega relaunched the 321 just last year makes this vintage example all the more desirable. This Speedy has been in the collection for nearly 20 years.”
Universal Genève Tri-Compax (circa late 1940s)
“Last but certainly not least, I’ve picked out this UG Tri-Compax to show you. This particular example is from the late 40s. First released in 1944, the Tri-Compax derives its name from three of the most traditional complications in Swiss watchmaking: the chronograph, moonphase, and calendar. Across its lifetime, multiple different movements made their way into the lineup: Namely the UG481, 287 and 281. It was also produced in a range of different sizes anywhere between 34.5mm to 39mm.
The Tri-Compax I own is a rare, impressively preserved version in rose gold, outfitted with the early 481 movement. Even at 36mm, the design is undeniably beautiful and makes an elegant impression at a distance. Though I wouldn’t call it a ‘beater,’ it’s fair to say that I wear this pretty frequently.”