From Panerai to Seiko, a man’s passion for vintage watches has led him to collect, sell as well as share his love for such timepieces with the younger generation.

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“We measure time according to the movement of countless suns; and they measure time by little machines in their little pockets. Now tell me, how could we ever meet at the same place and the same time?”  

– Khalil Gibran, Sand & Foam

There’s just something about basking in the aura of rustic timepieces. I can’t tell for sure if it’s the hypnotic medley of cranking gears or the infectious twisting of the dials – gleaming and leering through aged glass as they tick.

This is Koh Pin Hong’s first love. And his first love, is infinity. Infinity, if such a thing exists, probably feels like this.

From the padded confines of his chukka brown satchel bag, he carefully lifts an octagonal box and places it right in between us – his eyes transfixed.

“This is history in a box,” he says, working up a dry laugh.

The box in question, when opened, reveals three Vintage Panerai watches.

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Koh Pin Hong showcases his personal collection of vintage timepieces from Rolex and Panerai in a special padded box.

Fifty-year-old Koh is the founder and manager of Chronowerkz – a collector as well as seller of vintage watches and timepieces. A self-confessed antiquities fanatic, transforming his pastime into a profession was more of a rite of passage for the semi-retiree.

Living pieces of history 

Watches have been his greatest muse. In fact, his first ever watch – a Seiko Diver – was the catalyst for what was to become his first love: vintage watches.

“Watches are living pieces of history,” he says. “There’s just so much of detail, technology and intricacy that goes into watchmaking. Each piece is different, each has a story to tell.”

And nobody tells stories better than Koh.

As we delve deeper into romantic notions of collecting vintage watches, he reminisces  his fondness for all things Panerai – a Florence based watchmaking company tracing its roots back to 1860 Italy as the official watchmakers for the then-Italian Marina Militare – the Italian Navy.

“Time is the only constant. And watches remind us of that.”

“My first Panerai was a 5218-201A Chronograph. I was first introduced to it by friends and I’ve been in love ever since,” a mesmerised Koh says, assuring me that as long as he breathes, his watches will never be for sale.

“Collecting them has become somewhat of an addiction.”

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Mr Koh Ping Hong, owner of Chronowerkz.

These days, he feeds his obsession by running Chronowerkz – an online vintage watch catalogue detailing timepieces of yesteryears while documenting and highlighting their interesting features.

Also, his almost obsessive fan boy worship of Japanese timepiece brand Seiko is evident by the numerous models on display before me. When asked about his fetish for the Japanese watchmaker, he doesn’t mince his words.

“Everybody can make watches,” he says. “But not everyone can make timepieces.” He feels that timepieces are like art and Seiko remains one of the few watchmakers that create art with their signature pieces.

Affluence, he adds, is the biggest blindside in vintage watch collecting.More often than not, collectors think that huge price tags equate to rich histories.  And the opposite is almost always true. Hence, his penchant for all things Seiko.

“Seiko is probably the most overlooked vintage watch brand there is. Its rich tradition and history is often superseded by modern-day watchmakers who glam up their products,” he says.

“Not only is a vintage Seiko affordable, it guarantees value.”

Appealing to a younger generation

Koh acknowledges that collecting vintage watches is not just for his generation. He notes this trend is picking up among those in their late 20s and early 30s – all looking to invest in a real timepiece.

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Appearing in flea markets from time to time such as this one at the Singapore Art Musuem, Pin Hong displays his company Chronowerkz as well as vintage timepieces for sale.

Koh claims that the younger generation knows their watches. Young adults at a recent flea market at The Singapore Art Museum formed the bulk of his customers. He soon figured that there was a market for vintage watch collection locally. An indication, he says of the increased awareness and appreciation for yesteryears.

“Watches are living pieces of history. There’s just so much of detail, technology and intricacy that goes into watchmaking. Each piece is different, each has a story to tell.”

Koh’s traditional selling approach has reaped benefits beyond that of his expectations. Instead of relying simply on social media to get the word out, he lets his watches speak for themselves.

“I think it’s amazing that most of my orders are from young adults who know their stuff. We’re talking about individuals who do their homework before attempting to buy any pieces,” he says. “It’s encouraging to see the culture of vintage watch collection being nurtured slowly.”

Koh’s advice to anyone interested in dabbling in vintage watches is to start small. He focuses his target products on affordable vintage pieces from Seiko that cost an average of $300 – a real steal considering that some entry level vintage watches can go up to a $1,000 a piece.

Koh’s traditional selling approach has reaped benefits beyond that of his expectations. Instead of relying simply on social media to get the word out, he lets his watches speak for themselves.

Ultimately, what makes vintage watch collectors tick?

For Koh, its his unquenchable thirst to recapture moments in history. With gargantuan strides in science and technology, nostalgia has lost its place, conveniently swept under the rug of modernity. Watches, he feels, help to reinstate the balance.

“Time is the only constant. And watches remind us of that.”

Words and photographs by Prabhu Silvam
Published by the Singapore Memory Project and Studio Wong Huzir

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