Got time? Dan has plenty – we checked out the luxury watch collector’s trove of stunning timepieces including a 1995 Rolex Day Date as worn by Tony Soprano on “The Sopranos”.
Photos by Gabe Tan
How many watches do you own currently?
I’ve got a collection of 15 modern and vintage watches from Rolex, Audemars Piguet, Tudor, IWC, Omega, Cartier, Panerai, and Grand Seiko. Of those, Rolex is a firm favorite – I’ve got four!
What is it about luxury watches that you find appealing?
Well for starters, men are pretty limited in what we can wear at work so it’s the only way we can show off a bit of personality and taste with our outfits. Also once you’re into watches you’ll never be without one – whether you’re in jeans or a tux, in a meeting or hiking up a mountain there’s always a moment when you’d catch yourself looking at your wrist and think “man, that’s an awesome watch”.
Talk to us about the first luxury watch you bought.
My first great watch was a limited edition Omega Speedmaster celebrating the 35th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. It’s similar to a regular Speedmaster, but with a black on white ‘panda’ dial and a special enamel. The model caught my eye on eBay when I was first looking at buying a watch but it was out of my budget.
About a week later I was walking to meet my girlfriend for lunch when I walked past a little watch shop in Clerkenwell, London, and spotted the very same watch. I went in and tried it on, and the weight and quality really struck me. It felt really well made and had an amazing presence to it. It was £1650 (approx. S$2944), so I knew I could make my money back if I ever wanted to sell it. I ran to the bank and back, put a deposit down, spent the weekend selling a couple of guitars, then paid the balance and picked it up.
You own 15 watches currently, but you’ve been through 50 to 60 watches over the years. How do you decide when to move on from one timepiece to another?
I tend to go with the flow. Maybe I’ve seen someone else wearing something that’s caught my eye, or maybe a piece I’ve always wanted to try is available for a great price. I sell the ones I don’t wear and keep the ones that make me go “wow” and stare at my wrist all day when I wear them.
Speaking of moving on, you had moved on from being a guitar collector to a luxury watch collector. Tell us more about your love for guitars.
I had a collection of really beautiful guitars which I’d spent a few years refining, but as a trainee lawyer back then I wasn’t getting any time to play any of them. I had all these great pieces just sitting at home unloved. At its peak, I had about 30 guitars in a tiny one bedroom apartment in London. I’ve still got about 10 or so of my favorite pieces in Singapore, although I play them less than I used to!
Rolex makes up most of your collection. What about the brand appeals to you?
Where do I start? Regardless of what my favorite piece is, Rolex is the one brand I will always have in my collection. The brand is an institution, and everyone keen on watches should try one at some point. One thing to understand about Rolex is that they’re very slow moving. Changes to their models and lineup are made gradually and carefully. Their core watches are a result of decades of refinement through design and often have a very visible and tangible heritage. Also, Rolex makes their watches entirely in-house in a way that almost no one else on that scale does. It even owns its own foundry, which makes the basic metal alloys its watches are made from. I could talk for a long time about Rolex!
Tell us about an unforgettable experience you’ve been through as a luxury watch collector.
My most memorable experience is when I bought my 1979 Tudor Submariner 9411/0 (aka ‘Snowflake’). Back in 2013, I’d been searching for one to no avail. However one weekend I was visiting my parents in Essex, UK, checked eBay, noticed one had popped up for auction and it was only 10 minutes down the road! I got in touch with the seller and was around his house half an hour later.
We spent a couple of hours chatting about photography and watches over tea. He was the original owner, who’d bought the Snowflake in Geneva airport in 1979 and worn it for 35 years, bringing it around the world on all sorts of adventures. At first, I thought I didn’t have a chance but to my surprise, he told me he’d love to sell the watch to me, and offered a much lower price than the previous offers he’d received. It’s gone up in value very significantly since then, but it’s the one watch I’ll never sell.
We’re curious, is it a hassle caring for a collection that’s expensive and luxurious?
I wear my watches quite hard and I don’t believe they should be babied. Watches are big, beautiful lumps of steel designed to be worn and used. I’ll never be someone who keeps a watch beautifully or leaves it in its box. If I’m not actively wearing a watch I’ll sell it. That said, you should be able to identify when something’s up with a watch, like if it’s losing or gaining large amounts of time. This usually means it’s due for a service!
How does the luxury watch collector scene in Singapore compare to the one in London?
The watch scene here is brilliant. I think Singaporeans are often the taste-makers for the rest of the world when it comes to watches. It’s one of the only cities in the world where every manufacturer worth mentioning has a boutique. People in the private collecting scene here have really varied and refined taste, and everyone I’ve met is really friendly and eager to share their collections and tell me about their journey (shout out to Singapore Watch Club). Additionally, Singapore’s such a safe place, you can wear your collection out in public without fear. I wouldn’t dream of wearing my solid gold Day Date out in London.
What do you look out for when you’re buying a watch?
Firstly, a good seller who’s either looked after the watch really well or loved it to bits. I always say “buy the seller” – it’s important that you have complete confidence in whom you’re buying from. Sometimes you’ll get a watch with all the original paperwork and boxes. But sometimes all you have is your knowledge, your common sense, and your gut. Try and avoid watches that have been tampered with or altered too much. Vintage watches, in particular, often have extensively replaced parts, and buying vintage can be a bit of a minefield if you’re not familiar.
Any tips for a luxury watch collector who’s new to the scene?
Spend a long time learning about the market before diving in. Understand market trends and what the brands are about, and don’t make rash purchases. If a deal is too good to be true, it probably is. People worry a lot about fakes, so never make a purchase unless you’re 110% confident of the seller. Also, make sure you try a watch on before making a big purchase. I’ve been through so many which have looked amazing in pictures and on other people but just haven’t suited me at all.
What do your family and friends think of your collection?
They think it’s ridiculous and they’re probably right! I think my fiancée is pretty happy I made the switch from guitars to watches. They certainly take up less room in our apartment!
And finally, the question on everyone’s minds: how do you keep up with such an expensive hobby?
Hard work and a lot of patience. I always make sure I buy at a price I can get back if I sell the watch. Sometimes you have to wait a long time for the right deal, but if you buy right you’ll never lose a penny.
Keep up with Dan’s growing collection by following him on Instagram at @dsmsingapore.
This interview has been edited and condensed.