Ong Ban, Honest High-quality Watches

Time tells many tales, because the saga of Honest High-quality Watches demonstrates. This journal has been monitoring a few of these tales, intermittently, during the last 20 years however we now have famous one fixed: present CEO Ong Ban. He has been on this commerce for longer than this journal has existed – longer than Coronary heart Media as an organization, actually. The truth that Ong has been concerned within the watch retail enterprise for therefore lengthy is just not exceptional, in itself. What units him aside from most of his friends is that he has been with Honest High-quality Watches all the time, from its heyday as a family-operated enterprise, by all its subsequent ups and downs, and now as a part of Cortina Holdings. He rose up by the gross sales and operational fronts to ultimately grow to be CEO in 2008. One fixed in Ong Ban’s journey is his ardour and enthusiasm for watchmaking, and cultivating an curiosity in high-quality watches. One want solely start to wax lyrical on timepieces to get his eyes to gentle up, if just for the prospect to speak about some element in regards to the watches on the new SHH boutique at Marina Bay Sands. Ong calls this boutique the “perpetually residence,” for SHH and it represents for him the core competencies which have at all times distinguished Honest High-quality Watches.

From the Greubel Forsey Structure to the Lang & Hyne Georg, these are timepieces that require greater than shiny journal commercials and show circumstances; as of late, such uncommon timepieces are prone to be spoken for earlier than they arrive in Singapore. The retail operation wants an individual with a sure measure of sang-froid to take care of competing collectors, in addition to a measure of gravitas to maybe get these collectors to comply with show watches that they’ve purchased of their shops. Consider it in the identical method as some high-end Car dealerships, the place some consumers are blissful to park their vehicles on the showrooms.

It does assist that the SHH retailer has the correct of house to indicate timepieces like this, with Ong noting he was blissful to host collectors who wished to prepare watch-appreciation meets on the retailer’s non-public house. For sure, the introduction of the boutique permits Honest to speak up its impartial manufacturers, and Ong’s personal position in creating this essential watch amassing area of interest. There was a gradual stream of brand name CEOs coming to city on the again of Honest’s dedication to creating the marketplace for these manufacturers. Now with the help of Cortina Holdings, that is prone to be a powerful progress alternative, provided that Cortina Watch is a companion reasonably than a competitor.

We sat down with Ong for a quick chat about impartial watchmaking, the SHH boutique, the intriguing story of Honest High-quality Watches, and his personal position within the persevering with saga.

Congratulations on the brand new boutique! Honest High-quality Watches has been by numerous adjustments, simply within the time we now have recognized you. Even SHH is now in a really completely different type to what it was. Take us by all of it.

OK, so I feel first I’ll simply take you again a little bit bit about Honest High-quality Watches, after which SHH. So Honest and Honest Haute Horlogerie, previous to current….

From 2005 or all the best way from the start in 1957?

I’ll take you (as far again) as 1992 (laughs). (However first the current) — When Honest High-quality Watches was acquired by Cortina Holdings in 2021 (the deal was accomplished in March, 2021), I feel one of many issues that Raymond Lim, the chief govt of Cortina Holdings, wished to look into was the strengths and core competencies of Honest High-quality Watches.

We (the Honest High-quality Watches crew) have at all times been robust with high-end mechanical watches. We’ve got been robust with model administration. And we now have a tradition and a ardour throughout the firm on the entire subject of (horological) schooling. To place it in very colloquial phrases, Honest High-quality Watches was excellent at bringing manufacturers with nice potential into the market — we will spot winners from far off. So, for instance, we took an opportunity on (then unknown) watchmaker Franck Muller and introduced the model to Singapore — this was from a time when the watches have been nonetheless being made in (Muller’s) kitchen. Honest helped make the model what it’s in the present day. In 1995, we introduced in A. Lange & Söhne, when it was nonetheless beneath the late Gunther Blumlein at LMH (previous to the model’s acquisition by what would grow to be the Richemont Group). Then, in 1998, we (ushered in) the large watches pattern once we introduced Panerai to Singapore. In 2000, we introduced the (then-emerging phenomenon of) impartial watchmaking to Singapore with F.P. Journe.

So, what we need to ship on (with the SHH boutique) is a steady presentation of what we expect are the subsequent stars of high-quality watchmaking. I feel this house is vital for patrons to come back and (uncover) Moritz Grossmann, Lang & Heyne, Czapek, Louis Moinet, Gronefeld… Most of those manufacturers are comparatively new in our market, and we hope to make use of the brand new house to get folks enthusiastic about them. That is actually our largest motivation in conceiving and opening (the SHH boutique in MBS).

You’ve been a continuing presence by all of the adjustments at Honest, together with these early days when folks might not have been satisfied in regards to the potential of Panerai and A. Lange & Söhne. So how have you ever managed to be a continuing power, and been capable of spot so many winners?

Grand Lange 1 Pink Gold
Picture: A. Lange & Söhne

So, watches have been round for many years (in Singapore) and for hundreds of years (extra broadly talking). I’m certain watches shall be round for many years and centuries to come back. My philosophy is that point is definitely timeless.

I instructed my first employer (within the watch commerce, which was Ebel), even should you don’t pay me, I’ll nonetheless benefit from the work! So for me to have the ability to proceed on this trade and to have sufficient vitality (to maintain myself), the fervour should be very robust.

And I feel this is likely one of the key the reason why Honest might trip by so many storms; it’s as a result of there’s a lot ardour throughout the firm and a real affection for mechanical watches (amongst the crew).

This affection, this ardour it’s very contagious… and with collectors and connoisseurs that we now have served over time (that I’ve been right here), they’ve by no means seen the change of possession as a hindrance to the acquisition of timepieces. It didn’t matter to them whether or not Honest was owned by a consortium, whether or not Honest was within the palms of liquidators, or within the palms of buyers… none of it mattered to the collectors.

I feel what mattered was that we continued to interact them within the (furtherance) of their passion. They have been getting excited on a regular basis by superior watches. And I don’t see this altering, with me on this position and past me… there shall be one other crew that can proceed the work. As long as you have got a excessive content material of emotion that’s vested within the enterprise, the operating of the enterprise will at all times be easy.

On figuring out the longer term stars — the Philippe Dufours, Kari Voutilainens and Roger Smiths of the longer term — it’s all about timing; once we go in for (any given model). Is it throughout conception (when the watches are being deliberate)? Throughout the introduction (when the watches are proven to potential retail companions)? Or when the model has accomplished sufficient work available in the market to stabilise itself. These are gentle abilities that one picks up over time.

What’s your tackle watches as funding items then? Does this unprecedented scenario threaten the fervour for amassing watches?

We’ve got by no means mentioned, to any consumer ever, that the watches we promote are for funding. This could possibly be due to the selection of manufacturers we feature, or in our selection of merchandising. On the matter of a scarcity of watches (out there on the market instantly, or comparatively quickly), and better demand for watches, I feel that is actual, and there are a couple of causes. I feel within the final two years, amidst the pandemic, you have got had new wealth creation, which has been fairly aggressive.

The pandemic additionally precipitated numerous disruption to watchmaking (in every single place), and this disruption does influence the availability chain. So now, perhaps it takes greater than a yr to get sure components, like a crown, the place it may need solely taken weeks earlier than. I feel with the trade’s workforce again in place (now), hopefully issues will enhance.

Has the pandemic demonstrated that persons are completely prepared to purchase on-line and with none relationship with a selected retailer?

I feel that once you purchase a watch on this house, there are two important elements. One is your relationship with the watch (in actuality reasonably than as an image on a web site), and the opposite is your relationship along with your gross sales advisor. I feel these two components should not simply replaceable.

When (contemplating these) two components, you attempt to create an area just like the SHH boutique, which is comfy…. the place we will decelerate the tempo a little bit bit, relative to once you go to a typical retailer. At these watch shops, folks sometimes are available in and sit at a counter, and don’t go searching. They purchase what they need, make fee and go away. Right here on the SHH boutique, we now have intentionally slowed down the tempo of service. It’s why we even have a personal space (that takes up roughly half of the 100 sqm house). Shopping for watches as of late (with the appearance of on-line purchasing) has grow to be individualistic (with folks shopping for in solitude, impersonally). I need to carry again the neighborhood facet to the watch amassing passion.

Was this the concept from the beginning with the SHH retailer?

SHH Watch display

So the temporary to the designer was to construct a store that doesn’t appear to be a watch store. I feel that was key (to our intentions with the SHH retailer). The inside design should be certain that, initially, there’s a excessive degree of consolation, OK, and the place the merchandise are the celebrities.

So should you see the show exterior, it’s just about generic… whether or not it’s a H. Moser & Cie watch or a Lang & Heyne watch, all the pieces shares the identical format. However the truth that every watch right here has been chosen rigorously, this implies the method of curation has already been accomplished; each watch right here already meets sure standards.

It begins on the model degree first in fact… the manufacturers we embody right here all entailed a excessive diploma of funding on our half, and (stringent) due diligence. For instance, take Greubel Forsey…should you purchase a Greubel Forsey from us, and 50 years later you could change the crystal, we can’t say ‘Sorry, we don’t carry this model anymore.’ So this implies the long-term sustainability of the partnership can be a part of the standards for what’s included right here at SHH. We may even should take the time to clarify the manufacturers and the watches, as a result of, as I defined, many of the manufacturers we feature listed below are in all probability not that acquainted (in contrast with staples akin to Rolex and Patek Philippe).

And for one thing like a Greubel Forsey watch, I feel it’s completely vital that collectors (or potential prospects) get an actual really feel for it. Actually talking, with the ability to expertise the watches we feature (within the steel) is hard, as a result of manufacturing is small; every bit (from a restricted manufacturing collection) that involves us might be already spoken for. We strive our greatest to have items within the retailer, so once more, the Greubel Forsey Structure for instance… anybody who needs one now, can’t get one. However we now have a chunk within the retailer for Greubel Forsey followers to come back and expertise, as a result of I feel that is essential.

To place it merely, we determined to go together with SHH as a result of Honest Haute Horlogerie is a little bit of a mouthful! And the brand, properly it was Kate Lim’s concept (Kate Lim is Raymond Lim’s daughter and Honest Watch Restricted’s Basic Supervisor) to have a component of the watch itself be a part of the design. So it’s the view of a mechanical watch from the caseback!

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