KL = Kelvin Leung
MF = Michael Friedberg, IWC Forum Editor
MF: Kelvin, thanks very much for this interview. By way of background, could you tell us a bit about yourself personally?
KL: First and foremost, I must say I am deeply honored and humbled to have this interview. I see myself as such an ordinary person that I do not even know how to begin introducing myself.
I was born and raised in Hong Kong. At the age of 15, I went to Vermont, USA to complete my high-school studies, and later attended college at its nearby state —New Hampshire. I returned to Hong Kong immediately after college graduation.
I come from a family of engineers. My grandfather was an electrical engineer. My father and my brother are both mechanical engineers. I originally wanted to study engineering, but later decided to stay away from my family “legacy” as much as possible, so I studied computer science instead. I am now in the computer/information technology business, working for an American data storage company.
I am happily married to my lovely wife, Joyce, whom I met in church here in Hong Kong. We are very blessed with 3 very adorable boys. It is of no surprise that, between work and family, I no longer have much time for many other hobbies. Thankfully though, the love for watches does not take up too much time.
MF: How did you get into watches?
KL: My family loves watches. I think it runs in my family. My grandparents and my Dad used to take my brother and me watch-browsing or watch shopping every Sunday. They had a few shops that they knew well, and would spend hours just looking at and talking about watches. As a kid then, I did not appreciate that at all, and thought it was a complete waste of my time. Little did I know, I grew up becoming just like them! Difficult for a family of engineers to resist from the love of marvelous gadgets, I reckon.
MF: So much so that you even moderate a Chinese-language IWC forum in Hong Kong?
KL: Ha-ha. It was just coincidental. Yes —I am currently a moderator of a local discussion site. It is one of the most popular discussion sites in Hong Kong, featuring forums of different categories. There are a few similar sites in Hong Kong, but none have as many varieties, and active discussions/members as this one. It attracts all walks of life in Hong Kong. I dare to say this site hosts the best watch-discussion forums in Hong Kong.
There are arguably more professionally-run watch-focused forums in Singapore and Taiwan. Nevertheless, when discussing IWC in a public Hong Kong forum is concerned though, look no further. Stats-wise, the IWC forum of this site consistently has on the average two to three new discussion topics per day, and 20-plus responses to the threads every day.
MF: You’ve got to tell us more. Where can we find this site? How did you get started?
KL: It’s at http://www.discuss.com.hk
Back in 2011, the site was looking for volunteers to help moderate their different forums. I was so blessed that many of the people who frequented the IWC forum supported me to try out as the moderator. I am by no means the most knowledgeable person in the forum—far from it. The site has lots of members many times more knowledgeable about IWC, and more avid collectors, than I am. I was just fortunate to have many of them voting for me to be the moderator. I do not know why. I
MF: How much time do you spend on that forum?
KL: Too much yet too little, I would say. Too much because I usually spend an hour or two per day on moderating for the site.
Too little as there are always so much more to do. I used to write articles myself and post them on the forum to facilitate discussions years ago—when I had more time. Nowadays I spend more time merely on the administration —removing articles that are inappropriate, rating different posts, answering questions raised by others when nobody responded for days, etc. Worse yet, not the entire couple of hours are dedicated to moderating and administrating for the IWC forum alone, as I am now also responsible for a few additional forums of the site. Luckily though, there are still many people contributing on a regular basis to keep the IWC forum’s content up-to-date and interesting.
MF: What's it like being a watch guy in Hong Kong —with so many stores and so much emphasis on watches?
KL: Hong Kong is no doubt a hub for watches. There are so many boutiques, authorized dealers, parallel-importers, second hand shops and auctions in town. If you look hard enough, chances are you will find the watch that you have longed for somewhere in town. It is always fun to do window-shopping to check out the various collections of watches that different shops carry.
MF: Reports have it that Hong Kong and indeed Asia are slowing down. What are your impressions?
KL: In my opinion, the markets in Hong Kong and the rest of Asia are still growing gradually. Nowadays it is very common to see people wearing decent watches everywhere on the street.
I also know an increasing number of people expressing interests in getting their first decent watch (with second and more to follow). This phenomenon not only happens in Hong Kong, but also other countries in Asia as well. So, judging from these observations, I do not think that market is in decline.
The market that has truly slowed down quite dramatically, and shown fatigue, is Mainland China’s. Unfortunately, it also accounted for the majority of recent years’ hyper-growth in watch-buying. This was partly due to a lot of mainland Chinese suddenly got exposed to luxury goods, and the wealth to buy them—similar to what happened in the 70’s and 80’s with the Japanese.
Now that China’s economy has gone from exponential growth to a slower one, and the Chinese stock market no longer produces a lot of free money for most, many mainland Chinese are more conscious on how they spend their hard-earned money. Coupled with the mainland government’s crack-down on corruption and conspicuous display of government officials’ wealth in recent years, many rich people in China are becoming more conscious not to wear their expensive watches to attract unnecessary attention. All these, in my humble opinion, contributed to the seemingly slow-down of the watch-buying market here in Asia.
MF: So where does that leave the watch market in Asia?
KL: If you look at the market then and now, I would say the market has gone back to normal. Sensible watch buyers —if there are such people —will continue to buy watches that they like and can afford. I do not see this trend going away nor the situation deteriorating. I think if watch manufacturers focus on their core values, and go after the right market, they will continue to do well, and see healthy growth in their business.
MF: When and how did you learn about IWC?
KL: I first learned of the brand in early 90’s. I heard of the name through two means: first, a friend did so well at work that his boss gave him an IWC pilot as a gift. Hearing the excitement from my friend, I learned that IWC was a very renowned watch-making brand.
Second, when I got my first automatic chronograph watch, a Porsche Design watch made by Eterna, my father commented that some Porsche Design watches were made by IWC. Apparently in my father’s point-of-view, the IWC-made ones were much more highly regarded than the Eterna-made watches. Needless to say, my interests in IWC grew ever since.
I also came to know that IWC was amongst the first brands to manufacture titanium watches. That impressed me a lot. I must say, till today, IWC no doubt remains as my favorite watch brand.
MF: Was your first IWC then a titanium one?
KL : Certainly it was. My first IWC is the Ingenieur AMG Titanium Chronograph (IW3725-03).
MF: Could you tell us the story of getting it?
KL: Gladly! You see, years ago when I had many other more important priorities in life, spending over US$2000 for a watch to me was totally absurd. Except for my Porsche Design for which I paid around US$1200 at a clearance sale, the rest of my watches which I paid with my own money were less than US$600 apiece. IWC, to me at that stage in life, was beyond my reach and only a sight to behold from afar at a jewelry shop. I had my eyes fixated on the titanium GST, which to me at the time was my grail watch.
One day I noticed a co-worker was wearing a stainless steel GST. All of a sudden, I realized perhaps owning an IWC was not too unrealistic a dream. After that, I started lurking around different watch forums —the IWC official forum being one of them — to learn everything I could about IWC.
I almost came to buying a second-hand Titanium GST Rattrapante or a titanium AMG Ingenieur with a nylon strap at a watch shop near my home. I went there a few times to check them out. Sad to say, neither were in very good condition. I realized had I paid a little more, I could have a brand new watch.
So, I finally made up my mind to go and get my very first IWC. I vividly recalled I got my first IWC two days before a Chinese New Year. Chinese like to wear new clothes on Chinese New Year day—like Americans do on Easter day. That year, I was happily wearing my sparKLing new IWC on my wrist, and a broad smile on my face.
Although I knew the AMG chrono was not fitted with an in-house movement, I just love the way the chrono push-buttons were seamlessly integrated with the case. I also love the applied indices and numerals, not to mention the broken “12,” “10” and “6”. While some disliked that design, I thought it was ingenious, stylish, non-traditional yet very elegantly executed. I simply found the watch to be very appealing. So, I picked it over another with an in-house movement.
MF: That must have been the start of something big.
KL: You know, after I spent what was to me a big heap of money on my first titanium IWC, I thought I was done—dream fulfilled and no more shelling out of big bucks for another. Well, you know how much of a myth that was.
I have exactly a dozen of IWC’s right now. 4 of them have titanium casing. There is a fair amount of titanium on the Top Gun too, but I do not count it as one of them.
MF: You really like titanium watches. Any special reason?
KL: For no particular reason other than the fact that I love them. For the longest time, I have been in love with watches made of titanium. Titanium has this space-age feeling to it. It is very posh, high-tech, somewhat mysterious, light yet sturdy. Above all, I just love the sand-blasted/matte finishing of the titanium casings—attractive, sophisticated yet not flashy. Depending from which angle you look at them, they would reflect different colors. Titanium casing in my mind just gives a very special, unique character to watches.
MF: Also, a lot of your collection are Ingenieurs and pilots —again why?
KL: I suppose I prefer sports watches to dress watches. I would have wanted more from the other IWC series, but somehow different Ingenieurs and Pilots just showed up in my life, making me difficult to resist. I can tell you, as I age, I start to value dress watches more than ever. By and large, I am primarily a sport-watch guy.
MF: Do you wear one or two or a few most of the time?
KL: I wear all of my IWC’s, admittedly some more than others. Interestingly enough, despite the numbers of Ingenieurs and Pilots watches that I have, the two Aquatimers had most of my wrist time. They are both very versatile—they are my all-purpose watches. My titanium chrono is both sporty and elegant—just like its predecessor, the original GST. It goes well with all kind of attires and occasions. My Aquatimer 2000 with the quick-change system allows switching between the beautiful bracelet and the sporty rubber strap conveniently. Again, this makes it a go-anywhere watch for me. When I travel, I usually take one of the Aquatimers with me as my travel companion.
MF: Also, I very much know that you own a CF3; any thoughts about that?
KL: I love the CF3! I should thank you, Michael, for making it a reality for us, the collectors. You know, when you first made it available to be ordered online, I struggled. I almost ordered it, but in the end convinced myself not to do so. In a way, I helped to promote it in the forum that I moderated. So, a number of first-time IWC buyers bought them from the boutiques here in Hong Kong. I thought everyone had it, so I no longer needed to get one for myself. I was much relieved when the boutique staff in Hong Kong said they had sold out all of the CF3, so that I did not have to consider getting one.
MF: So how did you end up with one?
KL: It was only a coincidence that I stumbled into the Las Vegas boutique, shortly after I got a promotion at work, which also happened to be my birthday on that day. The minute I walked in, I asked the helpful gentleman who manned the shop whether he had a CF3 in stock—and he smiled with an affirmative yes! I knew I walked right into a trap then! Oh well, I suppose I was destined to get it.
It is indeed an amazing watch. I have never regretted getting it. Thank you once again, Michael!
I have exactly a dozen of IWC's right now. 4 of them have titanium casing. There is a fair amount of titanium on the Top Gun too, but i do not count it as one of them.
MF: You are more than welcome! But speaking of destiny, anything next on the horizon?
KL: I have too many on my list. My next one will probably be another Portuguese. Either one with an eight-day hand-wind movement, or one of those gorgeous Yacht Clubs. If IWC releases a limited edition of the new 7-day auto, I may also be very tempted. I also always liked the Kurt Klaus special edition of Da Vinci Perpetual Calendar. If I have the money and come across one again, I may just snatch it up. All of them are my pipe-dreams for now.
I must admit, however, if IWC ever decides to re-make the 3712 (Portuguese Rattrapante) with a not-so-busy dial, and make it available in all markets —not just in Italy, I —along with many others —will gladly walk into another trap again. (hint, hint, nudge, nudge).
MF: I really admire how immersed you are with IWC. Can you share any other IWC special experiences?
KL: I have too many to share. I will just share one. I was really looking forward to a CF3 #1, #2 and #3 gathering (along with my #29). Everything was planned, and the legendary MF was in town. What could possibly go wrong? Too bad a typhoon came and completely ruined our plan. I was glad I made it through the typhoon to finally meet MF in person at the hotel, although sad to say CF3 #2 and #3 could not make it on that day.
MF: Kelvin, I have to admire you. Not only was a pleasure to meet but you literally traveled across Hong Kong in a typhoon to meet me. Thank you, and thanks for sharing your thoughts in this interview.
KL: Thank you for the interview. It has both been a pleasure and an honor for me to have these dialogs with you, Michael.
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