Like Kwok-werk – In Conversation with Kwok Kin Fei

It’s been a decade since Kin Fei started his watch collecting journey, when he first discovered about the fascinating qualities and intricacies of mechanical timepieces. Being one of the earliest members of SWC, he jumped at the opportunity to share his hobby with a like-minded community. The 39 year-old corporate strategist’s taste in watches is based in technical excellence and artistic crafts, with an eye for timeless aesthetics and classical appeal. We sat down with Kin Fei to look back on his quest in building a meaningful collection, and what makes him tick.

Tom: How long have you been collecting for?

KKF: I started in 2013, so it has been over 10 years! Time really flies when you’re enjoying the hobby.

Tom: What was your first horological moment?

KKF: I have always been interested in cars, but since cars were unaffordable for a young graduate, I stumbled on mechanical watches and was mesmerised by the craftsmanship within it. My amazement continued to grow the more I learnt about mechanical watches, but still could not bring myself to purchase one, given the price. It was then when my girlfriend threw in all she got to gift me my first mechanical timepiece.

Kin Fei wears the Cartier x Singapore Watch Club Special Edition Tank Asymétrique in yellow gold.

Tom: What are your other interests outside of watches and how do your different passions influence each other?

KKF: I am a hobbyist photographer, deeply in love with cars and racing, and I have also picked up mixology during the Covid period.

They are quite varied, but as an extrovert, what I treasure most are the friendships I have forged from my various interests. I thoroughly enjoy the interactions of people from all walks of life, and I am ever delighted to meet a new friend.

Tom: What are the facets of watches that speak to you?

KKF: I am generally drawn to the technical aspects of watches, and I devote quite a bit of my time researching on the technical capabilities of the watch, but I have also begun to be drawn to artistic decorations, such as movement skeletonisation and enamelling.

An eye for the arts – Vacheron Constantin Métiers d’Art Tribute to Gerardus Mercator featuring south-east Asian map.

Tom: As a core part of the Singapore Watch Club for 8 years now, how has the club impacted your personal journey?

KKF: Joining SWC is most certainly the best part of my watch journey thus far. The friendships forged are amazing, and I have counted on so many members for help and support in other aspects of my life.

As a club, I am proud of our achievements through the years, with our events, engagements with brands and notable personalities in the industry, as well as working on our special anniversary timepieces. Working on our anniversary timepieces truly challenges all of us to tap on both our knowledge and creativity to come up with a collaborative timepiece that both celebrates our club’s unique identity while also honouring the heritage and capabilities of our partner brands.

Heart of gold – The yellow gold variants symbolise “Sincerity”, one of the three core values of SWC.

I often look back at how we started and remain amazed by how far our passions have brought us. My understanding and preferences for watches have also evolved with the club, as we all grow in our journey together. I have deeply benefited from the interactions with the watch community and industry, which has undoubtedly shaped my collection and allowed me to confidently pursue my unique choices.

Longines Master Collection Calendar Chronograph – the first timepiece that Kin Fei acquired.

Tom: What are some of your grails you hope to add to the collection in the next 10 years?

KKF: I think our tastes will continue to evolve, and what I may state here will likely not be what I seek perhaps 6-10 years on, just like how the 2015 me will select very different watches from my current self.

Nonetheless, I am currently focused on these:

• Patek 3970, which I believe is a classic choice for any serious watch collector.

• More Chronographs (Lemania based, Valjoux based, and some modern movements), because I love integrated chronograph movements!

• A couple of independents I’m eyeing.

• Hopefully a chiming watch.

Tom: What do you hope to achieve in your journey as a passionate watch enthusiast?

KKF: I don’t have a distinct objective for this journey, but it certainly punctuated by my regular interactions with fellow watch enthusiasts and being on the lookout for watches that truly speaks to me. I would say the fun lies in the present moment for this journey.

Tom: How would you describe the watch culture in Singapore?

KKF: We are a small country with a dense population, which makes it easy for people to interact and influence each other. This has translated to a very wide spectrum of collectors in Singapore, that transcends all demographics – there are watch groups ranging from professional networks to student bodies. Furthermore, here in Singapore, we have the benefit of brands and authorised dealers actively engaging the public, sharing information and provide personalised experiences, such that even the general consumer could easily establish good knowledge of mechanical watches.

Kin Fei’s A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 in yellow gold, with a rich and charming patina.

Tom: Which brand do you think did best in 2023 and why?

KKF: I think 2023 is when brands are becoming more aware that consumers are becoming increasingly educated and cannot be easily swayed just by a colour change or a minor update to a popular model. Hence, I am thrilled to see some truly strong releases by brands, many of which features new movements or complex executions.

As a fan of A. Lange & Söhne, the Odysseus Chronograph comes to mind immediately. While I am not drawn to integrated bracelet watches, I love how Lange released this watch with a novel automatic chronograph and a unique chronograph presentation on the dial.

There has also been a lot of creativity and innovation from the independent brands, such as from MB&F, Rexhep Rexhepi, and Simon Brette, and I love how they approach watchmaking with their own unique spin.

Kin Fei’s first auction win, unknowingly it was a tough fight against another SWC member.

Tom: What improvements would you like to see for the watch industry in 2024?

KKF: Many industry leaders have indicated that the watch boom during the Covid period was an anomaly, and I am certain many brands are trying to find their footing as they grapple with a new reality with more uncertainty ahead.

Quality will continue to be sought after by collectors, whereas the affluent consumer will be looking out for value propositions that allow them to stand out from the crowd.

Hence, the industry will likely need to streamline their collection whilst working on experiences that goes beyond the product. I also anticipate more limited run timepieces, which, if executed well, should allow brands to curate a strong following for their products.

The Lange 1 was Kin Fei’s first grail acquisition, back in 2015.

Tom: What do you think makes a meaningful watch collection?

KKF: I have always been an advocate for curating a distinctive style of watches that best represents one’s personal tastes and direction, and I believe the recent boom and bust cycle provides a cautionary tale that underscores the danger of pursuing temporarily celebrated (often called “hype”) watches. What is more crucial is to continuously gain knowledge and appreciation of watches through your own personal research and awareness of yourself in order to distil your unique style of watch collecting.