Even if you’ve never met him you’ve probably stumbled across his eponymous Instagram feed, @jackwongyf. And when you do, you’ll be sucked down the rabbit hole of his singular perspective and affective passion for vintage watches.
A Flightmaster with perfect tropical sub dials? He’s got one. Stepped case, mushroom pusher Longines 13ZN? His is stunning. To be honest, Wong’s understanding and discernment of watches is intimidating.
Whether he’s dropping knowledge on how many sector dial, stepped case Tre Tacche Longines, 26.5 SOB watches there are in the world — he knows where they all are — or Rolex Oyster Scientific with pie pan cross hair dials that exist, he does it all with warmth, energy and razor sharp insight.
OK, have you always had the collecting bug?
I’ve always been something of a collector. Amusingly it started when I was about 10 years old, with Dragon Ball cards (laughs), and I was trying to outsmart the rich, fat kids of their collections by trading with them. That’s probably how it all started. Eventually my mom pinched my ear for going a bit crazy. I think there is something in the male DNA that makes us want to collect things. Anyway, my watch collecting began in earnest when I was looking for my first serious watch for work. Because back then I was wearing a baby G and it didn’t look appropriate for work.
How old were you and what watch kicked it all off?
I must have been 24 years old. I was working as a book-keeping assistant and the first watch I really wanted was the Omega Speedmaster Professional. I loved the story behind the Speedmaster and its connection with NASA and from a price perspective, at about S$2,000 (then), it was something I could afford. So, I got that as my first watch. Soon afterwards I realized you can’t satisfy this appetite, it goes on and on. And I became interested in what were considered to be the more uncommon (perhaps rare) and collectable watches.
As start, as a Speedmaster fan, if you’re talking about “collectability” you want to look at the older ones with the famous caliber 321 (Lemania 2310), so I started to focus on these. I was also looking at Seamaster Chronographs with these movements, as they were really good value. Back then, everyone was really focused on Speedies. I like to look at things that aren’t necessarily on everyone’s radars. Take for example, these watches from the 1950s, which are probably small by today’s standard, about 35mm in diameter, but I really like them. Although I started collecting watches focusing on what really powered them, at the end of the day, watches that caught my attention still had to look good. Aesthetic appeal, for me, is equally important.
But you then transitioned to even rarer models, correct?
Perhaps it is my taste for watches that are quirky. It dawned on me that the watches I really wanted to collect were the ones that were so rare that even if you have the money, they are very hard to come by, or are already in the hands of some serious collectors who will never sell them.
What do I define as rare? Any model where less than 10 examples have ever surfaced. If 100 examples have appeared, I would call that watch uncommon, but not rare.
What have you learned about how to collect?
My mantra to collecting? I don’t want to spend my salary on collecting watches. I want to make my watch collection self-sustainable, and that it should be able to finance itself. Which means in order to grow my collection or focus it in the way I want, I have to trade watches and I have to do well in trading watches. This means I have to stay ahead in this game. In order to do that, I must only acquire watches that are unique, beautiful and in the very best condition possible. I mean, really prime condition. I like to think about it this way; if you have the best example of any particular watch, then you essentially get to call the shots when it comes to pricing. And other than just the dollar and cents, the thrill of the hunt is where the real excitement is for me.
How did you learn about watches?
When I started, I did the majority of my research by reading the threads on forums. I liked this more than reading articles, because with an article I always felt that you are reading one person’s perspective, while on a forum you get to read multiple perspectives. This way, my own horizon widens.
You get to know more like-minded people at the same time. Would you believe that I have made friends —great friends, in fact, that I’ve never met before in person! What I also like about forums is that you get to see very clearly, how the collective can define what is deemed to be beautiful or collectable. In some instances, even before it becomes a market.
I suppose I am lucky in that the things I like didn’t diverge too radically, except in some rare cases, from what was construed to be desirable on the forums. I should point out that it is also really important to have a small section of watches that are just there to make to make you happy even if everyone else thinks they are totally bizarre. I have brought some of these bizarre watches that were made from the later 60s to 70s. These are just crazy fun (laughs).
OK so let’s talk through the watches you’ve brought, let’s start with these sector dial watches from the 1930s…
I think these represent the best of the Art Deco period, the 1920s and 30s. I always fantasize about stepping back in time, going to a grand theatre with one of these watches on my wrist. During the time that I got serious about collecting, most were focused mainly on sports watches. I think the dress watches with sector dials are maybe more of an acquired taste. Perhaps, all thanks to my OCD, I like things with a certain visual symmetry. Somehow the sector dial watches just fit the bill. The irony is that whilst I love these watches, I almost never wear them because I don’t think they look great on my wrist.
Which was the first?
I will tell you what the precursor to the sector dial infatuation was: a pretty common Rolex reference which is the 6569 (circa 1955 with the Caliber 1030); with an uncommon pie pan, cross hair dial variant: a version where the dial is divided into four quarters by a cross that bisects the center pinion horizontally and vertically. I like it because despite the fact that it is 34mm, I like how it looks on me because I have a small wrist. I told you I like symmetry, so I like the fact that the dial doesn’t have a date. This particular piece came from Japan.
Well, as I pursued the idea of dials with a certain symmetry, I eventually landed on these jumbo sized (38mm) Omega sector dial watches from the 30s. The challenge with these watches is that they are over 80 years old and as they were never water proof to begin with, over the years these become more susceptible to damage. Finding them in surviving examples, or more so prime examples, is really nearly impossible.
Interesting to note that these movements that powered these watches were the 26.5 SOB T2, which formed the basis of the ultra-robust 30T2 movement. When Omega started to produce their watches in greater numbers back in the 1930s, the 26.5 SOB T2 was the regular production movement. If you open up the case, you will see that the movement is actually very small and that there is a substantial case metal to contain the movement inside. I noticed that these were mainly sold in Eastern Europe in those days, so it meant there was an actual demand for larger sized watches there back then. The rest of the world was still drawn to sub-35mm models. In those days, dress watches were all around 30mm to 33mm. 35mm would’ve been considered large for the time. Only from the 50s onwards, did we start seeing dress watches around the 35mm size.
Tell me about the Omega Scarab you’ve brought that is a very cool piece…
This one is particularly interesting to me. It’s a 35mm model, with an Art Deco styled case with a sort of bull horn type lugs that affectionate collectors call, the Scarab. You’ve got to try the watch on your wrist to see how the mobile lugs help the bracelet follow the curvature of your wrist. From a design perspective, it is such a unique timepiece, add to this that the watch is equipped with the venerable Calibre 26.5 SOB.
And when did the passion for Longines start?
When I was focusing on Longines Sector dial watches, I found myself particularly drawn to those with the larger Tre Tacche case. Why the Tre Tacche? If you have been in the vintage watch scene for a while, you’ll know that like many other watch nicknames, this is also one coined by the Italians. It refers to the three notches on the caseback of certain Longines water resistant models, which were an early attempt at a measure that would allow watchmakers to screw the casebacks in extra tight, using a special tool.
The top cases were stepped, which gives them a very distinct attractive appearance. If you know a little about construction, you’ll be able to appreciate that these cases are really quite incredible. Pull out the crown on these watches and you’ll see how thick the tube is, which further helped with the water resistance aspect.
If you want to find a stepped large Tre Tacche Longines case with a sector dial, we are talking about one of the hardest to find pieces.
Do you think vintage Longines is relatively undervalued?
I love vintage Longines watches. The thing about this brand is that it wasn’t on anyone’s radar for many years. But during at its prime, in the 1930s-50s, Longines’ watchmaking represented some of the best in their quality and make.
You want to talk about chronographs, the Longines 13ZN are some of the finest — if not finest — in my opinion that was ever produced. This in-house movement, which was introduced in 1936, was a real mechanical marvel with the first-ever flyback function on a wristwatch chronograph. Every little part in the watch was well made with great refinement. Despite the fact that these movements were meant to be utilitarian, every part of the movement was so beautifully finished, it’s as though Longines were making them to be watches that you and I would marvel at 80s years on.
View this post on Instagram
A handful of old veterans . . #Lemania #lemaniastepcase #stepcase #lemania15TL #vintagewatch #15TL #vintagelemania #watcheswithpatina #wristshotoftheday #wruw #hodinkee #vintagechronograph #christies #watchfam #vintagelongines #longines1268z #longineschronostop #longineschronograph #longinesmilitary #longines1268 #longinesstepcase #longinestretacche #longineswatch #longinesbrevet #longinesgiltdial #longines23074 #longinesjumbosize #longines5681 #longines23646 #longines23074 #tropicaldial
What’s with the little Rolex Oyster there?
Another interesting watch is the small sized 9 Karat gold Rolex Oyster Scientific with a sector dial. This watch has a porcelain dial. Porcelain always seems to crack unfortunately, because the underlying plate is brass, and the brass expands and contracts at a different rate from the porcelain surface. The gold being 9K gold has developed some serious patina over time, but I like it.
And you’ve brought some cool and quirky chronographs too, tell me about these…
I started collecting with chronographs. Right now, I don’t find myself drawn to what most people seem to be interested in. My focus, today, falls quite squarely on the watches that people often overlook — the really uncommon stuff.
It always surprises me that there are many amazing chronographs made in the 1960s that are completely unknown to most collectors. Of the watches I’ve brought, everyone will know the Rolex 6263 Big Red. But there is so much other cool stuff. I mean look at this Universal Genève Tri-compax that I first bought back when I started collecting: there are four different dial versions for this Universal Genève chronograph from the 1960s and this is perhaps the rarest. I call it the exotic slate dial. I coined this term related to this watch (laughs). Inspired, you know, by Rolex. I love the unique crystal chapter ring with blue markings.
These watches feature an in-house Universal Genève movement, the Calibre 286 which is a column wheel chronograph caliber. I believe the base of this movement was sourced from Martel. Universal Genève is a really significant brand for chronographs because they were the ones that invented the tri-compax layout. Also, I believe that they were the first to have their chrono subdials contrasting colors in comparison with the main dial.
I dig this chrono with the different scales on it, though I have no idea whose eyes are good enough to read them…
(Laughs) Now here is a Cyma chronograph with a really interesting dial. We talk about gilt dials but this one has so many colors under its galvanized dial. It has silver, it has copper, and gold. And there is also white paint and enamel with green stamping.
It’s funny because likely the watch was meant for marketing purposes. Meaning it has every conceivable chronograph scale on it. Tachymeter, telemeter and pulsometer. But look at the pulsometer, it is so tiny that it is impossible to read.
So, you are not alone. These are incredibly rare especially with the different color tones on the dial. I remember only seeing one other example, but it had different indexes. I may not have seen enough yet, but in this execution, this is the only one I’ve encountered. This uses a Valjoux 22 movement; standard but good, robust chronograph movements.
And you’ve got a watch from my birth year 1969. Tell me about the Zenith…
This is a Zenith chronograph reference A386 from 1969 and I Iove it because everyone knows the story about how different brands were chasing the goal of being the first automatic chronograph. In 1969 Zenith debuted the El Primero which was the world’s first integrated automatic chronograph and on top of that it beat at 5 Hertz. But what really attracted me to this watch? It was that it had three counters, each in a different color. Dark blue, light blue and slate and yet when you put them together they are in perfect harmony. Plus, the unusual shape and strange bracelet are all very appealing.
Is that a Heuer with a Venus 150?
The Heuer chronograph I brought you was sold in an army PX. It dates back to 1939, from the World War II period. As per the markings on the back, it was likely sold to a Swiss soldier. It was not exactly a military watch as it was not an issued piece. It has a tachymeter and telemeter scale, and I like to imagine why the owner was attracted to it is probably because it is useful for him for what he did? The case is chrome based because back then steel was exclusively reserved for use by the military.
Tell me about your Rolex 6263 Big Red Daytona – these things have gone crazy and tripled in price in three years…
Well there was an “accident” that my 6263 went through. I once passed it to a well-known watchmaker in Singapore to have it serviced. I won’t mention who, because him and I have since had a fall out. One night I hit the watch while I was drunk and it stopped working the next day. Tough lesson to learn (laughs)!
And so I brought it to him because I know that he has parts to service these watches, as he is an ex-Rolex technician. I entrusted him with this watch. Let’s be frank, we know that the value of these watches is in their dials.
But when I got back mine from him, the dial had a nasty, visible scratch right on the center. To me, this was plain carelessness. I’m not saying that it’s not impossible to scratch a dial, but if you understand the importance of the 6263 Big Red’s dial — top that off with my explicit instructions to be extremely careful with the dial — this should’ve been well avoided by an experienced technician.
It further upset me when I learned that he did not service the watch himself but passed it on to someone else to service, as he was himself “busy”.
Long story short, I was eventually able to find the right sort of help to deal with the scratch. It is now totally gone and this makes me really happy because I wore my Big Red when my son was born and I want it to be his watch one day.
Do you like modern watches as well?
Definitely. I love my F.P. Journe Tourbillon with remontoir. It is an early brass movement model with a platinum case and gold dial, which I feel is the execution to have. I also love MB&F, because they are daredevils in their watch execution. I’ve got myself a Richard Mille RM 010 recently. I even bought the re-edition of the original Casio G Shock in steel. I have some contemporary Pateks. In the end you’ve got to have fun, that’s the only purpose in this game.