The Collector’s View: WatchTalk with Andy Zhang

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WatchTalk with Andy Zhang

Andy (Instagram: @a_zhangerator) is an entrepreneur with a diversified business portfolio. While his family business focuses on property and manufacturing, his ventures cover the likes of fashion, retail, and import/export. Andy, who is currently based in China, is an avid collector of watches. His other vices include gym, whiskey, and menswear. But above all, he is a family man and an easy-going person; he would love nothing more than to be dressed in Uniqlo casuals, with his favourite watch on his wrist and street food in his hand. This is his raw take on watches, the industry, and his journey as a collector so far.

Andy Zhang with his A. Lange & Söhne 1815 “Homage to Walter Lange” in yellow gold. [Photo courtesy of Andy Zhang]

How did you first get into watches?

I have always loved watches. In my primary school days, I had an Adidas chronograph watch and I wore it even when the chronograph hands had fallen off (from my own abuse). My first serious watch was the Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean James Bond Quantum of Solace Limited Edition, given by my dad as a congratulatory gift for getting into Imperial College London. Back then, I wore it all the time. My passion for watches really exploded after that, so when I started working, I use watches as a means to reward myself for achievements.

Andy has come a long way since his childhood Adidas watch. Pictured here is the coveted Patek Philippe Ref. 5131/1P-001 on his wrist. [Photograph courtesy of Andy Zhang]

Can you briefly take us through what is in your current collection?

Over the years, I have had the privilege of owning many pieces. However, I find that the most dynamic number of watches for frequent wearing is six, otherwise many watches would end up sleeping in the safe forever.
My major focus is still on the “main players” such as A. Lange & Söhne, Richard Mille, Patek Philippe and Rolex, but I also buy interesting pieces from others. In my collection, I have pieces such as the A. Lange & Söhne 1815 “Homage to Walter Lange” in yellow gold, Rolex GMT-Master II “Pepsi” with Jubilee bracelet, Rolex Rainbow Daytona, Tudor Black Bay P01, Richard Mille RM60-01 St. Barth, Patek Philippe Ref. 5976/1G and 5131/1P-001, and the full set of Gundam 40th Anniversary Seikos.

My favourite one for work is the 1815 “Homage to Walter Lange”. During weekends, I usually rock my Rolex or Richard Mille, or even my Casio G-Shock full metal in black DLC. 

Weekend watch. The Casio G-Shock GMWB5000GD-1D. [Photograph courtesy of Andy Zhang]

What is your approach when it comes to buying a watch for your collection? Do you buy with your heart or do you curate? 

I try not to fall too much into market hype or buying something that “people love” or something that would invite judgment and labeling. 

I usually fall in love with a watch first, which is the first step. Then, very importantly, I would do lots of research on the piece and brand, and also talk to people in the industry to gain some insights. Then I would check my budget (yes, I set myself a limited budget, otherwise I would not “feel” how valuable my watches are when I acquire them). Last step, I would go get approval from my wife as all of us need to.

I also do believe that it is watches that find collectors, not the other way round. And the watches need to match my character too.

According to Andy, buying a watch involves falling in love, doing plenty of research, budgeting, and gaining approval from your partner. Pictured is the case back view of the Lange Calibre L1924. [Photograph courtesy of Andy Zhang]

There aren’t many brands in watchmaking that are more polarising than Richard Mille. What are your thoughts on the brand, and how did you come to owning the impressive RM60-01?

I personally have met Richard and his family members and HQ staff. They are surprisingly down to earth and are very genuine people. I think that became a trigger point for me. Of course, their movements aren’t as gorgeous as the movements that Lange have made but the designs and concepts of the watches are avant-garde. 

The RM 60-01 is very impressive – it is like an RM 11-02 but with navigational functions and a special bezel for navigation. The slight incline of the bezel makes the watch smaller in real life than in pictures. To be honest, the watch is super big but is wearable; it’s okay for me since I am quite tall. It is co-designed by Richard himself and also one of the watches that he wears the most. I have experienced classic models such as the RM 055, RM 35-01, RM 11-03, so I wanted something different in a non-tourbillon setting.

The Richard Mille RM60-01 Flyback Chronograph Regatta ‘Les Voiles de Saint Barth’. An autographed photograph of Andy and Mr. Richard Mille stands in the background. [Photograph courtesy of Andy Zhang]

Completely opposite to the Richard Mille RM60-01 is the uber-traditional A. Lange & Söhne 1815 ‘Homage to Walter Lange’, which is also a part of your collection. Can you tell us more about the watch?

As you know, I have a special attachment to this German brand. They produce top watches in the industry. The year 2017 was a sad year as Mr. Walter Lange passed away. He resurrected A. Lange & Söhne at around the same period I was born. So I am around the same age as the company, which is quite emotional. When I saw the news that Lange would finally make a stoppable jumping seconds watch to salute Mr. Walter Lange, I went straight to ordering it without even asking the retail price. 

The watch itself is equipped with a vintage retro movement inspired from a movement back in the 19th century. When I saw the movement, it struck me like the Datograph did years ago. I was lucky to acquire mine with my selected lucky number from the 27 pieces that will ever be made. With the blue strap on the yellow gold case, it is a bloody stunning piece. Three of my collector friends bought the same model as their first Lange after seeing my piece. 

The A. Lange & Söhne 1815 “Homage to Walter Lange” in yellow gold on the wrist. [Photograph courtesy of Andy Zhang]

You also own two very coveted Rolex pieces: the GMT-Master II “Pepsi” with Jubilee bracelet and the Rolex Rainbow Daytona. As you are likely aware of, in-demand Rolex models have become incredibly hard to come by and, moreover, are often sold at a high premium by dealers. What is your take on this phenomenon?

Rolex has been such an industry giant; its supply/demand model is almost unbeatable. I have actually looked into this and would love to share my few cents from what I have observed. My own pieces have come from an authorised dealer where I am a long-time regular. We appreciate each other a lot for the support we have given each other over the years. 

I believe currently Rolex is putting lots of effort into controlling the grey market. As you can see, gold watches have a higher profit margin than steel models, so why wouldn’t Rolex maintain a healthy inventory for steel models and then sell more gold watches? The issue is, steel sports models have been so popular and are in high-demand especially in Asia. Young people are chasing these models not just for collecting but also investment. To even stand a chance for allocation in a boutique, they know they need a pre-existing spending portfolio of at least the retail price of the Pepsi/Hulk/Batman. As a result, we see a 70-100% increase in value of these sports model in the grey market. Paying the premium at a dealer means you do not have to wait or build a profile at a boutique.

The Rolex GMT-Master II “Pepsi” with Jubilee bracelet. [Photograph courtesy of Andy Zhang]

Look at the steel Daytona – it is still crazy. When a steel watch is worth almost the same as a gold watch, it does not make sense. The situation will change in five years as you may have noticed gold Day-Date/Daytona/Datejust deliveries are getting fewer and fewer. There will be a point when steel models are at a healthy demand level and gold watches are harder to get. People have this perception that the steel ceramic bezel Daytona will be the next Paul Newman or some very valuable vintage piece – it won’t.

Also, the Rainbow Daytona in my collection is like the Patek Philippe Ref. 6002G or the Lange Handwerkskunst series: it is meant as a reward from the brand to its collectors.

A horological unicorn. The Rolex Rainbow Daytona, produced in extremely limited quantities, has a bezel set with 36 baguette sapphires in a gradated rainbow colour palette. [Photograph courtesy of Andy Zhang]

When the Patek Philippe Nautilus Ref. 5976/1G (40th Anniversary model) was first announced, many were quick to criticise its appearance and size. As an owner and someone who actually wears the watch, how has your experience been with the Ref. 5976/1G?

The Ref. 5976 was a watch I was lucky to get with help from Mike Tay [managing director of The Hour Glass]and the support of Patek Philippe. It is a big and heavy piece, but thanks to the specially designed widened bracelet, it still sits perfectly on my wrist. The dial is really perfect and it abides to the current trend of “gem-setting” too. When it comes to the dial, Patek really does it on a different level.

The Patek Philippe Nautilus Ref. 5976/1G (pictured) was launched alongside the Nautilus Ref. 5711/1P to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Nautlius sports watch. [Photograph courtesy of Andy Zhang]

Admittedly, I was one of the critics questioning the “tombstone” dial [referring to the embossed script “1976-40-2016” on the dial]. But you know, it’s always easy to judge by photos; experiencing the real watch is a different thing. When I got the watch, I regretted what I said about the dial as it [the embossed script]is super subtle. 

Evidently, the embossed script “1976-40-2016” is subtle on the dial and does not distract. [Photograph courtesy of Andy Zhang]

The Tudor Black Bay P01 is a controversial watch with an interesting background story. It is a watch that has divided opinions on the day it was released – a watch that you either love or hate. What drew you to the Black Bay P01 that eventually led to your purchase?

The Black Bay P01 is the first Tudor that I am going to own (still being delivered) and the moment it was released, I pulled the trigger. I think every collector reaches a moment where you just want to buy something that is fun and something you can pass on to your kids when they go to school. That was my motivation. I appreciate that the P01 is a quality yet relatively affordable timepiece with such a unique design.

The Tudor Black Bay P01 was born from a prototype developed by Tudor for the US Navy in the 1960s. While the watch is divisive, it is one of the more uniquely designed timepieces ever released by the brand. [Photograph courtesy of Andy Zhang]

What is the luxury watch market like in China? Is it a mature market, or one that is still maturing?

The luxury market in China, in my honest opinion, is a mix of maturity and growth opportunity. Around 2015, China had suffered a slow-down but a healthy one for luxury brands to re-structure its plan for China and make China a major focus, no longer a subsidiary to the APAC area. From 2015 onwards, China is becoming the most important luxury market in the world and more specifically the Chinese are buying around 40% of the whole watch industry volume.

The RM60-01 was specifically designed for sailing regattas with all the essential functions that a skipper could need. It has a three-dimensional rotating bezel which shows the cardinal points and enables sailors to find their direction without a compass. [Photograph courtesy of Andy Zhang]

Then, we are facing a problem where although the Chinese have got spending power, many of the customers still need to be educated properly and given more timely exposure to the world’s luxury market. The internet and e-commerce will be essential in shifting the mentality of customers from branding-focused to that of value and quality. Brands that continue to find new ways to penetrate the Chinese market (by innovating and creating new product lines, or engaging in collaborations) will thrive. China has a bright future in luxury goods.

What is currently at the top of your watches wish-list? 

I would love a Lange Handwerkskunst watch or the Zeitwerk “Phantom”. (If they ever make a new phantom with the Zeitwerk Date I will jump onto it as well!)

The Lange Zeitwerk Date – the latest addition to the expanding Zeitwerk family.

What sage advice can you give to aspiring watch collectors who may be reading this now?

Watches are reflections of our character. They are probably one of the best ways to connect people and to build lifetime friendships. They bring us such a unique experience. Whether you are investment-driven or collection-driven, watches always offer reasonable long term value, not only monetary but also to our lives. 

The Prospex Marinemaster Professional Zaku II Limited Edition SLA029J1 and the Char’s Zaku II Limited Edition SLA031J1, on Andy’s wrist. [Photograph courtesy of Andy Zhang]

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