Cover Austen Chu (Photo: Stephanie Teng)

In this edition of Tatler’s Secrets of Success series—the all-access pass to the city’s most notable business magnates and entrepreneurs—Austen Chu reveals how he deals with age discrimination in the watch industry, and why being relentless with your goals in the key to achieving your dreams

At 25, Austen Chu has already amassed a more enviable watch collection than some enthusiasts twice his age. The Hong Kong entrepreneur is the man behind @Horoloupe, an Instagram page dedicated to his love for luxury timepieces, and Wristcheck, an online trading platform for pre-owned luxury watches. Despite the pandemic, in September 2021, Wristcheck opened its first a physical shop at the Landmark Atrium.

Chu’s Instagram page features snippets of life, from TV interviews with Fox Business, tête-a-têtes with François-Henry Bennahmias, the CEO of Audemars Piguet, as well as insights from his travels to Geneva and Dubai for international watch fairs. The watch media defines him as “Instagram’s best-known Audemars Piguet collector”, and “an important voice in the world of watches” in recognition of his work promoting the appeal of high-end craftsmanship.

Despite all of this, Chu still has a hard time calling himself successful—yet. “There’s still so much to do,” he says.

Here, Chu chats to Tatler about overcoming age discrimination in the industry, his failed jewellery business, and how he became the well-known collector that he is. Plus, he teases the exciting upcoming plans for Wristcheck:

How did you get into the watch space?

Serendipitously. I don’t come from a watchmaking family, or from a family that has ever been remotely interested in the watch industry. I guess you could say that I got into the watch space organically via my account @Horoloupe, which I started six years ago. I had no clue at the time that creating this account would be the catalyst for my personal journey into watches.

Describe what you do in one sentence.

I try to make the watch industry more welcoming and transparent for the current and next generation of watch enthusiasts. I am essentially creating a platform that I wish existed when I started to get into watches seriously.

How does your business make a difference?

We are transparent and are also working directly with a number of brands for the authentication of our watches. We make a fixed percentage on each sale, differentiating us from your traditional dealer, who buys low and sells high. With us, buyers know what sellers net, and sellers know what buyers paid. I believe that the future of this market is rooted in transparency and trust, as these elements resonate with the younger generation of collectors, who are fuelling this craze that we see now.

What do you put your success down to?

I wouldn’t go as far as to call myself successful. I mean, I’m only 25. There’s still so much more to do and the world is my oyster. However, I believe it comes down to passion and having a clear north star, which is our long term vision for democratising the secondary watch space.

I know it’s a cliché, but I really cannot stress the importance of relentlessly pursuing your passion when you’re young and taking a leap of faith. I mean, when else can you afford to do that in life?

What are the top three ingredients for a successful business?

1. Vision. The right vision gives your company meaningful purpose and a sense of belonging within your industry ecosystem. I believe that a business has a better chance of succeeding if it solves a real issue. There needs to be a north star, and the vision needs to resonate not just internally with your team, but also externally to all your stakeholders.

2. People. I’ve learnt that the people in your company are what makes or breaks a business. I’m very grateful for my [Wristcheck] business partner Sean Wong, my team members and our advisors. Then there are the other stakeholders in our business, including our consigners, our customers, our readers, and everyone else that makes what we do possible.

3. Integrity. I don’t need to explain this.

Do you have any mentors? If so, who are they and what is the best piece of advice they have given you?

My mother, for sure. I was raised by a single mother in Shanghai, and she taught me from a young age the importance of pursuing my passion, and to do what I love every day—as long as it earns me a decent living. The only constant that I’ve had throughout my life is my passion and fascination for timekeeping and the instruments that enable this.

[When I was younger], I didn’t know how expensive watches could be, and I remember being absolutely shocked when I first found out what Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe watches cost.

I didn’t even know watches could be that expensive. I shifted my perspective on life and pursued a career in finance, only so that I could afford to eventually splurge my bonus on a watch. I did this for two years during college and absolutely hated it. It took a few more years for me to eventually take on my mother’s advice, and I haven’t looked back since.

What qualities do you look for in a person when building your team?

Passion, loyalty, attention to detail and integrity.

What has been your biggest career obstacle to date? How did you overcome it?

Opening the Wristcheck Experience at Landmark Atrium was a huge risk at the time because 1) There was barely a vaccine available to us 2) The economic outlook of the world was uncertain 3) I’d never had any experience in retail prior to this.

However, I was confident in the ability of our team, and I believed that there was nothing we wouldn't be able to solve together, so we did it.

Have you ever felt age discrimination in the watch industry? If so, how did you overcome that?

Yes. All the time. We live in a very ageist society, especially in Asia. For some reason, unless you’re a celebrity or an athlete or an artist, you just don’t get taken as seriously in the business world [as a young person]. I’ve experienced it most from people who don’t know me personally, or from people who met me in passing. But it’s cool. I’ve always viewed it as motivation.

What’s interesting is, the watch brands that we work with don’t have an issue with my age, because they all see the importance of the next generation and the importance of our clients in the overall ecosystem. Those who ignore the next generation will fall behind and ultimately lose out. Plain and simple.

The world has also changed forever. We used to live in a world where knowledge was passed on from parent to child until college, or even long after. The dynamic used to be very one way. Now, the dynamic is two way. Children learn from their parents, and parents learn just as much, if not more, from their children. And let’s face it: young people are the future, and their tastes will shape the world of tomorrow, whether you like it or not.

Do you have any business regrets? If so, what?

Of course I do. I think if any entrepreneur tells you otherwise, they’re probably lying or too proud to admit it [laughs]. I tried starting a jewellery brand in 2018, and that did not work out at all. I lost money and time, but it’s all good because I didn’t have any external investors. However, this experience taught me the importance of pursuing my passion and doing something I truly love, which was, you guessed it: watches. This experience was one of the many catalysts that pushed me to drop everything and start Wristcheck.

What projects are you working on next?

We have quite a lot up our sleeve for the coming year, including expansion into new regions, collaborations with watch brands, focusing on more editorial content, and launching our own native app.

What is a common misconception about you?

That I come from a lot of money. I grew up upper middle class at most. We were definitely not rich by any means. My mother provided a wonderful upbringing filled with love and laughter, and gave up everything to raise me with the help of my grandparents. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

In an alternate universe, what career path do you think you would have chosen?

I have no clue. All I know is, regardless of what career path I started with, I would have probably still ended up in the watch space.

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