Cover Mark Cho wears the Ref 4072 by Vacheron Constantin (Photo: Stephanie Teng for Tatler Hong Kong)

We take a closer look at some of the highlights of Mark Cho’s watch collection

The Lawn of the Upper House, Hong Kong: Mark Cho leans back in his chair, legs crossed, and lights a cigarillo. He’s wearing a sky blue, pinstriped shirt with a midnight blue, three-piece suit, which he’s accessorised with a gold pocket square and tie. “My wife bought me this lighter,” he says. Born and raised in London to a Malaysian father and Singaporean mother, Cho met his Japanese wife, Emi Saito, when he was studying at Claremont McKenna College in California before attending Brown University. Now 38, Cho shares two daughters with Saito, ages six and eight. “I keep them as far away from fancy stuff as possible,” he says, before admitting that he does enjoy buying his wife watches, despite her being “pretty low-key”.

Cho, who has a reputation for being polished and courteous, always appears to be thinking, or listening, until he breaks into a playful smile or laugh. He worked in real estate before co-founding, alongside fashion entrepreneur Alan See, Hong Kong’s menswear brand The Armoury in 2010, which expanded to New York City in 2013. Cho additionally brought his well-curated mix of international artisanal labels to London, when he purchased British haberdasher Drake’s, also in 2010.

A watch collector for more than 15 years, Cho’s parents gave him an Omega when he graduated high school, and he bought his own using his first pay cheque while working at HSBC in London. “On the way to work, I’d pass by this second-hand watch store as I walked through Pall Mall.” He landed on a steel Omega Chronostop from the 1970s, which had a grey dial and burnt-orange seconds hand. 

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Cho buys about ten watches each year and his collection is extremely eclectic, ranging from museum-worthy Patek Philippes to Bulgari’s first collaboration with Japanese architect Tadao Ando. His collecting ethos doesn’t centre on a specific brand or aesthetic; instead, he looks for watches with unusual movements or a fascinating provenance. At the time of this interview, Cho had recently purchased a Tudor that had originally been bought by Abdul Rahman, former prime minister of Malaysia. Over the years, this entrepreneur’s tastes have matured.

“As time goes by, you get a better sense of what you want,” Cho says. “Before, I was collecting because I wanted a full set or felt I should own certain pieces. Honestly, none of that did anything for me in the end.” The high-end watch market is a strong investment vehicle, but Cho also sees timepieces as a stylish way to dress up. “I don’t really buy watches based on their rarity. If anything: the hotter something gets, the more I want to stay away from it.”

When asked why that is, Cho replies: “I don’t like the feeding frenzy. When I see everyone getting real frothy about something, it’s not even about the watch any more. That’s not something I enjoy being around. I try to stay away from stuff like that.” Cho regularly culls his collection and frequently sells watches because they’ve become too popular. “I wouldn’t describe it as an act of rebellion.” He shrugs. “If you’re rebelling, you’re judging something. You’re saying, ‘That’s not good enough so I’m not going to buy it.’ But I’m not against other people liking all that stuff. It’s just that the hype turns me off.”

When asked what’s the biggest misconception of watch collecting, Cho answers: “That a watch should be forever.” I ask him to elaborate. “Watches are small but expensive objects, so people go: ‘Oh my God. I’ve spent so much money on this, I better keep it forever.’ But nobody ever says that about a car. People shouldn’t be so obsessive about their watches. If it works, great. But if you wake up one day and the feeling’s gone, just let it go.”

Cho only regrets selling two watches, one of which was an FP Journe Chronomètre Souverain. “I loved that watch but started to think that I wasn’t wearing it enough. I regret selling it; it was really beautiful.” In 2014, Cho had a shock when he bought an Octa Divine 36 mm that, unbeknownst to him, had been stolen from a Paris boutique more than ten years before. A ladies’ watch, its smaller size better suited Cho’s classic style. After a couple of years, the watch’s date wheel broke and when Cho sent it into FP Journe to be serviced, the brand confiscated it. “I was out of a watch and out of the money I had paid for it,” he recalls.

Cho sued the dealer and eventually got his money back. Years later, after collaborating with The Armoury for several events, the president of FP Journe USA offered to replace the confiscated watch with a one-of-a-kind piece unique to Cho. This turned into a five-piece run that FP Journe sold to Cho’s closest friends and most loyal customers. If that wasn’t good enough, the watchmaker’s insurance company eventually sold the confiscated watch back to Cho at a very reasonable price. He smiles, concluding: “All’s well that ends well.”

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