Winston Koo On Building His Impressive Watch Collection
A great watch has always been, and will always be, a personal possession that speaks volumes about its wearer, something Winston Koo learned at a young age. “My father once told me: ‘A gentleman doesn’t need much apart from a good pair of shoes, a watch and a pen.’” Despite this advice, Koo says his father never wore watches although, years later, he did discover his parents owned diamond-set timepieces from the 1970s by Chopard. “They’re not to my taste,” Koo tells me. “They’re quite blinged out, but that was interesting to find out because I only know my dad as this parental figure. I was like: ‘Wow! You were young once and liked crazy stuff too!’”
As senior director of product innovation at the United Chinese Group, which makes decorations for large outlets including Ikea, Target and Walmart, Koo represents the third generation of his family-owned business. With an eye for detail and appreciation for the atypical, Koo, 47, is especially fond of innovative watches that have revolutionised the industry. While other collectors gravitate towards the most expensive examples from brands such as Patek Philippe and Rolex, Koo has built up an impressive collection of modern pieces from independent watchmakers, including a stunning one-of-a-kind HYT H0 Black.
Koo started acquiring watches in the early 1990s and, at the height of his collection, had as many as 200 timepieces. These days, he’s narrowed it down to about 50 (at least that’s what he tells his wife, Océane), almost all of which are black. “I was never into the goth scene,” he shrugs, when I ask about his colour obsession. “Although I did love The Cure.” He cracks up at a childhood memory of his mother withholding pocket money to stop him from wearing all-black clothes. “I even lived in an entirely black apartment before I met my wife.” He laughs at my complete disbelief. “I’m serious, I really did. She was like: ‘This is going to have to change. I’m not moving into a nightclub.’”
Koo is originally from Taiwan but studied business and marketing at Boston College in the US. He met Océane, who is from France, in Hong Kong, where they married in 2010. The couple share three children who have already inherited watches from Koo’s parents. “It’s important to me that I share my passion for collecting with my son and two daughters. I want to teach them that if you take care of things, they’ll take care of you.” And while Koo prefers modern models—his collection includes a state-of-the-art Urwerk UR-105CT Kryptonite, which comes with a bright green luminous display—he values his parents passing on those gifts. “It’s not that I’m superstitious,” he says, “but I’ve always believed that when you wear something for a long time, your energy gets transferred onto it.”
It’s customary for collectors to focus on a certain niche, and although Koo enjoys black dials, bezels and straps, he also looks for cutting-edge technology and case materials like titanium, carbon or ceramic. He wears two Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Perpetual Calendars in white and black ceramic to Tatler’s photoshoot, and explains his first serious purchase was an IWC Schaffhausen AquaTimer, which came in a sporty titanium case. These days, he favours boundary-breaking creations from companies such as HYT and Urwerk, which are less time-tellers and more powerful, high-tech machines that would look great on Iron Man’s Tony Stark. “I love how these brands invent a different form of time telling.” Koo met Urwerk’s co-founders Felix Baumgartner and Martin Frei in 2018, and enjoys a particularly close relationship with Blancpain, from which he bought the limited-edition Bathyscaphe Limited Edition Mokarran, which boasts a tropical green dial and matching ceramic bezel.
In the beginning, Koo was “gobsmacked” by how sophisticated Asia’s watch scene is, adding that his collection was initially fostered by established figures including Carson Chan, head of the greater China mission of the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie, a non-profit industry group in Switzerland, which offers training courses for watch professionals. “I’ve devoted decades to this hobby but what I’m really grateful for is the opportunity to meet some really great people. There’s something about watch collecting; it opens doors.” Koo has since cemented his own reputation as a tastemaker, and enjoys giving friends watches from his collection, especially when they’re starting out. “I love watches but, at the end of the day, it’s the people that are associated with them that matter the most to me.