Time seems to slip through our fingers like grains of sand, a sentiment that struck me profoundly during the recent tour at Singapore Watch Fair (SWF) hosted at the exquisite Equarius Hotel, nestled within Resorts World Sentosa Singapore. In this fast-paced modern world, where moments swiftly become memories and then disappear into the past, it’s easy to overlook the enduring impact of human history—in this case, craftsmanship and precious moments that hold a special place in our hearts.
Unveiling Time’s Layers
A few years ago, someone told me that traditional timepieces would be eclipsed by smartwatches in the future. I couldn’t disagree more. In a brief conversation with Ali Nael, the visionary co-founder of Singapore Watch Fair, FutureGrail, and 2ToneVintage, we shared a mutual belief that the digital age only enhances the value of traditional watches, preserving their legacy for generations to treasure. Why should it be a choice between the two? Can’t we appreciate both for their distinct purposes? One for the here and now, and the other as a canvas that reflects the wearer’s style, culture, and deep appreciation for the profound beauty of time and artistry of craftsmanship in delivering our autobiographical moments/memories — the ticking space we never truly own…
In this paradox, where time both vanishes and lingers, it’s perfectly normal to get lost. However, honouring the painstaking efforts dedicated to uncovering the layers of time does not only broaden our horizons and help find our way back, but also allow us to welcome the emergence of new creations from the sands of time. This was the fascinating experience at the heart of the Singapore Watch Fair that I would now like to take you on, with some of my top picks…
Traversing heritage, artistry, uniqueness, and embracing modern innovation & technology.
Exploring the Watch Heritage
Based in Singapore, FutureGrail is a premier investment advisory firm not only has a wealth of collectable high-end timepieces but it specialises in exquisite and rare collectibles. It has a mini museum in-house with over 200 rare and historically significant timepieces, some dating back to the early 1800s. What’s equally amazing is that a fraction of these vintage collection was displayed during SWF, that absolutely took centre stage.
Personally, I feel a romantic notion peculiar to pocket watches. Their ability to take your mind on a journey into your heart with the sense of secrecy and surprise regardless of its era, style and design, the same romance is able to withstand the test of time.
Though, awkward or tricky might be a word to describe its presence, in this modern times. The history of these portable watches spans over four centuries within a timeframe that includes moments of great horological innovation and remarkable workmanship of famed makers from the English Golden Age and beyond. But today, they seem completely overshadowed by the post-war wristwatches.
As a lady who’s rarely into anything classic or “timeless”, I tend to fall head over heels with pocket watches and I don’t know why—must be the journey from the head to the heart. At SWF, from Patek Philippe to Girard-Perregaux, here are some of the wowzers I thought really stood out in this journey with time:
Photo credits: Sotheby’s
This incredibly rare and interesting two-minute tourbillon pocket watch with duplex escapement was specially made by Emile Buffat from Sechey (Vallée de Joux). The main wheel bridge in the form of an ‘N’ symbolic of Napoleon III. Together with the engraving of these intricate designs and inscription of ‘Alma and Inkermann’ were meant to honour the monarch’s victories. It was believed that this watch was made for the 1855 Paris Exposition Universelle and was dedicated to Napoleon III (1808-1873), Emperor of the French (1852-1870). Seriously, all the super fine and thoughtful details got me.
Photo credits: Marcus, Christie’s
J. W. Benson
One of the world’s most famous and complicated watches ever made in the history of horology is The Navigator’s Watch by J.W. Benson, circa 1900. This double dialled open face desk clock, Supercomplication, was one of the greatest English watches in the mid 20th century. ‘Complication’ in horological term refers to any function on a watch that performs beyond telling just time, and the Navigator’s watch has over 10 different complications. Such as, date; world city indication of 63 cities; zodiac indication; sunrise/sunset indications; equation of time (which gives information about the equinoxes of spring and autumn, as well as the solstices of summer and winter).
However, what sets it apart was the rarest of complications – the celestial sky chart – a rotating planisphere of the heavenly bodies showing the appearance of the night sky at the time indicated on the dial. Not forgetting, another extremely rare phenomenon of triple-split-seconds chronograph function with 60-minute register. This feature is made for timing three events simultaneously. Only one or two other pocket watches had such feature. Yet, they weren’t entirely unique without having a ridiculous number of complications in one body like The Navigator’s.
Watch Artistry: Legacy to Innovation
Watchmaking industry, like everything else, transforms over time, I’ve picked a few brands/pieces from the Singapore Watch Fair to illustrate the flow from “the old to the new”. Simultaneously, highlighting how independent contemporary brands have expressed their passion through modern-day artistry. Let’s start with an antique piece from FutureGrail again…
Metiers d’art: Best of enamel art
Metiers d’art, which means ‘art professions’ refers to decorative techniques that are centuries old. Artisans train for many years to become experts in these time-consuming crafts. The knowledge and tools are frequently passed down through apprenticeships or families. The main métiers d’art are guilloché, engraving, and enamel—for now let’s talk about enamel miniature painting. I am a rather unapologetic lover of colours, specifically bright colours (and yes, orange), so naturally the rich hues from enamel painting appeals to me greatly at first sight.
Photo credits: Christie’s
This endearing little thing was made for the Ottoman market, and honestly quite the signature piece amongst the best of enamel vintage collectibles being showcased during SWF, for a few reasons I would assume:
1. Significantly outstanding appearance of the painted Bosphorus Strait and the Turkish Empire, circa 1840.
2. Visibly unique and pleasing multi-curvature scalloped edge case—of course with enamel painted floral design on it.
3. The painted pendant atop the watch case. Not sure about others, but I have not seen a painted pendant/crown before so that kind of stood out to me.
I thought the typography of Turkish numerals on the dial of antique watches looks pretty chic as well. Overall, time pieces of this era were 100% handmade right down to the screws. And this is definitely a metiers d’art piece where the engraving and enamel painting was done by hand.
This dedicated Swiss brand carries forward the true legacy of watchmaking by handcrafting 100% of the entire timepiece the way our ancestors would—from the case, dial, hands, bezel, the entire movement, down to every single screw. If you are a watch enthusiast/collector, learnt about the tradition of a hundred years ago, that is exactly what you are getting from OSCiLLON, no less. They take pride in making everything entirely in-house, distributed amongst a team of 4 watchmakers (at the moment), produces a maximum of 5 pieces annually, with a wide variety of tools and manual machines that could be older than a hundred years. Each watchmaker works on a few different parts of a timepiece, and at the most crucial stage—which is the end—only one person would assemble everything altogether.
All it takes is a single misjudgement in the making process to bring perfection down to mediocrity, and the play would have to start all over again. FUN (; So, the true value this painstaking process upholds, is neither the education, nor the experience, but the burning passion of the maker which will ultimately bring in the patience, the grit, the willingness to learn/innovate, the desire to score perfection, and the spark in his/her eyes at every touch throughout the work. It truly takes so much more than just a watchmaker to be able or willing to sit through this entire tedious process repeatedly.
Such attempt to avoid any digital aid in its existing skilled operation, is the cause that manifested their Fundamentum models. If you, like me, appreciate the beauty of positive contrast, you will appreciate this on a deeper level. The watch face reflects the exact sense of its name, ‘Fundamental’. But really, whether it is called basic or low profile stylish, an ‘ordinary’ assemble in top quality and finest finishing is what the new fashion trend calls Quiet Luxury. For anything expensive, the inside should be as perfect. Hence, the flip side of this watch reveals the opposite of a basic b*tch—that’s definitely uncalled for.
Photo credits: Oscillon
My take on OSCiLLON and its Fundamentum is equivalent to a quote by the late Karl Lagerfeld of Chanel, “Luxury is the ease of a t-shirt in a very expensive dress.” This brand has the utmost elegance broiled in its core. Their values are expressed through timeless aesthetic and a multitude of layers awaiting to unveil a world of profound inner beauty that will last hundreds of years. The time invested will be returned to the bearer and their future generations, starting from the first winds of the movement.
Now, isn’t this beautiful? And, isn’t this human? It’s like one of the best part in any relationship; when you spend the time getting to know someone, and all their stories and inner work done so deeply hidden under the many layers that make them likely the best possible version of themselves.
There is a beautiful story here. An Israeli independent watchmaker is not a common sight, hence, the Singapore Watch Fair curated a gem. Itay Noy, fell in love with timepieces while working at a watch store, had embarked on his journey in watchmaking without knowing it was part of his family history.
He came from a family of artists; his grandmother was one of the first graphic artists in Israel, and his father was a painter. They all studied at Bezalel, the national academy of arts and design in Jerusalem. Fate has it all; Itay Noy found himself in Bezalel pursuing design, won a significant award in 2007 for contemporary crafts in Israel known as Andy, did an exhibition, got his watches showcased in a museum, found out that his great grand uncle was a watchmaker before World War II, and like they said “the rest is history”.
Fast forward today, with his namesake label, Itay Noy has a dedication to meticulously handcraft customised and limited edition timepieces within the intimate confines of his studio located along the cobblestone stretch at the heart of the Old Jaffa neighborhood. Approximately, 120 watches per year.
Apart from his craftmanship, Itay Noy is known for his thought-provoking approach to design; his timepieces are canvases for philosophical exploration—a catalyst for pondering the intricate nature of time itself, refreshing creativity on how time could be told, and stand as a testament to enduring allure of craftsmanship and the power of design in an era of mass production.
Photo credits: Itay Noy
Timepieces in this collection take turns to show the day and night. Created in-house, the dial is dynamic with several windows displaying different information (minutes, seconds, hours, sun/moon as day/night) at every moment. While the left half of the dial reveals the day from 6am to 6pm, the right half will remain hidden. This works vice versa, with the right half reveals the night from 6pm to 6am. It’s a twelve hour shift. Too cute!
Photo credits: Itay Noy
First!! The dial can be customized to your color of preference. Time tone has a refreshingly fun way of telling time. There is no hour hand, but that function is replaced by 12 mini discs of different tones of a specific color (let’s say blue). These discs would rotate clockwise and the wearer/owner gets to choose which particular disc/tone would represent the hour hand—that would determine visually how the time can be told. So if the wearer does not reveal which particular disc is the moving hour hand, no one will know how to read the time but the owner. Such crazy idea; so much fun!! Orange please!?
Photo credits: Itay Noy
This collection offers wearer three different ways of reading time. Beside the traditional analog way of reading the central hands of hours, minutes and seconds—which is rather obvious, there are two ChronoGears that rotate around the dial in clockwise direction and contains a central hand as the pointer. Top half of the dial indicates eight parts of a day, namely, dawn, morning, noon, afternoon, dusk, evening, midnight and night. While the bottom half of dial indicates 24 hours time. Each chrono gear would pass through the sections indicating the time of day. So much possibilities in one piece!
I love playing with concepts and I love how our Singapore pride and joy, Azimuth, does it. Was fun chatting with the brand’s visionary leader, Christopher Long, as he so patiently took me on a tour amongst his collections, sharing the inspirations behind his creations and the brand’s history. Founded in 2003, the first independent watchmaker in Singapore has been creating unconventional timepieces that is now recognized as a Swiss watchmaker with an avant-garde, boundary-pushing approach in design. More than just traditional watches, the brand views boldness as an extension to one’s unique personality and infuses this trait into its DNA. Often creating timepieces that resemble mechanical toys, it has earned the moniker “The Toy Watchmaker” for its innovative and interactive creations. Here are a few of the “fun times”, as well as uniquely cute details by Azimuth:
A couple of models in Juxtaposition collection have details that absolutely tickle. The above is named ‘Back-In-Time’ and the reason is pretty obvious if you take a closer look. Time is told backwards; depicted by the opposite arrangement of the numerals and the hour hand made to move anti-clockwise.
Also, what you don’t get anywhere else is the idea of single handedly—with a single hour hand—move forward and backward (literally) at the same time. But, with Azimuth, you can. Gosh, so brilliant!!
Photo credits: Azimuth
This other Back-In-Time series known as ‘Save The 1’ is limited edition, and champions a good cause in environmental awareness. The two variants being Ocean Blue and Rainforest, are so elegantly built, that it charmingly exudes deep sense of grounded-ness so apt for the theme. The dials are inspired by the dynamic movements of nature, evoking the gentle waves of the ocean, and the rustling of leaves in the breeze, respectively. They first undergo machine-stamping to simulate the guilloche (one type of metiers d’art, mentioned earlier in Breguet’s Turkish Map antique pocket watch segment) wave-like pattern, then hand-manipulated by master artisans to achieve smooth and flawless gradated ‘fumé’ effect. I also specifically mentioned this model as I champion all environmental protection causes. Of course, telling time backwards still tickles me.
Mr. Roboto Sapphire
2023 marks Azimuth’s 20th anniversary of avant-garde watchmaking, and in celebration the Mr. Roboto Sapphire limited edition timepiece was created, based off from its iconic Mr. Roboto collection tagged with a sci-fi story to it. How cute. This ice robot design is limited to 20 pieces in the world, made with a highly complex watch case cut out from sapphire crystal which showcases the mesmerizing inner workings of the watch and also offers exceptional durability and scratch resistance.
Photo credits: Azimuth
Within the Mr. Roboto collection, this particular ‘Bronzo’ assembly may catch more ladies attention due to its clean bronze hue and neutral to light coloured matching strap. Never more apt to utilise bronze in the making of Mr. Roboto series as it reminds us of the industrial revolution era associated with robots and machinery.
Photo credits: Azimuth
Another interesting collection by Azimuth goes to the (race) car lovers. From the above, first, you see ‘Twin Turbo’, that has a pair of vintage speedometer inspired design offering the wearer two time-zone readings at a glance. What’s more special is the mechanism that lies underneath the watch cover—a re-engineered case construction that mimics actual technical erection of the car bonnet, which gives the wearer an intimate engagement as he/she flips it up to reveal the engine block.
Next, pushing the limits of this collection, the silhouette of ‘Gran Tourismo’ was based on the curvaceous bonnets of retro Porsche 911s from the 1960s, smoothly combined with the signature larger-than-life speedometer display of Mini Cooper. Of course, all the way to the leather strap that matches every accent of the watch face, was inspired by the upholstery of 1970s supercars. Man, what a ride!
Modern Magic to Watch
In this era of remarkable possibilities, the boundless potential of 3D printing truly astounds me. From toys and jewelry to edible creations and even functional homes, the applications seem almost surreal. In this intriguing spectrum of innovation, Holthinrichs watches find their unique place, standing as a testament to the astonishing capabilities of this technology.
Founded by an architect-turned-watchmaker, Michiel Holthinrichs, a very humble and passionate young man. He drew his inspiration from the profound sense of the sublime, in the realm of architecture. This concept often manifests in monumental structures characterized by immense scale, unique forms, and a sense of awe that stems from their novelty. What he aimed to achieve was to capture these same emotions in something mobile and dynamic, as opposed to the immovable grandeur of buildings. Hence, Holthinrichs the brand was born with the de4sire to create watches that continuously fascinates people, defy their sense for structural logics, and ignite people’s curiosity about the intricate processes behind crafting these masterpieces. Read on, and decide for yourself if that has been successful…
Photo credits: Holthinrichs
This collection was named after the postmodernist architecture movement, Deconstructivism. Do I need to explain the concept? Basically, it is the act of tearing things down into pieces, stare at them, talk to yourself a little bit more about them, know them more in-depth and putting them back however you want it—just make sure you leave things better than you first found. 😀
This model is a radical, high-tech and ultra-light recomposition of traditional wristwatches. A semi-skeleton timepiece with every component being reduced to its constructive minimum, successfully done through state-of-the-art 3D printing with Grade 5 titanium, and for sure, extreme precision machining and craftsmanship. It is a masterpiece that commands a (longer) second look; the sculptural design; unconventional and architectural forms; contrasting textures; unprecedented openwork construction; and the slimness that makes it super sleek. All of which, are 100% developed in-house, with deliberate questioning and reflecting on its functional and structural integrity. Through this, Holthinrichs also introduces its first manufactured movement caliber, HW-M01.
Photo credits: Holthinrichs
Liminality and PreLiminality
This collection is pretty self-explanatory; signifies the transition between 2 stages of life. Commanding a strong first impression, this exquisite dial’s design suggests the penetration of mighty forces that has left a visual bursting effect. As I gaze upon this handcrafted deconstructed ensemble, adorned with natural diamonds, it becomes clear that, what it symbolizes is resilience and an unwavering commitment to creating something new and beautiful even under the most intense pressure. I particularly like how the brand describes it:
"This series is our embodiment for the unprecedented power of hope. It reminds us that paradigms can be shifted so a new, prosperous future can arise from the chaos."
Photo credits: Holthinrichs
PreLiminality—the emerging point of a transition—has a black rhodium plated finish dial and Breguet-inspired numerals enclosed in a 3D printed stainless steel case, that is hand-polished to achieve high gloss. Whilst the Liminality is the next step in the said transition, where upon comparison, you will see the numerals are gone from the dial. The watch case turned to coarse, almost stone-like textures with raw finish instead, and the dial has gained subtle hues of colour from the flame-treatment in order for patina to build up over time—patina is a chemical that changes the color of the outer layer of a metal—usually appears in unique and colourful outcome, and result varies depending on the type of metals.
We have now seen the designed transition from one stage to another. If you also realise, Liminality is actually the beginning of another transition when patina starts to build up on the dial entirely, which has not quite happen yet. So, what’s next? Would there be a design continuation for its final stage? When I asked, Michiel Holthinrichs said, “We have not made the final stage product yet. I believe we currently do not have the wisdom to predict. We may want to watch it for ourselves, which includes the notion of time and nature as the layer of patina takes over. It’s going to be amazing.”
I’ll tell you why Holthinrichs is an interesting watch brand and maker. First, they have strong foundation in creative knowledge and background. A huge amount of consideration was put through every design, taking a play of inspiration from shapes, architecture, intrinsic value of materials and possible results from the equation of adding treatments to them. Second, the boundary-pushing exploration with technology. Ultimately, setting the bar very high in innovative modern watchmaking while ensuring functionality, and achieving uniqueness cannot be found anywhere else.
“Time isn’t the main thing. It’s the only thing.” — Miles Davis
The Best First Impressions…
I’ve had a weird emotional relationship with desk clocks that I have never talked about. The sight of it just makes me kind of uncomfortable. But I wondered about them from time to time. Then, I saw L’Epee 1839 one day, and fell in love. It always gets me rather excited.
Elegant and minimalist. Nothing too fancy, but the circular hands are everything! For some reason, it leaves a very deep first impression and I couldn’t get it out of my head.
The Singapore Watch Fair has showcased a rather full spectrum of timekeeping odyssey. In the heart of it all, this journey has allowed us to traverse the intricate landscapes of watchmaking, where the past, present, and future coalesce in a harmonious symphony of horological excellence. As I conclude this journey here, I am reminded that in the world of horology, time is truly eternal, we carry with us the appreciation that watches are not just instruments to measure hours but also windows into the past, gateways to artistic expression, and portals to the future.
(Gold sequinned & yellow) Top and pants: Twinset | Jewelry: Speshe | Clutch: Jimmy Choo