Watch Collector Tom Chng and His Bespoke Proposal
Tom Chng is a well-known name within the watch community, who founded the Singapore Watch Club in 2015 to share his passion for timepieces through his Instagram account, @singaporewatchclub, and meet like-minded individuals in the city and beyond at regular get-togethers. His personal collection is vast, and his watch knowledge even more so.
In 2017, Chng met Hosanna Swee (@hforhozzie), a photographer and currently Leica ambassador in Singapore. As the story goes, he saw her watch before he saw her face, but the pair clicked. Maybe, then, it’s not so unexpected that Chng would propose to Swee with a Ulysse Nardin Classico unique piece – and this is how he did it.
Does Hosanna share the same passion for watches? Who influenced who?
If you asked her, she’d probably say me. Because that’s what it seems like on the surface. I think I’m quite a bit more into watches than she is but, then again, when I think about it I can say she influenced my taste more. Because, honestly, she’s got a much better eye for design and luxury than me. So throughout the years, she’s unknowingly polished my taste and eye for design in watches. After meeting her, I found myself liking more classical designs. I seek out more timeless creations rather than something that could be trendy or popular at a certain point.
How did you guys meet?
We met on a dating app. And it’s quite a funny story, because in her pictures she cropped away her face. So all the pictures had no face, but I still was interested in her because she was wearing a very nice AP Royal Oak at the time. Today everyone’s quite crazy over the Royal Oak, but back in 2017 it was still an unusual choice for a girl. So that’s pretty much how we met.
Tell us about the proposal. Was it a long time in the planning?
I was quite adamant that I didn’t want to propose during the pandemic, because of all the social restrictions – our friends and family weren’t going to be able to be there. And she’s quite close to her family, so I always envisioned that they’d be there at the proposal. But at the end of last year, it all just felt right. Everything just fell into place. And then I thought, I guess I’ll do it now, in the middle of the pandemic.
It was our anniversary last month so I thought it would be a great time to do it. It was very impromptu and it was confirmed only a week before it happened. We went to a rooftop bar for drinks before dinner and then I presented her with the watch and told her how much I appreciated her. It was pretty simple, it was just the two of us; very intimate.
The watch wasn’t just any watch but a bespoke piece. Can you tell us about how it was made?
It was a year in the making. I provided Ulysse Nardin with the design, but of course the brand had some contributions to the design process as well. Hosanna fancies classical and minimalist designs; typography choice was also paramount, especially for a watch like this – the font choice can make or break the piece. The watch looks simple, but the little details are crucial and are often overlooked. Size of the markers, choice of hands, logo application, etc. Hosanna is extremely discreet and understated, so to adorn the dial with her name might be a tad too loud for her. The execution is key here; the idea was to create something truly personal but obvious only to the wearer and no one else.
You managed to spell out her name with the hour markers on the dial. That was very clever.
That’s what we love about it. The words were designed to be almost unnoticeable, even from 30 centimetres away. Even a lot of our friends are like, “Nice watch.” And then two days later they tell us they just noticed that her name is on the dial.
Is there a particular reason why you chose to work with Ulysse Nardin?
This watch is something that’s very meaningful to us. And longevity is the key here. I really wanted it to look as good 100 years from now as it does today. So in order to achieve that, you need an enamel dial. Ulysse Nardin’s dial-making subsidiary, Donzé Cadrans, is the most renowned and prolific enamel dial manufacture in the world, so it couldn’t have been an easier choice. It was a no-brainer. I also worked with Ulysse Nardin for our first Singapore Watch Club special edition back in 2017, so it was nice to work with them again this time around.
When I met Hosanna in 2017, that was the same year we released the first Singapore Watch Club edition with Ulysse Nardin. She wanted one, but at that point when the project was announced, we were already sold out for months. So she couldn’t get one. This is the perfect opportunity – not only does she get one, but she gets one that’s even more special with a special story.
Could you describe all the surprise elements on the watch?
The dial is in black enamel and there’s an applied logo at 12 o’clock. Compared to the production model, the Classico, which is the canvas for this piece, we’ve removed the date function and the small seconds, so it’s just hours and minutes on the dial. We also changed the hands from the regular leaf shape to the spade and whip hands you’d normally find on antique marine chronometers, which we also used in the SWC 2017 piece. The hour markers spell out Hosanna’s name, and at the back there’s a small engraving that says, “Marry me?”
Are you going to get yourself a matching watch?
We love to match watches! Very often we try to find his and hers for our watch collection. For this one, I already have one to match, because I’ve got the prototype from the 2017 SWC edition.
Have you both given each other watches previously?
This is the first. I’ve jokingly asked her before if she was going to buy me a watch. And she’s like, “Yeah, I will when I’m your wife.” She did say that now we’re engaged she thinks she needs to buy me a watch.
Have you set a date for your wedding yet? Or will you wait until the pandemic is over?
We’re waiting until it’s over. But we’re aiming for a timeline of maybe a year and a half from now. But really, we need to see how things pan out. It’s very tricky with all the restrictions here in Singapore. You’d have to divide your wedding into different zones of about 50 people. And people can’t mingle outside of those zones. It’ll be a nightmare.
One last question, now that Hosanna owns an engagement watch, will she still be receiving an engagement ring?
Haha, unfortunately not! However, she’s hinted at a more ornate wedding band, to make up for the lack of an engagement ring!