Benjamin Kim, Bernard Cheong And Elaine Lim-Chan On Their 'Holy Grail' Watches


August 17, 2018 | BY Nicolette Wong

A holy grail watch is the one timepiece that a collector prizes above all others. It’s the crown jewel in their collection—or possibly the one that got away. We speak to seasoned collectors about their ideal piece

What is your holy grail watch?
Benjamin Kim (BK)
That’s a tough question. Depending on one’s perspective, the term holy grail can be viewed from vastly different angles. For me personally, functionality, legibility and aesthetic beauty are the sine qua non for a fine watch, leaving me with the following three watches: Greubel Forsey’s Quadruple Tourbillon Invention Piece 2, A. Lange & Söhne’s Grand Complication and Patek Philippe’s Grandmaster Chime Ref 5175. But if I had to choose one, my holy grail watch would be the Ref 5175.

Why do you like this watch more than any others?
BK I love this watch because it speaks to me—no pun intended—even though it’s a minute repeater! It possesses a timeless feel to it and has this je ne sais quoi. The first time I saw it, I immediately fell in love with it. In terms of mechanics, while it is Patek’s most complicated watch, it certainly isn’t the most complicated watch ever made. (That honour goes to Vacheron Constantin.) It is the case that distinguishes this masterpiece. At a glance, it already grabs your attention with an intricate laurel wreath engraved around the bezel, case, crown, and pushers—it’s absolutely stunning. Every detail, leaf, and letter have been painstakingly etched out. I am not one for superlatives or hyperbole, but this watch is truly breathtaking. It invokes the same emotions as looking at Michelangelo’s sculptures and paintings.

(Related: 4 Beautifully Handcrafted Patek Philippe Watches Suited For Heirloom Status)

Does the rarity and exclusivity of the watch add to its allure?
BK I suppose an instinctive answer, given that there are only seven of these beauties on the planet, would be a resounding yes. But upon deeper reflection, I concluded that I would not have thought any less of it had there been 10,000 such watches. An object of beauty is an object of beauty, regardless of its availability or quantity. Too often people mistake rarity for beauty and this is true for other collectibles such as cars, jewellery, art and so on.

Do you think that you will ever have a second holy grail watch?
BK To me it’s not a matter of if but when. Unlike vinyl records, instant Polaroids, Kodak film and horse saddles—all of which have been relegated to the annals of history and places in the Smithsonian—mechanical watches survived the quartz invasion and I wholeheartedly believe they will continue to survive the onslaught of smart watches and excel too. People are inherently drawn to the marvels of the mechanical watch as a feat of precision engineering and aesthetic beauty, as opposed to a device driven by an integrated circuit board that exists merely to tell you the most accurate time on a pseudo analogue-dialled screen. As such, with bated breath I anxiously await the next wonder that will supplant the Ref 5175. Perhaps the bicentennial 200th anniversary Patek!


What is your holy grail watch?
Bernard Cheong (BC)
Of course, there can only be one—the Greubel Forsey Invention Piece Number 1 in platinum. Eleven were made from 2011 to 2011, and all sold. I own number 00/11—the grail, plus the seal of friendship from the two founders, Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey.

Why do you like this watch more than any others?
BC This is a museum-level work of zero error, and composed of impossible angles and an incredibly precise assemblage of parts. It has the most impossible level of craftsmanship and mechanical excellence. I love the characteristic black-polished bridge, which holds the world’s only double tourbillon—a concentric balance wheel within two cages, both oscillating at different speeds of more than three times the rotary count. The Invention Piece 1s made between 2004 and 2007 have round or semi-circular aerofoil-like finishes, which is a near-impossible gargantuan task to make by hand—and currently impossible to achieve by machine. Note that there are no round surfaces on any part of the watch, not a single one. Plus, platinum cannot be polished, cut or burred like other metals can. It sticks, and hardly loses any mass after polishing; it is simply massaged back into the scratches. Its rarity and properties make it extremely costly to shape or work with. The amazing thing about Greubel Forsey is that it makes very little profit from its watches, and you get exactly what you pay for.

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Do you have more than one holy grail watch?
There’s a phrase that has risen in recent decades—portable wealth. The indestructible, verifiable, value loaded and extremely small wristwatch is inconspicuous, and you could carry $10 million on any wrist, pocket or bag. Among the most genuine, the most stable, the least likely to be replicated sources of portable wealth are only two watches: the Greubel Forsey Invention Piece 1 in platinum, and the Greubel Forsey Platinum Double 30° Tourbillon Vision with a mother-of-pearl dial.


What is your holy grail watch?
Elaine Lim-Chan (ELC)
The Vianney Halter Antiqua.

Why do you like this watch more than any others?
To me, the Antiqua is not just a time piece but a masterpiece of horological art. Visually, the impact of the watch is stunning, and it has such amazing attention to details. It is beautiful, romantic yet adventurous. It is not huge on the wrist (which is a good thing)—it is understated, subtle yet it speaks volumes. It is a perpetual calendar that accurately records the days, dates, months and leap years and only requires an adjustment once every century. Every part of the watch is handmade, and I hear it takes more than 900 man hours to produce one Antiqua—just the case itself is composed of more than 100 parts. The Antiqua is almost perfect, at least to me.

Does the rarity and exclusivity of the watch add to its allure?
ELC Of course.

What makes a watch grail-worthy?
To me, the watch must, first and foremost, connect with me. It must call out to me to qualify as a grail. It should be rare. Attaining the grail should be the key highlight or milestone of any collector’s journey.

How did it feel to finally get your hands on the Antiqua?
ELC It fulfils all the expectations and fantasy, and more. It took my hubby (Weng) and I many years to get our hands on it.

Do you think that you will ever have a second holy grail watch?
ELC Never say never… but it will take a lot (for the next grail) to be at the same level as the Vianney Halter Antiqua. 

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