Sometimes, we just need a friend to help us get going in a new direction, be it choosing a new career or starting a hobby. Wei’s story proves that watch collecting doesn’t have to start with cheap quartz watches but can instead start with a bang by following a friend’s advice and buying a Rolex Explorer 1. This friend who introduced Wei to Rolex and watch collecting also has a Rolex (or maybe more than one, for that matter.) Sometimes, the type of watches our friends collect influence what kind of watches we ourselves buy, and the story of how Wei began his collecting journey starts with one unique story and finishes with a second unique story.
A Watch = A Milestone
Just like any young fella, Wei started his watch journey with an inexpensive quartz timepiece, probably a Swatch or a digital Casio. Whatever it was, it did not mark the beginning of his collecting. In his own words, being a teenager and owning a Swatch was as much a given as the fact that Earth orbits around the sun or growing up during the ‘70s and wearing elephant pants (thank Buddha I was born in the ‘80s!). Just like a watch is something that enables us to say something about our personality and what we do, a watch is often utilized by men (sorry, it’s true, watch collecting is mostly a dude thing) to commemorate an event. I remember watching a video about Russell Crowe and the story of his watch collecting journey. One day, he was on his way home from a film shoot and decided to commemorate the project he had just finished by buying a new Panerai at the airport.
Wei actually has a similar story. In 2013, he started a small business—head hunting and consultancy—that soon began to flourish, and on the way back from one business trip, he decided to stop by an authorized dealer at the airport. Thanks to his friend who had piqued his interest in watches (and specifically in Rolex), Wei had been toying with the idea of getting an Explorer 1. Things being as they were in 2014, the authorized dealer at the airport happened to have an Explorer 1 on hand (the 39mm version), as well as a Submariner and Milgauss, three very iconic Rolex watches. As any sensible budding watch collector would do, he naturally tried on all three watches and left the airport with the Explorer 1 strapped on his wrist.
It was amusing listening to him tell this story given how limited supply and stories of deceptive sales tactics have plagued Rolex over the past few years, but hey, it was 2014, which now seems like a century ago.
This Explorer 1 was his only watch for the next seven years. A watch he bought to commemorate the success of his own business—a very great way to celebrate this milestone—became his daily timepiece. Imagine the innumerable adventures this watch must have gone on and the many scratches incised on the dial and bracelet that gave this watch its unique flair. All the while he was wearing the Explorer 1, he was thinking of acquiring another watch, but as he looked through the catalogs of other brands, something always made him come back to Rolex. One day, he casually told his authorized dealer that he would love to acquire a Daytona (casually in the sense that he wouldn’t think the AD would actually get him one).
As luck would have it, the AD called him three months after his first son was born: first to congratulate Wei on the happy event, and then, to Wei’s big surprise, to inform him that he had a Daytona in stock for him. Wei was at the AD the very next day to get the Daytona, an iconic watch sought after by collectors of all kinds (both those who can afford it and those who can’t), and on that day, the Daytona became a keepsake memorializing the birth of his first son. When I interviewed Wei, he told me that his wife was about to give birth to a second baby, so now Wei wears the Daytona as a symbol of not one but two happy events.
Like I said, a watch can sometimes help us commemorate milestones in life, both professionally and personally.
I’ve heard of many other similar stories that link a watch to a series of events, an adventure, or a memorable trip that the watch partook in as it sat on our wrist on that special day or time of life. Wearing a watch can sort of take on a function similar to that of wearing a wedding band or a lucky charm during difficult times. Think of a watch not just as a watch but as a token of something bigger than us. We humans have come up with many, many ways to commemorate historical events, be it by building pyramids, sculpting statues, sewing a special garment, or tattooing our bodies. A watch can play this function too.
We All Need a Friend
Honestly, watch collecting would be pointless were it not for the watch community and friends who stand by ready to help us achieve our dreams. Who else would we share our nerdy historical tidbits with? And who else would we talk to about our purchase dilemmas? Imagine having no one to talk to about any of this: where is the fun in that? It’s amazing to nerd out about small details or go into deep, thought-provoking conversations without the objective of eventually buying anything. So, then, we all need friends who can play the part of good sounding boards for all of these seemingly unimportant matters. Watch collecting is, first and foremost, a hobby. No one I have met so far sees it as being anything else, regardless of the reasons for collecting (I’m not talking about those who buy a Submariner to look good on a Saturday night out in town or at a board meeting).
It was Wei’s friend, the guy with the Rolex, who gave Wei a very good piece of advice: buy fewer watches, but save up in order to get the better ones—the $4,000 watches—instead of wasting your money buying two dozen $100 watches (In 2014, an Explorer 1 sold for $4,000, while now it’s around $6,500). Back in 2014, though, Wei felt that spending $4,000 on one watch was a lot, so he waited until he had a good reason to buy the Explorer. Now, of course, Wei’s collection shows that he doesn’t shy away from spending several thousand dollars on a watch, and for good reason: the more he got into watches, the more he started to see why expensive watches are expensive.
Think about it.
Would you actually expect to get a great car for $1,000? How long do you think it would last? How comfortable would it be? How much pleasure would it bring you? This might be a far-fetched comparison, but would you really see James Bond driving a Smart car or Jeff Bezos jetting off in a cardboard space rocket hoping it wouldn’t burst into flames upon takeoff?
Here’s the point. If you want to have a good watch, you need to spend good money: not $50,000, but $5,000 and perhaps even more. The more you spend on a watch—and this is true of anything in life—the better it gets. If you pay for quality, you get better construction, better movement, better finish. Wei decided early on he preferred to have fewer watches that were better made.
We All Need a Friend (Part 2)
So now you know that Wei has a pretty stand-up friend and a great watch collection. He also has an Instagram presence, too, and the way he got into that is rather interesting. What has now become a source of enjoyment and marvel for 6,000 of us started as a bet. As the story goes, Wei had a friend who was into photography, and the former suggested to the latter that he photograph watches and make a living out of it. His friend was absolutely not interested. Instead, he loaned Wei a camera and taught him the very basics of photography. In the end, Wei continued to struggle with his understanding of the technical aspect of photography, but nevertheless, his friend dared him to take good photos and post them on Instagram.
You know what happened next.
At the beginning of his social media journey, Wei couldn’t have cared less about gaining followers, and he had little hope of doing so. He was just practicing the photographing of watches and posting them on Instagram with relative consistency. It’s when he got to a few hundred followers that he started to realize he had gotten better and was doing something right. This newborn interest in how many followers he had was short-lived. Just like cicadas that live underground as nymphs for a dozen years and only see the light of day for a few hours, his interest in his following disappeared, and he began to focus again on photographing and having fun.
After all, Wei’s two friends brought him into the Instagram community, and Wei is more interested in making friendship on the platform through his love and care for watches.
His Process and Instagram
Earlier we talked about the fact that Wei was loaned a camera by a friend who dared him to photograph watches and post them on Instagram. Before photographing watches with a proper camera, though, Wei practiced training his eye by snapping photos of anything he could lay his eyes on using his smartphone. His technique evolved as he practiced, and as we all know, photographing a watch can be a pain. It reflects light from all angles, the total opposite of a black hole that absorbs light, especially if you are photographing a watch that has a sapphire crystal and polished surfaces. What’s even more difficult is photographing watches using artificial lighting, which is what Wei did.
Being a parent and full-time business owner, Wei had to wait until the lights dim down in the house and everybody is asleep before donning his watch photographer hat. In the interior darkness of his house, he turns on the soft boxes and photographs his watches. He shoots series of photos that he then releases in chronological order on Instagram. If you pay close attention to his feed, you can see that several photos come from the same series (the multiple reappearance of the same props gives it away), which gives his feed a lot of consistency. In two hours, he will have taken enough shots to post five or six times.
At the beginning, it took two to three hours to just get one good photo. While the friend who loaned him the camera would talk about the technique of photography in great detail, Wei knew what he liked and didn’t like. That’s how he went about learning to photograph watches in his own way. He started by using an LED light and then added a flash, and although he now sometimes shoots during daytime, he nevertheless uses a flash. He trained his eyes to shoot this way, and that’s what makes him comfortable. He is also still most comfortable photographing at home, sometimes clearing the dinner table of all objects to make space for the scene.
Imagine driving rally cars and being the driver. You need a copilot to tell you which turns are coming and how to handle them. In a sense, Wei has been the pilot of his Instagram rally and he has always had a copilot. At first, the friend who got him into luxury watches, then the one who loaned him the camera, and finally the friend who wanted to learn how to edit photos better. At the beginning of his Instagram career, Wei would take the photos and have a friend edit them. Eventually, brands caught on to his talent for photographing watches and started contacting him to photograph their collections. He got approached by small brands, which he declined to work with, and eventually a prominent Japanese brand, the name of which must remain a secret. By now, Wei edits his own photos. Again, he knows what he likes and doesn’t like.
This started Wei’s third career as a watch photographer (the first two were family man and business owner). Now Wei gets to travel to Europe and photograph watches for the Japanese brand to help them gain a solid foothold in the European market. He has a defined style that combines hard shadows and high contrasts, always finding ways to put the best part of each watch in the spotlight. He is very consistent too, and it’s quite interesting that he admires this same quality in others, people like @BowlofSalmon, @hendersonhorology, @ethanwrist, and @jirivratislav, just to name a few. That’s how things are: we admire the work of others, and our work is admired by someone else.
Conclusion: An Evolving Passion for Horology
When Wei started collecting Rolexes, he joined a local group of watch enthusiasts that would meet at a local café. All would wear Rolexes, and Wei would therefore feel that he was sitting at “the Rolex table” and should wear his Explorer 1 or Daytona. When he joined Instagram, he found a new community that is absolutely supportive and welcomes him no matter which watch he’s photographing that day. His passion for horology changed from only buying Rolex to exploring other important brands the likes of Omega, Glasshütte, and their outstanding SeaQ.
One thing we have yet to mention in this story is what Wei admires about the watches he wears. While people would spend large sums of money to purchase an artwork that we can only look at or a car we are too afraid to actually drive, Wei is fascinated by the intricacy of watches, and sees watchmakers as true artisans. By wearing a watch, be it a Daytona or a Speedmaster, he thinks of the people who made these watches, not only the engineers who made the movement but also the designers and artisans that thought it up and produced it.
His passion for horology is constantly evolving as his taste for watches has evolved. A few years ago, he would have never imagined buying a Royal Oak, but he eventually did do so. To him, each watch he buys represents his ever-evolving preferences, and so he loves being able to see how he has changed whenever he looks at his watch box. Last but not least, he took watchmaking classes to better understand how marvelous a watch movement is. His dedication is absolutely palpable in his photography, and I for one cannot wait to see what’s next.
Thanks for reading.