When Tom Chng got married, he directed the photographer to pay particular attention to the guests’ wrists. He knew that for his special day, the attendees would be turning out in some appropriately special wristwear. That’s because many of those in attendance were members of the Singapore Watch Club, which Chng founded in 2015. Watch-collector clubs have long been a place for enthusiasts like Chng to meet up and make friends, but lately these communities have been evolving in surprising ways.
Chng’s Singapore Watch Club, for instance, has done more than just boost his wedding guest list. In recent years it has worked directly with watch-world top dogs like Ulysse Nardin, Hublot, and Cartier on watches designed specifically for the club—and made available exclusively to its members. The dialogue that the club has opened with watchmakers has been something of a two-way street: Members have been called on to share their insight and expertise. For instance, François-Henry Bennahmias, the CEO of Audemars Piguet, recently met with the group and they discussed everything from products to customer experiences. Exclusive timepieces tailored to the club’s feedback and a direct line to CEOs? This social club benefits both watchmaker and collector.
Fans of the Omega Speedmaster have been congregating at so-called Speedy Tuesday gatherings for a decade now. The events cater to the watch’s fans, who attend meetups at high-end restaurants, listen to speeches from former astronauts, or visit the Omega headquarters to try on new watches. Omega executives come to mingle too and “see how people feel about certain products or what they want to see,” says Robert-Jan Broer, who founded Fratello Watches in 2004 and started Speedy Tuesday in 2012. “They definitely take our feedback into account,” he says.
A joint effort between the Fratello team and Omega resulted in two watches and, if you ask Broer, the influence has seeped into the larger product line. Broer doesn’t think we would have seen the return of Omega’s caliber 321 movement, used on the original Speedmaster that went to the moon, without the influence of the Speedy Tuesday community.
The preeminent watch club RedBar, which started in New York in 2007 and now boasts chapters all over the globe, welcomes to its meetings watch brand representatives who mingle and gather intelligence from attendees. “There are brands that really want to get the feedback and take it to heart and have actually made changes to their watch offerings based on community feedback,” Kathleen McGivney, RedBar’s CEO, says. RedBar’s new watch with Bamford features details that ticked off McGivney’s long-held wish list: a forged-carbon case and a mystery subdial, where a single hand appears to float. The watch wouldn’t have been possible without the club. McGivney was visiting with the brand’s founder, George Bamford, in his London office when she suggested the collaboration.
For Collective Horology, headquartered in California, design partnerships are the global club’s reason for being. Entry to the group is contingent on buying one of its pieces made in collaboration with brands like IWC, Zenith, and Urwerk. Collective provides watchmakers an incentive to try new things—as well as access to a market of ready-to-buy watch lovers. “[Brands are] open to risk–taking,” Collective cofounder Gabe Reilly says. “We have people who are not just watch enthusiasts, they’re qualified buyers.”
In 2023, the watch club can provide a lot: exclusive pieces, influence, community—and, yes, even love. McGivney says two couples who met through RedBar have gotten married. And for Singapore Watch Club founder Tom Chng, his wedding day is proof that the bonds his members form only deepen with time. “You can imagine a lot of those friendships that were born out of watches,” he says, “have now developed into something much, much more meaningful.”
Cam Wolf is a senior style writer at GQ.
A version of this story originally appeared in the March 2023 issue of GQ with the title “It’s Time to Join a Watch Club”