Feature: Kopi Talk with Darren Ong

Hello everyone, and welcome to this month’s edition of Kopi Talk! In this monthly series, I will be talking to fellow millennials (people 25 and under) about their love for watches. I realised that most of my peers either do not wear a watch at all (the “There’s the phone to tell time!” people), wear a smartwatch/fitbit, or wear a fashion watch as a fashion accessory to complement their outfit. Through this series, by talking to young watch enthusiasts who bucked the trend and continued to buy and love “proper” watches, I hope to show my generation why watches are still very much relevant to a number of us today.

Darren’s watch collection.

23 this year, Darren (like me) is currently awaiting university enrollment. His watch collection is humbler than that of Daniel, whom I featured in last month’s Kopi Talk. Nevertheless, Darren’s collection of Seikos and diver watches is no less interesting, and thus I invited him out to be part of this series! This is his watch story.

Darren’s Featured Watch Collection: Seiko Prospex Monster Baby Tuna SRP637K1, Seiko Prospex Sumo SBDC001, Vostok Amphibian, Seiko SARB033

Darren’s Watch Story – How it started

Darren’s watch story is surprisingly similar to mine. Like me, he first got into watches through “fashion watches” such as Fossil and Daniel Wellington watches. Like me, the minimalist, “trendy” design of such watches attracted him to wear them on his wrists – it helped that most of his peers were wearing such fashion watches too! Gradually, he begun to explore mechanical watches by buying and wearing Fossil automatic watches. This time, it was the movement – the fact that a watch could be powered by nothing more than levers and gears – that attracted him to mechanical watches. He began to grow an appreciation for the engineering intricacies of mechanical watches, and never went back to wearing a quartz timepiece again.

Darren’s first Seiko – Seiko Monster “Red Fang”. He has since sold it.

Around the time that he was 18, a poly friend (appalled that Darren was spending so much on fashion timepieces, even if they are mechanical) introduced him to Seiko watches. Seiko watches were a revelation to Darren – prior to the recommendation by his friend (who’s also a Seiko fan), he had always thought Seiko mechanical watches ran in the 4 figures. After researching online, he realised that Seiko mechanical watches can be found online in the $200-300 range, which was less than what he had paid for that Fossil mechanical watch! Attracted by the value proposition that Seiko offers, he bought his first Seiko watch soon after – a Seiko Monster “Red Fang” – and have been in love with Seiko ever since.

The everyday watch – Seiko Monster “Baby Tuna” SRP637K1

Before the Seiko Monster “Baby Tuna”, Darren actually bought two other Seiko timepieces – the aforementioned Seiko Monster “Red Fang”, and the beloved Seiko SKX007. He sold them both to fund this purchase.

Darren’s Monster “Baby Tuna” on his wrist.

What was it about the Seiko Monster “Baby Tuna” that prompted you to sell 2 previous Seiko purchases for it?

D: When I saw it, I knew I got to have it. To me, this is just one bad ass watch. There’s something unapologetic and inherently masculine about the watch that attracted me to it. I also love the fact that it came with a case shroud, which to me just makes this watch even more awesome. It was relatively inexpensive as well, around the ~$400 SGD mark, so I actually made a profit so to speak when I sold my other two watches for it! The value proposition of this watch was just too hard to pass on. I now wear this as an everyday beater – this is one where I don’t have to worry about scruffs and scratches on the watch! I just love it’s big and bold design.

Looks like you’re trying to compensate for something with this monster of a watch…

D: *laughs*

The upgrade – Seiko Prospex Sumo SBDC001

A year after purchasing the Seiko Monster “Baby Tuna”, Darren moved a step up (price wise) and got himself a Seiko Prospex Sumo SBDC001.

Darren’s Seiko Sumo on his wrist.

What made you buy this watch?

D: I really wanted a watch with Seiko’s 6R movement. The Seiko Monster “Baby Tuna”, and the Seiko watches I’ve owned previously – the Monster “Red Fang” and the SKX007 – all only had 4R movement, so I wanted a watch with an upgrade in movement. This watch came with Seiko’s 6R15 movement, and that was a big factor in my decision for purchasing this watch. In addition to the movement, I really like the quality of finishing and build quality of the Sumo too! In addition, even though both they are both considered divers, the Sumo is significantly different in looks from the “Baby Tuna”. The value proposition of the Sumo was good too, and I got it just before it got discontinued. I wear this as a more low-key alternative to the “Baby Tuna”!

Looks like you’re a fan of diver watches!

D: Haha yeah, I guess so. I think diver watches just looks the best on my wrist, as compared to other sort of watches. I like the masculine vibe of divers, as well as their durability and versatility. With diver watches, I never have to worry about spoiling them, and they can be worn in almost all sorts of scenarios.

The outlier – Vostok Amphibian

The only non-Seiko watch in his current collection, the Vostok Amphibian was the watch that most intrigued me.

Darren’s Vostok Amphibian on his wrist.

Why did you decide to break away from Seiko, and buy this Vostok Amphibian?

D: Well, I was actually reading through some watch forums about Seiko watches and chanced upon this model in the discussion. What attracted me about the Vostok Amphibian was its history – I read that it was the watch supplied to the Russian army divers in the past. That military heritage and history of the watch just pushed me over the line on this purchasing decision. It was really affordable as well – got it for $100-200 SGD! I don’t wear it that often now, as the crown is getting a bit finnicky. I see this more as a collector piece currently.

I see that you modded the Vostok Amphibian!

D: Yeah haha, the stock bezel that came with the Vostok Amphibian wasn’t really nice, in my opinion. I swapped it out with a Seiko SKX bezel – I think it looks much better now! The “pepsi” bezel of the SKX complements the blue dial and red second hand of the Vostok nicely. I swapped out the bracelet for a “jubilee” one as well. I like to mod stuff and switch things around.

The dress watch – Seiko SARB033

Currently the only non-diver watch in his collection, the Seiko SARB033 is Darren’s latest addition.

Darren’s SARB033 on a brown leather strap.

Finally a watch that’s not a diver! Why did you get the renowned Seiko SARB033?

D: I felt that it was time for me to get a dressier option. After trawling through the watch forums, the Seiko SARB033 kept popping up, with many people praising its value for money and finishing. Spec-wise, it ticked a lot of my boxes as well – in addition to having a 6R15 movement, the SARB033 also has sapphire crystal, which none of my previous watches had. Coupled with a 100M WR rating, this seemed like a dressier Seiko that could still withstand some abuse! When rumors surfaced of it being discontinued, I immediately went to get one. I’m lucky I managed to get it for around $400-500 SGD – prices have increased since then! I tend to wear this in more formal occasions, and I often swap out the bracelet for a leather strap in order to dress it up.

You seem to have a penchant for picking up Seiko watches just before they are discontinued. Are they any watches that you wished you had picked up before it was discontinued?

D: Definitely the Alpinist (Seiko SARB017). Not only was it a cult favourite amongst Seiko fanboys, it ticked a lot of my boxes spec-wise as well: 6R15 movement, sapphire crystal, 200M water resistance, etc. The design is so unique too! I really regret not getting the watch before it was discontinued, especially seeing as prices now have skyrocketed.

Conclusion

That wraps up this month’s Kopi Talk article! After the maiden Kopi Talk article was published, I gotten multiple comments in the vein of “I’m can’t afford a Rolex, and therefore I can’t go into watch collecting.” The average price of Darren’s watches featured here are around the $300 SGD mark – around the same as the MSRP of a Daniel Wellington! Hopefully, this shows that you don’t have to spend a fortune to get into watches. I’ve never been much for a Seiko fan myself (I prefer Orient at this price range), but I got to say, after interacting with Darren for the purposes of this article I’m heavily considering getting one myself now…

Darren’s trifecta of Seiko watches.

When asked about his grail watch, Darren replied that he was looking at the Seiko Marinemaster Professional. It features the Seiko’s 8L35 movement – a further step up from the 6R movements found in his current watches. Admittedly, the Marinemaster is definitely a bit pricey (available at just under $3K SGD), but hopefully he would be able to get his hands on it in the near future!

If you enjoyed this article, stay tuned for next month’s Kopi Talk! I will be speaking to a millennial with a fondness for vintage Seiko chronographs. That should be interesting, so watch out for that!

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Photo credits:

Darren Ong