Gen Z and their Watches is a feature series that looks at four different profiles, each representing a different facet of watch collecting. If you haven’t already done so, do check out Part 1 of the series here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here.
The fourth last part of Gen Z and their Watches features Alvin, who demonstrates the power of social media and exclusivity. This is his watch story.
Gordon Ramsay follows him on Instagram. So does Crazy Rich Asians author Kevin Kwan.
With 28.2K followers on the platform, Alvin is a bona fide social media influencer. Yet unlike most Gen Z influencers, there are no shirtless photos or cute selfies on his feed. Instead, Alvin posts about watches. Specifically, Cartier watches.
Alvin is known in the local watch collecting scene as ‘Mr. Cartier’. He often receives messages requesting his advice on which Cartier timepieces to buy, with some even asking to meet physically to learn more about the brand. He said: “Because I mostly post about Cartier watches on Instagram, people naturally associate me with the brand and the moniker just stuck.”
Where It Begun
Alvin’s journey in watches had a humbler beginning.
When he entered National Service (NS), Alvin decided to purchase a watch to wear on duty. Naturally studious in nature, he researched watches extensively to aid him in his first purchase. “I remember coming across a Hodinkee article about the Rolex Submariner,” he said, adding: “I was fascinated by its history and importance in pop culture.”
He couldn’t afford a Rolex Submariner then, but reading up on it got him interested in dive watches. This led him to purchase a Seiko SKX007 as his first automatic watch. “It’s affordable yet iconic – the perfect watch to wear in the army,” said Alvin.
However, the Seiko – and other purchases such as an Orient Mako and a Tudor Pelagos – could not scratch Alvin’s itch for the Rolex Submariner. After a two-year “obsession” with the watch, he finally bought one to commemorate completing NS. He said: “It was the watch that first got me interested in watches, so I was over the moon to finally own it.”
Change in Taste
Owning the Rolex Submariner exposed Alvin to the wider Rolex family. He dove into the deep end, picking up other iconic Rolex sports watches such as the Daytona and the GMT Master II “Batman”.
However, during the later years of his university education, Alvin realized that his taste was shifting.
While sports watches felt natural in a military setting, they were less at home in a lecture theatre. “I’m not a sporty person by nature anyway, so it sometimes felt like the watch was wearing me, instead of the other way around,” said Alvin. With his slim wrist in mind, Alvin decided to give smaller, dressier watches a go.
That was when his love for Cartier blossomed.
Love for Cartier
While researching dress watches, Alvin discovered the world of Cartier timepieces. He fell in love with the brand due to three simple reasons: the distinctive designs, its rich history, as well as the role Cartier watches played in pop culture.
“Firstly, Cartier is the watchmakers of shapes – its watches are distinguishable from afar,” said Alvin. He added: “And despite being more known as a jewellery house, Cartier was one of the pioneers of watchmaking, making the first wristwatch in 1904. Since then, Cartier watches have graced the wrists of many icons.”
Being a history undergraduate, he was particularly drawn to the Cartier Santos – the world’s first wristwatch. “The Santos is also one of Cartier’s sportier watches, so it was a good transitional piece between my changing tastes from sports to dress,” said Alvin.
The Cartier Tank – worn by luminaries such as Muhammad Ali, Andy Warhol, Princess Diana, the Kennedys, and Steve McQueen – next captured his attention. He eventually opted for the Cartier Tank Louis Cartier, in solid rose gold. “They are all people I admire, so it’s special to wear the same watch they did,” said Alvin.
The watch also resonated with his personality. He said: “The Tank is small in size, but huge in personality. It reminds me of myself – an introvert by nature, but deeply passionate about the things that I care about.”
The Tank pushed Alvin further down the Cartier rabbit hole, leading him to purchase another iconic shape from the brand – the Tonneau. Neither square nor rectangular, the unique nature of its barrel shape appealed to him. “I love its voluptuous curves. It’s an eminently dressy watch, and right up my alley,” he said.
An Exclusive Relationship
Unlike his previous Cartier watches, Alvin opted to acquire the Tonneau from the Cartier boutique. This kickstarted an intimate relationship between him and the brand.
Alvin felt inspired by the knowledge and passion the boutique staff had for their offerings. He said: “’When I hear someone being passionate about what they are selling, it makes me even more passionate about my purchases as well.”
Next up he purchased a platinum Santos Dumont – he felt the Santos Dumont was truer to the style of the original Santos – which cemented his relationship with the boutique. That came with some perks.
“You get invited to dinners and events with the boutique staff, and you also get the opportunity to see new releases,” said Alvin. “It’s a really intimate experience that makes you feel appreciated.”
This exclusivity culminated in him being offered a chance to own the Tank Cintrée 100th Anniversary edition. An exclusive release that was limited to just 150 examples worldwide, the watch was never publicized. Instead, boutiques offered it directly to private clients – like Alvin –who they knew well. Alvin jumped on the opportunity to own the rare timepiece.
As it turns out, he was one of the first globally to take delivery of the watch. When he posted photos of it on his Instagram, his post startled watch media, who had been kept in the dark about the release. “Hodinkee actually reached out and asked if they could use my photos for a write-up,” said Alvin. “It was a surreal moment, since Hodinkee played such a large role in getting me into watches.”
A Special Order
Owning a limited-edition Cartier timepiece – that was sold out before it was even publicized – is no mean feat. But even that pales in comparison to commissioning a special order.
“I was floored when Cartier offered me a special order – it’s usually only reserved for clients who had spent a significant amount, and my account was nowhere near that sum then,” said Alvin. He mused: “I suppose they could sense my genuine passion for Cartier, which was why they offered me the opportunity.”
Able to build his dream Cartier timepiece from scratch, Alvin fretted over every detail. He decided upon the iconic Tank Cintrée shape, traditional Breguet hands, a rosette guilloche pattern on the dial, a platinum case, as well as red Roman numerals. “All platinum Cartier watches are fitted with a red ruby cabochon, so having red Roman numerals complemented that nicely,” said Alvin, adding: “Red is also the colour of Cartier, so the colourway pays homage to the brand I love too.”
After submitting his requests, Alvin had to wait over a year for the watch. He laughs: “I even dreamt of the watch a few times while waiting!”
The eventual timepiece exceeded Alvin’s expectations. He was particularly pleased by how the rosette pattern turned out, which featured unique sharp edges. “Aside from my watch, I have not seen this rosette design anywhere else,” said Alvin. The delivery of the watch also coincided with his university graduation. He added: “I wore the watch to my convocation – it was the cherry on top of what was already a joyous occasion.”
Although his special order would likely command a six-figure sum at auction, Alvin declares that he would never sell the watch. “It’s a watch that reminds me of the bond I have with the boutique and the brand,” he says.
He chuckled and shared an incident where the Heritage and Image Director of Cartier recognised him at an event. “I’m honoured to be known widely as a proponent for the brand, even in its head offices. Nothing feels better than knowing a brand I respect, respects me back.”
Fitting words for someone nicknamed Mr. Cartier.
All photos courtesy of Alvin, unless otherwise stated.
P.S: Check out The Shiok Store here – it serves as a curation of my favourite products from my favourite brands.
P.P.S: Do check out the new “Discounts!” page for exclusive discounts for Wah so Shiok readers! More brands will be added very soon – stay tuned!
P.P.P.P.S Shiok is a common word Singaporeans use to express admiration or approval. As of 2016, you can find the definition of the word in the Oxford English Dictionary.