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, and Part 2 here.

The third part of Gen Z and their Watches highlights Nathan’s deeply personal connection with his watches. This is his watch story.

 “I feel naked without a watch.”

When working from home became the norm, Nathan found himself strapping on a watch just as he would on a regular day to the office. “I’ll rather go without underwear,” he laughs.

A self-professed watch “nerd” (Instagram handle @nerdfortime), Nathan views watch collecting as an “adventure”, adding: “You never know where it leads you, which is why it’s fun.”

Up until three years ago, Nathan was mostly indifferent toward watches. He said: “I wore a watch every now and then, but I mostly treated them as mere fashion accessories.”

That changed when he visited Switzerland.

How Everything Started

After finishing his university exchange stint in Sweden, Nathan decided to take a holiday in nearby Switzerland. He indulged in the best the country had to offer – artisanal chocolate, the Swiss Alps, and of course, Swiss watchmaking. As Nathan recalled: “I knew Switzerland was famous for its watchmaking, so I thought: why not get a Swiss-made watch to remember the trip by?”

Whilst in Geneva – the Valhalla of watchmaking – Nathan paid a visit to a watch shop. “It was the biggest watch store I’ve ever been in,” said Nathan. “Just rows upon rows of watches.”

He eventually settled upon the Hamilton Khaki Mechanical as his first Swiss timepiece. “I liked the clean, legible look of the military dial,” he said. And unlike the quartz fashion watches Nathan previously owned, the seconds hand of the Hamilton Khaki sweeps instead of tick, a feature that he describes as “mesmerising”.

A Deepening Appreciation

The Genevan watch store also had a vintage section, which ignited Nathan’s curiosity in vintage timepieces. He said: “I was just amazed by their design language – so different from modern watches.”

Back in Singapore, Nathan scoured the internet for resources on vintage timepieces. He devoured online articles, combed through countless watch forums, and ultimately purchased several vintage watches.

One of his first vintage purchases was a Recta military watch from the 1940s. Issued to the Nazi German army, Nathan was intrigued by its provenance.  “When watch enthusiasts discuss World War 2 military watches, those issued to Allied Forces – such as the ‘Dirty Dozen’ – immediately spring to mind,” he said. “In contrast, wristwatches that were supplied to the opposing Nazi German force are rarely brought up. Watches like (the vintage Recta) found themselves on the wrong side of history.”

Venturing Into Independents

Nathan’s watch collecting journey next took him to the world of independent watchmakers. Like vintage timepieces, watches from independent labels have niche appeal, and are prized for their exclusivity. Without heritage and bureaucracy, independent watchmakers are also freer to take creative risks in their designs. “Their style of trying something new attracts me,” said Nathan.

Nathan’s first independent watch was the Grand Akane from Japanese watch label Kurono Tokyo. Nathan had liked some of the brand’s earlier models, but the Grand Akane got him hooked.

“Red is my favourite colour, so it instantly appealed to me,” said Nathan. The circular red dial also evokes the red sunset, an imagery with deep symbolic meaning for the Japanese.

The red lacquer is achieved using a traditional Japanese decorative method called urushi. Ultraviolet rays in sunlight will gradually lighten the urushi lacquer, resulting in a dial that morphs over time. Currently, Nathan describes the dial as being “reminiscent of a red Rayleigh scattering sunset” and is confident that, like good whiskey, the watch will look even better as it ages.

The dial also possesses a unique Hamon (刃文) texture, a visual effect typically seen on katanas after their hardening process. “I found it cool that Kurono Tokyo incorporated such sacred aspects of Japanese culture in the Grand Akane,” he said, admiring the tie-up with Japanese history, adding: “The story behind the watch and how it pays homage to its Japanese roots really captivated me – it’s still the watch that I wear most often.”

Nathan regularly shared pictures of the watch on his Instagram page, documenting his ownership journey with the unbridled enthusiasm of a new pet owner. His photos caught the attention of Kurono Tokyo, who included one of his shots in its annual collector’s photobook. As a gesture of appreciation, the brand sent him a sweater and mug – exclusive paraphernalia that are not available for sale.

For Nathan, such little gestures exemplify the personal touch of independent brands. “You will never encounter such (personal gestures) from big brands such as Rolex, Patek Philippe or Audemars Piguet,” he laughed.

When a defect developed with the watch months later, he was also impressed by the brand’s personable customer service. “I sent them a message on Instagram describing the issue, and they immediately offered to ship the watch back to Japan for servicing,” said Nathan. “Not only did they ship the watch back relatively quickly within weeks, but they also included sake cups as a way of apology.”

Choosing to Bespoke

Nathan felt the Grand Akane deserved to be paired with a strap that did justice to its striking nature – the default black leather strap simply did not cut it. After being introduced to a local leathercrafter that advertised his trade on Instagram (@jackcohenry), he decided to bespeak a unique strap for it.

He approached Jack (the leathercrafter) with a bold idea: could the grains of an alligator leather strap be dyed red? It was an unprecedented request, but Jack was reportedly game to at least try. “We were initially quite unsure on how the colour pressing would turn out, but the end result exceeded our expectations,” said Nathan. The lava-esque streaks of the strap complemented the red dial of the Grand Akane beautifully – the perfect scabbard for the katana-inspired timepiece.

Love My Brother

Having enjoyed the creative process of customising a watch strap, Nathan next tried his hand at the world of bespoke watchmaking.

While idly scrolling through Instagram, Nathan came across an #NWA (short for new watch acquisition) post from a local watch collector. It showed off a custom timepiece from a German independent watchmaker by the name of Felipe Pikullik, and featured intricate guilloché that Nathan says “ looked absolutely bonkers”.

Nathan shared the post with his younger brother (four years his junior), who had developed an interest in watches due to his influence. He said: “My brother saw the watch and just went ‘wow’ – it was the most intriguing watch he had ever seen.”

The twinkle in his brother’s eyes set off a lightbulb – why not rope his brother in for a custom watch project? “I thought it would be cool to experience the process with my brother, like a bonding activity of sorts,” Nathan said.

In typical Gen Z fashion, Nathan reached out to Felipe on Instagram to request a custom timepiece based on his entry-level model, the Sternenhimmel.

While they liked the original navy dial of the Sternenhimmel, the brothers desired “something a little more bespoke and unique”. Nathan said: “We wanted it to be obvious that it is a custom piece, so we gravitated towards selecting a different dial colour.”

The pair decided to go with a green dial as it was the favourite colour of the younger sibling. “My brother scrolled through tons of Pantone Colour Palette to find the right tone of green,” recalls Nathan, adding that they eventually settled on a specific shade of dark cyan. “We went through three iterations before we got the correct colour mix on the dial.”

Deciding upon the dial colour was just the first step – there were many more details to be finalised. To inject a more personal touch, Nathan decided to incorporate elements of his previous watches into the design. “From the start of my watch collecting journey with the Hamilton Khaki Mechanical, I’ve always preferred my dials to be legible, and to have a sweeping seconds hand,” he said. He thus decided to have cylindrical hour markers added to improve readability, while a central seconds hand was also thrown into the mix.

Nathan’s love for vintage watches was reflected in adopting a smaller case size. “We decided to downsize the case to a vintage-esque 37mm,” he said. The standard Sternenhimmel has a 42mm wide case – appropriate for burly European men, but less suitable for slender Asian wrists.

One of Nathan’s most memorable moments was hopping on a video call with Felipe on a bus ride after work, where he presented two different case options. “It was a short conversation, but I could tell that Felipe was a really sincere person just by how accommodating he was to all my requests,” he said.

While it was fun refining the dial and case design, Nathan was most excited to tinker with the movement, which he describes as the “soul” of any timepiece. However, as is often the case with technical components, there were several unforeseen challenges. As the brothers had opted for a smaller case, the movement – a reliable ETA2801 – had to be downsized as well. This necessitated a redesign of its original skeletonised appearance in order not to affect timekeeping.

Having drawn countless mechanical components as a professional engineer, Nathan decided to provide Felipe with a rough sketch to illustrate his desired aesthetic – a movement that emphasized sharp anglage.

Nathan’s inspiration for the sketch stemmed from one of his grail watches, the Simplicity by lauded independent watchmaker Philippe Dufour (an example sold for US$1.5 million at a Phillip’s auction in 2020). “I really liked the defined edges of the movements in Philippe Dufour’s watches and wanted to incorporate that in (the Felipe Pikullik watch),” he said.

Once again, the eventual result exceeded Nathan’s expectations. He said: “I love how striking the movement looks. And if you look closely, the cutout on the bridge plate resembles a dancing lady, which I think looks super cool.”

Not everything went according to plan. The brothers initially wanted the brass-coloured centre wheels of the movement to be rhodium plated for a sleek monochromatic look, but it was unfeasible as the plating process made the wheels too brittle. It became a blessing in disguise however, as Nathan grew to appreciate the rustic feel of the brass-coloured wheels – an aesthetic that reminded him of his vintage watches. He added: “I like that the movement reminds me of the vintage watches that I already have, but also of watches like the Philippe Dufour Simplicity that I would like to own one day.”

As a final flourish, the brothers decided to have a Deutsch phrase engraved on the back of the watch to reflect its German origins. And since it was a watch shared between them, they decided upon the words “Liebe Mein Bruder” – Love My Brother.

“It was a phrase that made a lot of sense as it commemorates us making it together,” said Nathan.

“The fact that I had a hand in the creation of this watch, with someone I love, makes this watch very significant,” Nathan said.

“It’s a simple timepiece made sophisticated with sentiment.”

Pushing the Envelope

Nathan admits that he is now hooked on customising his own watch. “It’s a very rewarding process and a way for me to flex my creative muscles,” he said.

Nathan has already started thinking about his next custom watch project, and has earmarked another independent watchmaker – HOD Russia, a four-person team based in Moscow – for the endeavour. He said: “I like how they are experimenting with different types of materials in their watches, such as titanium, Damascus steel, carbon fibre, etc.” As a materials engineer, the prospect of combining several exotic materials in a watch excites him.

Ultimately, Nathan believes that watch collecting is all about the personal touch. “The watch must resonate with you,” he said. “It should make you want to wear it every day – even at home!”

All photos courtesy of Nathan, unless otherwise stated.

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