Welcome back to an original aBlogtoWatch feature, “My First Grail Watch.” In this series, we ask prominent people in the watch industry about the first timepiece that they lusted after. Today, we’re speaking with Sean Wai, the architect at the helm of moVas, who really does not like watches – at least, not in the way you would expect.
aBlogtoWatch (ABTW): Who are you, and what is your relationship to the watch industry?
Sean Wai: I am a trained architect, born in Malaysia, studied in Sydney Australia, lived in Helsinki, Finland, and NY, USA. I now reside in Singapore. I started a watch brand about 6 years ago called moVas watches, and I now design, assemble, and test all our watches in-house in the hope of one day creating my own in-house movement.ABTW: When did your fascination with watches start?
Sean Wai: This is an interesting one, as I still tell people that I actually personally don’t really like watches. Not the way most collectors like watches. However, my fascination has grown since I started the business about six years ago. For me, being a non-collector I am more interested in the myriad ways a watch can be constructed and designed.
ABTW: What was your first grail watch?
Sean Wai: Watches to me are a journey. As I continue on in this field, my tastes have evolved, and it sometimes even changes daily. When I first started in the business, Panerai watches were all the rage, and I loved the simplicity and boldness of the designs. They were just so different in regards to size and singular bold elements. It then slowly morphed into a fascination with old Seikos, especially the bullheads which I started collecting for a while.
After delving into watches more and understanding the intricacies of haute horology, I am now drawn to more complicated and slimmer watches. If I were to be asked to name my ‘grails’ I would rank them as follows:
- Grand Seiko GMT for an everyday modern watch
- Audemars Piguet Royal Oak for an everyday classic watch
- Harry Winston Opus 3 for the ultimate in watch making
- Ulysse Nardin Freak for the ultimate dress watch.
ABTW: What drew you to these particular watches?
Sean Wai: After visiting Japan for the first time and discovering Grand Seikos there, in my view, there is no other watch that can match them in terms of finishing quality, movement specifications and understated value. The Royal Oak and, to a lesser extent, the PP Nautilus were groundbreaking designs by one of the all time great watch designers. What Gerald Genta did changed the way we perceived luxury watches, and created such a bold and iconic design that is still relevant today.
The Harry Winston Opus 3 is the only watch I have seen that speaks to the architectural side of my life and is an art deco building reduced to the size of a wrist watch, while retaining the bold expression of its original intent. The UN Freak’s complexity hides it’s inherent simplicity of an idea. All these watches, to me, in one way or another, transcend the field of watches and take it to an entirely new level of consciousness.
It makes us think differently about what a watch should and can be and start questioning why we wear watches in the first place. Some of the watches represent the user and some of them make the user represent them. So it’s a very interesting thing to observe, how some watches you buy because you want the watch to tell a story about you, whereas some of them are so fascinating in themselves that they tell their own story and you are but a wrist for them to be on.
ABTW: That is a pretty comprehensive list of watches you would peg as grails. Have you ever obtained any of them?
Sean Wai: I’m not a collector, so I don’t actually feel an urge to own any of them. These watches serve as inspiration to me, and I always say that I only love watches that when I look at them, I can’t answer for a fact that I can design something similar. So the allure to me is more in whether I can create something that rivals or compares favorably to these watches and maybe make them a little more accessible to other people. I suppose my answer here is a little different to what your average watch collector would say, and if I were to answer the question as is, it would be that I could afford the watch but did not get it.
ABTW: Fair enough – seems like the Seiko’s have “scratched the itch,” so to speak. Do you think you’ll move on from your current list of grails?
Sean Wai: I believe that with growing experience, I may just move on to something else, although I don’t see that happening for the Opus 3 or the UN Freak. These, to me, symbolize an ideal that is to be achieved. Maybe one day, I will get there, it’s a very very slim chance, but that’s what keeps us all motivated, no?
ABTW: Ok, so you do not have them now – but was there ever a time where one of the watches was the “one that got away”?
Sean Wai: I don’t believe so. I think that things happen for a reason and that life is all about timing and circumstance. If I do start getting that feeling of regret, then maybe I’ll just have to work harder to try to design something similar!