Mind Your Business: Ong Ban, CEO of Sincere Fine Watches, on evolving expectations of luxury watch retail

In Mind Your Business, we speak with business leaders and thinkers who inspire their respective companies and industries. Here, Sincere Fine Watches’ CEO Ong Ban shares his thoughts on the evolving landscape of luxury horology

Whoever coined the phrase about not having to work a single day if you truly love your job probably set countless professionals up for years of existential crisis. Until they encounter someone like Ong Ban, who offers hope that passion and profession don’t have to be uncomfortable bedfellows.

A horological enthusiast who still believes in “having a spiritual experience” when he feels emotionally connected to a timepiece, Ong hasn’t let the 27 years he has spent in the watch industry dulled his love for watches—nor his sharp reading of the business. The CEO of Sincere Fine Watches has witnessed the ebbs and flows of the trade, from the burgeoning growth of luxury watches in the 1990s to managing the uncertainties of the recent global pandemic. As such, Ong believes that helming Singapore oldest luxury watch retailer (Sincere Fine Watches was founded in 1954) requires constant innovation and creativity to stay ahead of the competition, demonstrated by the opening of its latest SHH (Sincere Haute Horlogerie) boutique concepts in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand that champions niche and highly exclusive independent luxury watch marques.

How does Sincere Fine Watches identify the brands to work with?

We pride ourselves as brand builders at Sincere Fine Watches. When we identify watch brands to introduce to our markets at SHH, our philosophy is to go for the latest and the best brands. However, a brand that has one quality may not necessarily have the other. As such, we have a checklist to see what a particular brand can bring to the table, against the entire family of brands that we offer. We also ensure that the CEOs of the brands we work with are serious about elevating the art and appreciation of horology.

What makes a perfect watch?

Price is a consideration, as are its technical and design qualities. The story behind the watch is also important to me.

Tell us more about SHH’s retail concept.

For a retail concept such as SHH’s, we aim to present a varied and balanced spread of different horological qualities. SHH is not a typical multi-brand store, where you find a large number of customers who know which brands they like before entering the boutique. With such boutiques, the retail content is dictated by the brands. SHH is different in that we curate the brands and watches, and present them in a manner that is coherent to the spirit and DNA of our boutique, which is to promote independent watchmaking.

How has the business of luxury watch retail evolved?

We have to look at the business beyond selling watches. To be able to execute such a concept, you need people with real passion for horology. Otherwise, it will get tiring and it will wear you out.

The demands of being an authority in your chosen field of expertise evolves. Being an authority on horology today takes on a different meaning from 30 years ago. This is because markets, tools, brands and customers have evolved with the times. In the past, you could go to a trade fair in Switzerland, and you’d literally be holding all the knowledge in your hands. Today, one simply goes online to find all the information one needs. Given this, how do we ensure that we remain an authority? I believe the answer lies in having a deeply rooted culture of passion and curiosity.

What challenges do you foresee for the luxury watch business?

The biggest challenge for this business is to maintain a high and consistent level of quality. If our response time to the customer is too long, or if the after-sales service does not live up to our standards, our brand equity drops. Selling a watch is easy. That takes five minutes. Taking care of the customers for years to come is the part that some retailers neglect.

Sincere Fine Watches

Discover more Singapore brands and retail experiences here.