Collector’s Corner: The Watches (And Wisdom) Of Mark Cho, Co-Founder Of The Armoury
— Updated on 14 April 2023

Collector’s Corner: The Watches (And Wisdom) Of Mark Cho, Co-Founder Of The Armoury

— Updated on 14 April 2023
Randy Lai
Randy Lai

Few individual collectors of anything – never mind rare, historically significant watches – possess enough personal clout to compel Phillips to throw them an auction; yet that’s precisely what the venerable British auction house will be doing next month when it partners with clothier Mark Cho for The Beauty of Everything.

What Phillips is dubbing a “single owner” showcase (to take place online between November 30 – December 6), the sale represents the culmination of a life-long passion: consisting, in the majority, of watches Cho has spent the last 16 years acquiring.

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“At the end of the day, one person can’t keep everything and probably shouldn’t anyway” wrote Cho, in an Instagram post which accompanied Phillips’ announcement of the sale.

“I wish to trade these many small, amazing things, that I have selfishly kept to myself, in pursuit of a single new expansion of The Armoury New York – to be enjoyed by my colleagues and customers.”

To anybody with even a vague interest in vintage watches, Phillips’ courtship of Cho should come as no surprise. In the past decade, menswear’s resident multihyphenate has won a devoted following for his tasteful, concerted style of collecting: favouring smaller dress watches (mostly discontinued) from a range of brands spanning renowned manufactures (Patek Philippe) and interesting independents. In parallel, Cho has lent his expertise to a range of institutions considered leading voices in the promotion and appreciation of mechanical watchmaking: among others, including Robb Report and the Horological Society of New York.

In our latest edition of Collector’s Corner, Boss Hunting spoke briefly with Cho about the lessons he’s learned in his near-20 year horological journey – and get a glimpse into what he’s decided to hold onto, as he prepares to divest the majority of a very formidable collection.

Mark Cho The Armoury
Pictured: A quartet of Cartier including (left to right) the Cintrée ‘100th Anniversary’; Tonneau; and two Tank ‘LC’ models, vintage and modern respectively.

Collector’s Corner: The Watches (And Wisdom) Of Mark Cho, Co-Founder Of The Armoury

Randy Lai: What drew you initially to collecting watches?

Mark Cho: At first it was the price. I picked up my first vintage watch with my first ever paycheque when I was working in London. I remember being struck by the beauty of watches – and also, by how cheap they were.

It was a great means of being able to enjoy some of life’s finer things, even on a limited budget. In fact, a big part of collecting’s appeal was the feeling of maturity you get when you acquire something so ‘grown-up’.

RL: Has your attitude to watch collecting changed over the years? If so, is that shift reflected in your collection?

MC: As I’ve gotten older, I’ve seen more different kinds of watches and also become more comfortable with myself. I went from being interested in ‘good deals’; to chasing grail-type pieces; to eventually honing a more defined personal taste and buying in accordance with that.

Accordingly, my collection has definitely changed with these phases of my life and is constantly in flux.

RL: In 2022, what qualities do you think separate a genuine watch ‘collector’ from an enthusiast/consumer? Who are some examples from the former camp whom you admire?

MC: To me, a genuine collector is studious – somebody who knows a lot and wants to know more. They observe details carefully and often see things that the average person might miss. They are also aware of context, i.e. what makes a piece special in the world of horology.

I don’t think a collector needs to be someone who has a lot of watches. Invariably, you wind up acquiring many watches because you’re a collector, but volume isn’t an essential quality.

Mark Cho The Armoury
Pictured: Half a dozen two-register ‘dress chronographs’, including a Vacheron Constantin Ref. 4072 (with dial restoration) and early ‘Hommage’ H37 by Roger Dubuis.

As for “collectors” I really like: Eric Ku, John Goldberger, Pat Chu – those are a few names that are publicly known. There are plenty more who I know privately and greatly admire as well – they just choose to forego social media.

RL: If you’re a younger individual who is looking to start collecting watches, what are some important first principles to abide by?

MC: Beyond owning pieces you really like, there should also be an emphasis on accruing experience and knowledge. Sure – do some research, but also have faith in your tastes and the things you like. If you decide it’s not for you, sell quickly.

You’ll inevitably end up with a few duds, but that’s just life. Learn for yourself why said purchase was a flop and apply the knowledge you gained from it. It’s a little like the Chinese proverb about “paying school fees”: if in the process of making a mistake, it costs you money then you’re more likely to take what you’ve learned to heart.

Left to right: Cho’s duo of Omega Speedmasters, including a reissue of the cult-favourite ‘Broad Arrow 1957’.

Also, don’t obsess over watches – they’re supposed to be harmless and enjoyable objects. I’ve seen people wind themselves up obsessing over the most trivial details and in the end, all it does is make them miserable. Ultimately nothing is essential: there will always be another great watch waiting around the corner.

RL:  As with any collecting discipline – but in watches especially – do you believe that passion trumps investment? Or vice-versa? 

MC: Passion is a much better reason to collect watches in the first place. Frankly, buying purely for investment sounds a little tedious and there are much better financial instruments available to achieve this goal. That said, the two do occasionally overlap – which can be nice.

Left to right: Cho’s personal example of the 1960 Grand Seiko ‘First’; and his ‘Kintaro Hattori’ limited edition.

I’ve had situations where I was passionate about certain watches long before they became interesting to the general market. When I eventually sold them, it was a nice feeling because I’d been vindicated in my taste and had some extra cash to fund another watch. However, even if their market value dropped to zero those are pieces I’d still enjoy – because I’d bought them out of passion.

RL: Based on your own experience, what are some of the most dramatic changes which have impacted the watch industry in the last five years?

MC: The vast number of new collectors.

Watch collecting has gone from a quaint little hobby to something a lot of people are interested in. Right now, newcomers are mostly focused on modern releases and steel sports watches (from brands like Rolex) but there’s never been more room to develop one’s taste and broaden one’s horizons.

“I don’t think a collector needs to be someone who has a lot of watches. Invariably, you wind up acquiring many watches because you’re a collector, but volume isn’t an essential quality.”

In particular, I think competition for vintage and neo-vintage pieces will continue to grow; and previously unnoticed brands will receive greater attention. Given all these new buyers, there will also be more opportunity for new brands to enter the market with fresh ideas.

RL: Above all others, was there a watch you’d previously had in the collection you now regret selling?

MC: My 38mm F.P. Journe Souverain in platinum.

RL: What was your most recent watch purchase?

MC: A Ref. 4675G from Patek Philippe. It was originally marketed as a ladies’ chronograph but looks great as a unisex watch – especially after a strap change. It has a highly unusual case, baguette-cut diamond indexes and beautiful markings. I’m very pleased with it!

RL: In a hypothetical ‘house on fire’ situation, what are two watches you’d immediately try to save?

MC: My Christian Klings and Patek Ref. 2533 – those two would be impossible to replace.

RL: Do you believe that there should be an ‘endgame’ in the pursuit of watch collecting? If so, what’s yours? 

MC: In a material sense, there will never be an endgame. You’re constantly changing and eventually, you grow out of things. Enjoy what’s in your own collection while it lasts, but be at peace when the attachment ends and move on.

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Randy Lai
Following 6 years in the trenches covering consumer luxury across East Asia, Randy joins Boss Hunting as the team's Commercial Editor. His work has been featured in A Collected Man, M.J. Bale, Soho Home, and the BurdaLuxury portfolio of lifestyle media titles. An ardent watch enthusiast, boozehound and sometimes-menswear dork, drop Randy a line at [email protected].


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