‘If our Sydney boutique is the beacon of specialist luxury watch retail, then our Melbourne project in 2019 will be the lighthouse’ – Michael Tay, Group Managing Director, The Hour Glass
He’s a man with a vision. A vision to change the face of watch retail in Australia. A vision to build serious watch culture and foster an environment which will enhance the development of a watch collecting mindset. How does he plan on doing it? What’s in the pipeline? Shortly after their recent boutique opening in Sydney, we caught up with Michael Tay, Group Director of The Hour Glass himself, for a little tête-à-tête.
Excerpts from the interview…
The Hour Glass is one of Australia’s oldest luxury watch retailers today. What are some of the changes you’ve seen personally, over the years?
The trend accountable for the overall development and growth of the market the past 30 years has been primarily driven by tourism and of late, Asian inbound migration. Sensing an opportunity with the influx of Japanese tourists in the 80’s, particularly in the Gold Coast, The Hour Glass opened its first boutique in Australia in that city.
Subsequent to the Japanese tourists tailing off, we saw a second wave of tourism from South East Asia followed by a third wave from mainland China. Supporting that was also a large flow of immigration to the point which is interesting because Mandarin is the most widely spoken language in Australia.
Migration also brought with people their cultural norms, their habits, their desires and a part of their desire was of course to own a mechanical timepiece. In addition to this, we have also seen a growing interest in timepieces from local Australians. All of this comes from greater awareness and hence greater appreciation.
This project was in the making for several years now. In 2014, when the opportunity to acquire a site next to our pre-existing boutique on Castlereagh and King Street was presented to us, we pounced on it. We did so because we always had a vision of enlarging our floor plate going from just under 300 square meters to 450 square meters. This was important as we finally had the luxury of space allowing us to execute our vision of building what we deemed The Hour Glass Sydney to be – A beacon for specialist luxury watch retail in Australia.
It was an ambitious project and was delayed because we were uncompromising. As a retailer, we are extremely particular about every component that goes into the building of the environment. The positioning that The Hour Glass has is firmly rooted in our Sydney project and today we have stamped our authority as Australia’s leading specialist luxury watch retailer. What The Hour Glass Sydney represents is a store that has aggregated the best watch brands available in the world and the most unique merchandising proposition in Australia all under one roof. I personally feel that with this specific portfolio, positioning and merchandising strategy, our Sydney boutique truly offers a watch enthusiast, buyer, collector and connoisseur, the most interesting horological experience.
Research, research, research. There are so many avenues of information available to a watch buyer today. I would also highly recommend visiting The Hour Glass and speaking to one of our watch specialists. Come in, touch and feel the product. The only time you will start learning what your true desires are, what your true tastes are, your true level of appreciation is; is by taking that first step and making that first purchase. Unless you start living with watches, you will never truly know.
The good news is, most watch buyers today do come prepared. They mostly know what they desire. Unlike 20 years ago where information was really controlled by the sales person and where there were few avenues of information, the advent of the internet changed everything. At the beginning, watch information online was low and really confined to watch forums. Unless you were a watch nerd or a watch geek, you would not know where to access that information. Today you go to google, type out a brand and you’ve got tons of articles pop up, each with different points of views.
Today, The Hour Glass has a representation in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. How do buying patterns differ from state to state?
Both the markets of Sydney and Melbourne have thriving watch communities. And I love the purity of the enthusiasts and collectors here. If I was to compare Sydney to Melbourne, well, this has been my most recent observation; I discovered that in Sydney, there is a group of collectors that have taken their level of fanaticism to a completely different level. Their taste is rather esoteric. They are on the hunt for truly artistic, rare timepieces and I think that development is more so to do with exposure and possibly how connected they are to other collectors.
Having a global footprint, how would you compare watch retail in Australia to lets say Singapore?
What’s interesting is that all the markets have developed in different ways. Singapore is a market that is closely connected to the world with a strong group of watch collectors that have been there for quite a while. Many of the original key watch forums had their management base in Singapore, which simply meant that it was a place where a lot of content was being generated and there was a very active community. The fact that it is English speaking has also differentiated its development from South East Asia.
In Australia, the market is maturing very quickly. It has surprised me, but at the same time, it is wonderful to see just how passionate, pure and authentic the collectors are here. Today, with our new team, our new boutique and the passion we have within the team, I personally feel that The Hour Glass has the right platform to engage with collectors and enthusiasts Australia-wide.
According to you, what makes a watch a collectable?
Firstly, it should have a story associated with its creation. The raison d’etre for its existence. It also has to be rare. In watch terms, it would be, how many people have access to it, the number of units produced and the aesthetics, which are of paramount importance. You cannot detract from that. It also comes down to the method and manner in which a watch has been fabricated, produced and assembled. Finally, the maker plays a vital role in this.
Whether it is a Grandmaster Chime by Patek Philippe, who produced 6 pieces to celebrate their 175th anniversary or a George Daniels, an independent watchmaker, who in his entire life has produced less than 50 watches altogether, there has to be a true legitimate legacy.
How would you want Australians to perceive the Hour Glass?
The Hour Glass is a specialist luxury watch retailer whose primary objective is to get out there and build watch culture. Essentially, by building watch culture and investing behind community networks, we hope to foster an environment which will enhance the development of a collecting mindset. The Hour Glass is an accessible retailer for every enthusiast and I would strongly recommend coming down to our boutique and trying on various watches. The reason I say this is because I am an enthusiast myself. I would like to build stores where I would personally like to hang out and in saying that I would like other watch enthusiasts to do the same.
I can tell you one thing for sure, our Melbourne project coming up in 2019 will be an important flagship for the Group. ‘If our Sydney boutique is to be considered the beacon of specialist luxury watch retail, then our Melbourne project at 252 Collins Street will be the lighthouse’. In this lighthouse we will have 8 floors dedicated to the pursuit of speciality watch retail. It is a project that will set a new standard not just in the watch industry in Australia, but in Asia.
Our behalf of the team at Hours and Minutes Australia, we would like to thank Michael Tay, Group Managing Director, The Hour Glass, Priscilla Neow, Marketing Executive, The Hour Glass Australia and the entire team at The Hour Glass Australia for making this interview possible.