For watch collectors, Macau may not be the first place that would cross their mind when thinking about a horological destination. There are stories regarding good deals from the city’s pawn shops, thanks to the gambling industry and the need for custodians to find a quick bit of liquidity for another hand of blackjack, but it is only recently that Macau has become an active scene for Chinese watch collectors, thanks to the establishment of the Macau Timepiece Museum, at Travessa De S. Paulo No.1.
Walking along the street leading up to the Ruins of St Paul’s, with the smell of dried meat and egg custard tarts, it represents the most touristic side of Macau, you eventually arrive at a discrete yellow two-storey building housing the Macau Timepiece Museum, privately owned by Mr. Fong Wing Ngai. Open to the public for free on a permanent basis, it aims to share his horological passion and to serve an educational role.
The museum is divided into different areas to present the story of time. Showcasing modern creations, the ground floor exhibits pieces from group brands and independent watchmakers. Walking further into the area, an enormous vintage frogman diver’s suit stands in the centre of the room, symbolising the Panerai section. The upper floor is for antique pocket watches and clocks from Qing and earlier dynasties, accompanied by a repair workshop with space for an in-house restorer.
With a huge passion for watches, Mr. Fong has been acquiring timepieces since the 1980s. One of the pioneers of watch collecting in China, his collection has expanded with the growth of the watch market in recent years. In 2000, he consolidated, with antique and modern watches being the major focus since then. After years of research and collecting, Mr. Fong finds Panerai attracts him the most for five reasons: the military-issued background, the unique design from the 1940s, the large collector’s groups around the brand, the large diameter cases (over 40 millimetres), and the flexible price range (from HKD30,000-1,000,000).
Many of Mr. Fong’s most precious watches have been purchased from auction, including his trio of reference 3646 Radiomir models, and most recently a PAM 360 from Phillips Hong Kong Eight, the version made for the 10th anniversary of the Paneristi forum, believed once owned by Hong Kong watch icon Mr. Alain Chung Wing Lun.
The Panerai Section
With over 60 Panerai pieces in Mr. Fong’s private collection, the area dedicated to this storied brand has been curated by period, including the vintage section, pre-Vendôme section, and those from the modern era, including the editions produced for the Paneristi forum, as well as references with both externally sourced and in-house movements, it represents a condensed but fairly complete history of Panerai.
The highlight of the vintage section are the three pieces of reference 3646 with type C, type D standard dial and type D with so-called “California” dial, showing the important development during World War II for the brand. The collection then moves on to the pre-Vendôme era (prior to the acquisition of Panerai by the group which would eventually become Richemont), with the original reference 5218 Slytech showcasing how the company came into the public view from its mysterious military background, thanks to its relationship with Sylvester Stallone.
Progressing into the modern era, the exhibit showcases the different movement manufacturers that Panerai used after joining the Richemont Group. The highlights include: PAM 300 Mare Nostrum prototype with Minerva cal.13.22, PAM 0072 with Zenith El Primero 400 movement, PAM 80 with vintage Chezard calibre 7400, and a number of references that use the renowned calibre 6497 based movement, including PAM 232, PAM 249, and PAM 262.
The modern section shares the development trend for creations from the last decade, including the first Panerai in-house movement PAM00289, the limited edition military reissue PAM 341 Egiziano, and the recent pair of Marina Militare watches PAM 587 and PAM 673. In addition, this section showcases the sought-after Bronzo collection, including the PAM 507 and PAM 671, with the newly launched PAM 968 inevitably becoming part of the collection sooner or later. While many collectors may have mixed feelings about the Panerai Sealand for Purdey collection, the museum contains a number of references from the collection to show their intricate engraving, including the PAM 216 featuring Jules Verne, as well as PAM 814 and PAM 817 from the African collection with an elephant and an eagle motif respectively.
There are many incredible collections owned by individuals based in Greater China, and Mr. Fong is not the only one who dreamt of setting up a timepiece museum, but he is among the first to make their vision a reality. Bridging Chinese collectors and the international market, the Macau Timepiece Museum acts like a portal for brands, like Panerai, to know more about their clients and cultivate a new generation of collectors.