Meet Wristcheck's Austen ChuBy Wei Koh
Austen Chu, otherwise known by his Instagram nom de plume Horoloupe, sees the Matrix — meaning that he is able to identify the signs of the impending future, and analyze and react to them before others do. And what he sees is an entire new generation of new watch collectors waiting in the wings, about to emerge from the chrysalis and become dominant consumers of horological finery.
Basically, all the kids who in their teens and 20s were obsessed with streetwear and spent tons of money on clothing and sneakers and were addicted to websites like Hypebeast and Highsnobiety, are now in their 30s. And they are all becoming obsessed with watches,” says Chu. Unlike other more conservative demographics who grew up with the idea of saving their money, many of these wealthy or well-paid millennials — many of whom are based in Southeast Asia, especially Hong Kong and Singapore — are willing to sink a substantial amount of their net worth into their watch collection.
“They are not dumb,” says Chu. “They understand appreciable assets and that with interest rates at an all-time low, they would be silly to leave their money in the bank where it can’t even keep up with the inflation rate. So, they are looking for investments that they can have fun with. Cars, definitely, but those are crazily expensive in Singapore and Hong Kong. Most importantly, because of taxes, they are not aligned with universal pricing around the world, so they’re bad for reselling; and because of import laws, they’re bad for acquiring. Also, watches are more fun in that you have your watch on you all the time — at the gym, at the club, at dinner… during all the key moments of socialising — whereas your friends see your car, what, 20 percent of the time you’re with each other?”
Chu pauses for a second to reflect and adds, “What people don’t understand is that this audience might be dressed in street wear, but their outfit is super curated and is probably way more expensive than your average businessman’s suit. In the same way they approach clothes, they approach watches with a geeked-out mentality that involves studying and gaining that crucial knowledge. Do you really think it’s easy to learn every reference of Air Jordan there is? Actually, it’s incredibly tough, but that’s the appeal — which is the same appeal they get from memorising every Patek or AP reference.”
Despite the potential of this new audience — let’s call them the former Hypebeasts of the world — the conservative watch world and its associated media have been very slow to respond to them. And that was precisely the glitch in the matrix that Chu saw, and which inspired him to create WristCheck with the mission to inspire the next generation of watch enthusiasts.
He explains, “So you’ve got this audience. They’ve got money, they’ve got a desire to learn, they are used to knowledge-based collecting, they’re willing to spend, and yet there is no one talking to them. With all due respect to a dominant industry website, which I think was an incredible pioneer back in the day, no one I know connects with them and the way they write their stories today. It just feels like middle-aged white guys trying to tell us what’s cool. Look at their roster. So it’s kind of a cultural and generational gap, and I thought I should produce the content to appeal to my generation.”
We should back up here to acknowledge the fact that despite Chu’s impressive track record as a serial entrepreneur who started his first company at 15 years of age, represented Audemars Piguet as an ambassador and even designed a limited edition watch with them, as of last December, Austen Chu was a mere 24 years of age.
“That’s the thing about my generation: we are not intimidated by age,” says Chu. “We don’t see this as a hurdle where we have to take a job and slowly work our way up the corporate ladder for 30 years. We see opportunities and we take them.” The opportunity Chu saw was to create a whole new platform that communicates to his generation with a tone and style that is still knowledge-based and substantive, but which shakes up the world of watch media. In order to do that, he knew exactly where to look.
Chu says, “The WristCheck content team is made up entirely of guys who are not just passionate about watches, but seriously impressive at photography and videography. We also intend to be a transactional platform.” On that note, joining Chu as his partner is Sean Wong, the former senior vice president of e-commerce at Hypebeast, who ran their ecommerce platform.
“One pillar of WristCheck is transparency, so the buyer knows what the seller netted and vice versa. We are transparent about how much we make as a platform, and even breakdown our fees so customers know where every dollar goes,” explains Chu. “This made sense to me because, to begin with, most of the models my audience will be looking for are the watches that are never readily available at the retailers but that can be bought on the secondary market. I’m talking, of course, about your Rolex Daytonas, Patek 5711’s, Royal Oak 15202’s and Richard Mille RM 11’s. Most of the watches we offer are consigned and we’ve done deals with authorised service centres here in Hong Kong to make sure that every watch is checked and authenticated. At the same time, I want to bring a real sense of curation based on actual watch knowledge and my personal taste. So, for example, I might see that a certain watch reference is undervalued in the market and offer a really great collection of the best pieces of this reference. We will create content explaining why I think this watch has so much investment potential because it is a key reference in watch design history.”
When asked how he feels WristCheck distinguishes itself from other entrenched pre-owned businesses, Chu says, “Well, first of all, we are as focused on content creation as we are on sales. In these early stages, we are focused on pre-owned. But who knows what can happen after that? What Hypebeast showed us is that when you become the dominant communication channel to an important audience, brands will need to respond. But, just as importantly, WristCheck is also an experience-driven company. We are opening our first shop in Landmark in Central, Hong Kong. Our location is between Louis Vuitton and Tiffany’s. Many companies wanted this space, but the landlords wanted us to be there because they know we can draw a different and important demographic to their mall. Our shop is totally not transactional in appearance. It’s a hangout, a club with interactive screens where learning about watches and trying them on with your friends is fun.”
Closing the loop, WristCheck will also offer insurance on watches for customers based in Hong Kong (as well as Singapore and Thailand later in the year) — all done digitally. He explains, “Our highest rate for our insurance is 1.375 percent of the price of your watch. And our insurance also protects against damage, like if you accidentally dent your bezel on a night out at the club.” Chu smiles, “At WristCheck, we know our customers because we live the same life as them. Even the name of our company comes from a social-media hashtag that our community loves to use. It’s a laidback and fun term that references serious watches.”
He adds with a smile, “The future is coming and it’s coming fast.” I am inclined to agree.