This 30-year-old ‘watch doctor’ brings timepieces back to life
The most expensive watch he’s worked on was one that cost over three million dollars.
You might know King Albert Park Mall for the many establishments run by the EagleWings group, such as the cinema and loft. But tucked away in the very same building lies Salon De Temps – a corner shop run by a watch specialist, or “watch doctor”, Kenneth Tay.
There, you’ll likely find the 30-year-old hunched over his work table, painstakingly piecing together a watch with the precision of a surgeon. The vibrant tracks playing in the background alongside an impressive display of elegant watches makes for an overall inviting atmosphere as you step into the store’s sleek interior.
Having been in this line for five years now, Kenneth’s job scope at Salon De Temps mostly lies in the repair, troubleshooting, maintenance and restoration of his client’s watches.
His interest in watches was sparked during his childhood, as he would often walk past a watch shop that was located right below his home. He would often observe the owner at work and do research online. Then, taking what he had seen and read up on, he experimented in his own time.
Things really kicked off after Kenneth finished his National Service and met the man who would eventually become his official mentor. It was through this mentor that he picked up the proper skills which helped jumpstart his career as a “watch doctor”.
Kenneth remarks that although his mentor was hard on him, it’s thanks to this tough love that his workmanship has become what it is today.
“Initially he didn’t want to teach me, but I kept pestering him until one fine day he asked me down and then I really took up skills from him,” Kenneth shares with Youthopia.
“He’s given me his one hundred percent, so it’s my duty to carry on his kung fu from today onwards.”
In fact, it was his mentor’s encouragement which gave Kenneth the motivation to step out of his comfort zone and start Salon De Temps despite some initial hesitance.
When a customer comes to Salon De Temps with a broken watch, Kenneth starts off by assessing the timepiece and giving a quotation based on the repairs required.
Kenneth then proceeds to clean the watch and repair it. Finally, he monitors the watch to ensure it is in working condition before returning it to the customer.
Though it may seem rather straightforward, it’s a process which can take up to two months to complete. As Salon De Temps’ sole technician, Kenneth needs time to make the repairs.
This is even more so in cases where parts need to be replaced as he’ll have to source for the parts overseas before he can assemble them together.
Kenneth shares that there’s more to the job than meets the eye as he has faced difficulties throughout his career. Besides some people undermining the work that goes into repairing a watch, Kenneth has also encountered demanding clients who were unwilling to pay an amount proportionate to what they ask for.
Another big challenge that Kenneth faced when he originally started out was his shaky hands, which were a hindrance when working with small watch parts.
“You definitely need to practice breathing techniques (as well as) focus and concentration. You can’t let anything distract you … Now if there’s a customer who watches me dismantle his watch, I don’t feel any pressure, I just do it normally,” he shares.
Kenneth also warns that watch repairing is not something you can dip your toes into on a whim, as it can get costly to acquire the various parts.
Though it’s easy to find many resources about watch repairing online, not all of them are completely accurate. To pick up the proper skills, Kenneth advises that it’s best to have hands-on experience and a mentor to guide you along.
When he initially started Salon De Temps, Kenneth found money to be a major concern as the equipment for the cleaning and repair of watches wasn’t cheap.
“I didn’t want to use cheap machines that would not bring out the best of the (watch) movement. If I want to be the best, I have to use the best,” he says.
Despite all the challenges, Kenneth finds that his passion for his work is more than enough motivation for him to press on.
As for the future of Salon De Temps, Kenneth is working toward expanding his business beyond solely focusing on repair work.
He currently works closely with a partner regarding the resale and consignment of timepieces, with the intention of merging the two teams to form a more holistic direction for Salon De Temps moving forward.
In line with their vision, the two plan to give the store a facelift by renovating the space to showcase more watches. Plans to reach a bigger audience through various social media channels are also in the works.
To youths who are interested in watches, Kenneth believes that having connections are essential to get into this niche and controlled line of work. While he’s personally not looking for any apprentices at the moment, he does foresee himself taking on apprentices of a certain calibre in the future.
Other than having a passion for watches, another deciding factor for a potential apprentice would be knowing the workings of a watch like the back of your hand.
Though it might not be smooth sailing, Kenneth shares that it is important to press on and not let go of one’s ambitions.
Ultimately, Kenneth’s resolve to pursue his craft stemmed from the simple joy which came from making a difference in the lives of others.
“What’s most rewarding about being in this line is that you can bring back sentimental value … seeing the smile on (the customer’s) face is priceless.
“It gives you the satisfaction that you made this customer very happy.”