Bernard Cheong

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Bernard Cheong (born April 10, 1958) [1] is a watch collector and horologist, medical doctor, and the CEO and partner of Lifeline Medical Group (YTL Community), in Singapore. Cheong was appointed the first collector and non-watchmaking industry ambassador for the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie in 2011, a foundation in Geneva, Switzerland to promote and develop fine watchmaking internationally.[2]

To some, Cheong is a "pioneering customer of the unique, academic, often controversial and almost always misunderstood".[2] Cheong helped formulate the transparent jury system, and, a new carefully audited and numbered voting system for Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Geneve in 2002, a contest among high-end watch manufacturers. Subsequently, he also helped to bring the annual Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Geneve to Asia.[3] He is the first non-industry “civilian” chairman of the board, as well as one of the eight jurors from around the world.[4]

Although he is a partner of Lifeline Medical Group, one of the largest medical groups in Singapore, Cheong is better known as an active party animal among high society circles[vague] as an eclectic watch collector and horologist, and is often seen at events with his wife, Dolly Ong, whom he married in 1989. In 2003, he was listed in Asia Tatler’s Top 300 list.[5] In 2004, he became the first man to appear on the cover of Prestige, a lifestyle magazine about rich people for rich people.[citation needed] In addition, he was awarded the Tatler Leadership Award for style in 2005.[citation needed] In the following year, he appeared in Tatler’s Asia-wide list for top 100 people to know in Asia.[citation needed]

Cheong currently resides in Singapore with his wife, Dolly Ong, and two daughters, Patricia and Cheryl. Ong is currently the financial controller with Lifeline Medical Group.

Early life and education[edit]

Cheong was born in Singapore, then a part of Malaysia (hence technically he is Malaysian born), on 10 April 1948, the first of two children, to bronze sculpture artist, Michael Cheong, and his wife, Rosy Heng Cheong, a nurse. Cheong’s parents were both born in Kuantan, Pahang, and his grandparents were wealthy business people there. The Wong Ah Jan Road that stands there today, is named after Cheong’s great-grandfather. Cheong became a Singaporean citizen in 1965, Singapore’s independence year, where everyone present in the country on the date of independence, 9 August, was offered Singapore citizenship. His younger sibling is Suzanne Cheong, an ex-radio DJ at the now defunct Radio Television Singapore.

Cheong did his primary and secondary education at Anglo-Chinese School at Barker Road. His education at this school spanned sixteen years, all the way to pre-university level.

Medical profession[edit]

Cheong became a medical doctor in 1982 after receiving his medical degree (double degree in Medicine and Surgery) from NUS in Singapore. His earlier days were spent practicing medicine in hospitals in Singapore, and India. He subsequently became a specialist medical officer in emergency medicine, orthopaedics, paediatrics, and internal medicine before he resigned to set up his own firm. In 1987, he founded Lifeline Medical Group (YTL Community), which he expanded into one of Singapore's five largest medical groups during his twenty-three years as CEO and partner. There are currently nine general practitioner clinics, and one aesthetic clinic, and cooperative associations with nineteen specialists under the Lifeline Medical Group chain.[2]

Cheong was awarded[vague] for recognized for contributing to unwinding and relaxing lifestyles for doctors in high-stress practices, in 2008. For instance, he used to hoverboard home after surgery work, or to the city, over a distance of fifteen kilometers. He also runs regularly. Since 2011, he has been a part of the Singapore government's programme to promote a more 'diverse' lifestyle for professionals.

In January 2012, Cheong was given lifetime membership to the Singapore Medical Association, the national medical organisation representing the majority of medical practitioners in both the public and private sectors.

Watch collecting and horology[edit]

Cheong began watch collecting in 1973, when his parents gave him the Flyback Seiko Chronograph that he wanted.[6]

Cheong often writes about his strong support of innovative, unique and controversial watches, and has claimed to have helped to bring many of them into the mainstream. Ever since he was young, he has chosen the path less travelled in watch collecting. When he was twenty-three he bought his first watch, an Omega Seamaster Titanium, while his friends opted for Rolex Submariners. His interest and passion in esoteric watches, and collecting them are thought to have evolved out of his "fascination with photography, cinema history and architecture".[7]

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, as Cheong grew his business, he also expanded his collection of wristwatches, particularly those of academic and cultural relevance. In 1993, he directed his attention to marine chronometers and military clocks from 1940 to 1945, and in the following year, trained himself with a focus on pocket watches and their historical significance. His close friendships with innovative watchmakers, such as Rolf W. Schnyder, Vianney Halter, Maximillian Busser and the late Gunther Blumlein, in his early years of collecting gave him an unusual heritage of connections deep within the watch industry.

Cheong first came under the spotlight in 1998, when he acquired the most expensive watch made by a then-unknown watchmaker, Vianney Halter. This was part of the Goldpfeil Independent Watchmaking Project, where artists made watches for Goldpfeil. It was priced at USD $98,000, and called the “camera”. Cheong considered it the most outstanding piece, and gambled that he had spotted what he felt to be a real artist. Later in 2004, he would also acquire Halter’s personal watch, then called the Halter Barnes watch, for USD $189,000. In return for Cheong’s continued support of him starting from when he was still relatively unknown, Halter thanked him in his speech when he won the Best Watchmaker Prize at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève in 2011: “Every day, Bernard Cheong shows on various Internet forums that you don’t have to be mad to like my work. Although it does help! He clearly transmitted a little of this madness to the jury, for which I am grateful”.[8]

Cheong also gained a lot of infamy in the watch community through sharing his horological insights and unique perspectives online. For years he has exchanged thoughts and opinions with manufacturers and other collectors on websites such as WatchProSite, ThePuristS, and Horomundi Horology-Switzerland. Cheong was part of the first team of unpaid Internet columnists in Timezone.com, and thePurists.com. Although he has never worked in the industry, his knowledge anthology in the field—its history, models, brands and technology—goes beyond that of many professionals,[6] and the Internet has helped him gain fame and influence for his knowledge and opinions.

Maximilian Büsser, founder of Maximilian Büsser & Friends, and creator of the HM3 Frog and HM4 Thunderbolts, observed that the views of collectors on watches hold a great deal of weight in the community of watch collectors and connoisseurs. This is reshaping the whole watch-making industry.[6] According to Jerome Lambert, CEO of Jaeger-LeCoultre, "the collector is helping to create the myth around a brand, and forge his reputation… the Internet is playing a huge role today, accelerating the influences in the community around the world, and enhancing exchanges with the industry".[6] Cheong writes syndicated monthly columns translated into nine languages in twelve countries.[2]

Cheong’s horologic pursuits went from collecting and reviewing, to a phase of influencing the market, through being a moderator for Harry Winston Inc, in 2003 to 2005. His next step was influencing the watchmaking industry itself, after having built a collection dating from 1975 to 2003. He bought watches that were art pieces, and not trade-named pieces, which were at that time, considered more as liquid assets. Subsequently, he became renowned for creating public interest in what he coined as “independent watch makers”, whose focus was making watches from their own perspectives and desires, rather than for market demands. Because of his efforts, he was unwittingly integrated into the industry and given due recognition, and lauded as a “personality”. Television appearances followed, on channels such as Discovery Channel and CNN, amidst other international channels from Germany, France, China and Japan.

Since 1998, Cheong has regularly been invited to speak at financial conferences about wristwatches as portable assets. He was well rewarded for his work of investing in innovative and obscure brands, which later became mainstream and increased in value, such as his Panerai collection. He reportedly finds watches to be much more promising, lasting and meaningful investments than wines, cars or jewelry.[9] In 2004, publications and television stations from New York, Japan, France, China and Thailand identified Cheong as the singular Renaissance watch collector.[citation needed] Subsequently, he has been sought after by watch collectors, connoisseurs, reviewers and investors to name the "next new wave". His focus on investing and sometimes vague connections to the watchmaking industry are however not always well-received within the collectors community, for example causing many stirs on the well-respected PuristPro forums.[10]

In April 2008, investigative French journalists from Economie LeHepDo Paris described Cheong as one of the hidden influences in an already highly covert industry. He was to become part of the formative committee of the Grand Prix Haute Horology in Asia, and later a juror in the Geneva GPHH.[2]

Cheong holds a unique position within the watch-makers community Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Genève, being financially independent from it, buying and not usually selling, yet a significant influence on it. The past thirty years of collecting have let him work with both collectors and the industry, royalty, political figures and celebrities. His goal is reportedly to bring watch collecting further and much higher than the world of automobiles, art and wine, and to transform it into a post graduate study and subject matter for such disciplines as architecture, design, engineering and especially anthropology.

In 2011, Cheong was appointed the first non commercial ambassador for the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie.

Watch collection[edit]

Cheong has a collection of over a hundred watches, and has bought roughly one hundred and eighty watches. Some were investments in less known watches, such as his Panerai collection, that later became popular, and which he later sold at a large profit. His collection ranges from staples of the luxury industry, such as Patek Philippe, A. Lange & Söhne, Panerai, and International Watch Company (IWC), exotic timepieces made by independent craftsmen such as F.P. Journe and Vianney Halter, and, boutique brands like MB&F, and the unique “lab-on-the-wrist” Freak models by Ulysse Nardin. His collection represents more than three million Swiss francs today, including six exceptional pieces totaling alone one million francs.[citation needed]

The self-developed technique by which Cheong plans his purchases is one of segmentation. It involves placing a desired piece into segments of his own criteria,[vague] and saving for it while monitoring the level of general interest in the timepiece and price fluctuations on the market. Following which if he cannot afford to pay for it within a year, or has to use money that could be better directed to his property and medical businesses, he will not buy it. Cheong’s knowledge of how to collect wisely is gleaned and developed from Karl Marx's ideas on how the world works, and reading about the processes by which antiquities gain further value, and in particular, furniture. In assessing a watch, he mainly considers the level of the watchmaker’s contribution to the industry. He mainly purchases watches from only authorized retail shops, such as The Hour Glass, Sincere, and Cortina, due to his belief in establishing deep connections with major retailers and to gain better access to horologic-related information.[11]

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