Interview with Adrien Choux founder of the Chinese Timekeeper

The new Ladies collection from The Chinese Timekeeper: CTK101 – Three Hands Automatic, CTK103 - Red Jade Automatic and the CTK102 – Diamond Sky map Automatic

The new Ladies collection from The Chinese Timekeeper: CTK101 – Three Hands Automatic, CTK103 – Red Jade Automatic and the CTK102 – Diamond Sky map Automatic

It was in October 2010 that The Chinese Timekeeper was founded in Hong Kong, by Adrien Choux, a former employee of Panerai Asia. He set out an ambitious target, to create the very first Chinese luxury watch brand that would be inspired by and would reflect the glorious heritage of China.

The brand, its logo and the design of its watches pay homage to the work of the legendary Chinese polymath, Su Song, whose most famous heritage to mankind was a 40-foot-tall water-powered clocktower.

Since its foundation, the brand has known a lot of success in Hong Kong and China, in 2012 already opening its first boutique in Hong Kong, and signing up dealers in the U.K, the Netherlands and the U.S.

I was curious to find out more about The Chinese Timekeeper, so we arranged a Skype chat with Adrian that I hope you will find just as interesting as I did.

WatchPaper: Please tell me about your brand.

Adrien Choux (AC): My idea was to create a brand that would promote the Chinese culture, the history, the design and also the technical know-how; products that are proudly crafted in China. I live in Asia since more than 14 years and during that time, I spent 5 years at Panerai, where I picked up the tricks of the trade if I may say so. Being fluent in Mandarin (editor’s note: Adrien is from France), I’m married with a girl from Hong Kong, so my life is set to be lived here in Asia. I developed an interest in Chinese culture and most of all in the possibilities that China is offering, not just as a market, but it also has a strong identity. So, I said to myself that it would be really interesting to start a watch brand, that would not be 100% Swiss — even among the Swiss brands, there are many that are partly made in China — and this is when I dived into the study of the history of measuring time in China. I discovered the work of Su Song, who is considered to have built the first escapement mechanism.

I spent two years to create The Chinese Timekeeper, and the first collection was launched on a special date, the 10th day of the 10th month of 2010. Basically, the brand is three years old.

From this small collection of only 160 pieces, started out from my apartment, it is now grown up to be a global brand, because we’re not the one of the many Swiss brands, or we are not one of the many brands that talks about sailing or aviation, brands that have not much to offer.

The local media, here in Hong Kong and in mainland China, picked up our story really fast. I sold some watches to friends and later to real clients, Chinese that love their culture or local watch collectors who find our watches to be a good looking and modern.

Then came our second collection, we introduced jade, we had a model with a dragon, later on with a snake and we’re working on a new model with a horse to mark the year of the horse.

Exactly! I was about to ask you, I saw on your website that you have a collection based on Chinese zodiac, but I did not saw the model with the horse.

AC: They will be presented a bit later, probably at Baselworld. It is very sober, I like it a lot, I think it’s probably more elegant than the others.

We also created the Chinese Hours Automatic collection, with a 24 hours dial that is using signs of the Chinese zodiac and we achieved a timepiece that shows the Chinese hours the same way of measuring time as 1000 years ago and we are the only brand to do it. This way we managed to differentiate ourselves through our design and our story and our challenge is to demonstrate that our timepieces that are all exclusive, very limited edition models, with very high-quality standards, demand a certain price. We’re talking about two, three, even four thousand U.S. dollars for a model made with jade, so these are not cheap watches.

To break the stigma that China is all about large quantities at low quality, with no attention to design and no after-sale service, we’re talking to our customers, we’re present at all the important watch events in Hong Kong, at Baselworld and we prove one watch at a time, that our timepieces are of very high quality with an elegant design.

The Chinese are known as big consumers of luxury product, especially European brands, but I’m wondering, how was the idea of a luxury brand with a strong Chinese identity welcomed by the Chinese consumers?

AC: In the beginning, it was a bit challenging, because people were wary of  products that are made in China, but in the mean time things started to change. Recently, Peng Liyuan, the First Lady of China, she’s often making appearances in qipao and she said that all her dresses are made by Chinese tailors in Beijing and this steered a lot of interest around Chinese craftsmanship. People became aware of Chinese cosmetics, when one of them was bought by Loreal, Chinese bijou that was just purchased by the PPR group and all these have started to change the mentality. Today, when we go to a salon in China, people see us differently, they find it interesting, beautiful, it makes them proud.

The fact that I’m French, sometimes it is an impediment, but it is also a peace of mind. My origin comes with that luxurious side associated with the French, attention to the details, and we don’t try to sell watches. We’re telling a story, here is a thousand years old story, this is Su Song’s story, here is the story of the dragon. Do you want to be part of it and talk about it with your friends? I want to stay humble, but we see that it works.

This year too we’ll be present at Baselworld, we’ll be at events in Hong Kong, we’ll participate at a fair in China, we’re looking into maybe even going to JCK. I hope our brand is starting to have an international presence and to make a positive impact, for now, it is a lot of work.

I saw you have a boutique in Hong Kong, you have authorised dealers in the UK, the Netherlands and the U.S. What about Canada?

AC: I don’t know Canada very well. Last year, I made a short trip to Vancouver and I met a few local boutiques, and I’m really interested in finding a boutique or a distributor in Canada that could become our authorised dealer. Especially, since our dealer in California, and we also have someone in Washington, is working out very well. It is not just for the Chinese, but also for collectors or anyone who is looking for a beautiful piece that has a reasonable price, it’s a limited edition, it comes with two years warranty and I’m quite confident that Canadians would appreciate CTK.

You know, the other night I was going through the press release you sent me about the new collection for ladies and she was really impressed, something that rarely happens. She usually finds ladies watches quite kitsch, with all the diamonds and the blings that cover them.

AC: Then I have very good news for you! We’re going to launch this collection on a website based in Hong Kong and we’re going to make a pre-sale of our three models, the CTK 103 – Red Jade Automatic, the CTK 101 – Three Hands Automatic and the CTK 102 – Diamond Sky Map Automatic. The watches will be shipped in three months once they are built, assembled and tested. The pre-sale price is highly discounted, prices will vary between $1000 and $2000 USD for the piece with 16 diamonds. We’re also offering our early customers the possibility to chose the serial number of their watch and this makes our watches really affordable.

Before I would let you go, please tell me a bit about you short and medium term plans for The Chinese Timekeeper.

AC: We’re busy working on three projects, the launch of our new collection, participating at Baselworld where we’re going to present our the model with the horse and our new ladies collection and after that we’ll be working to consolidate our presence in Hong Kong, China, Europe and other parts of the world. There will be a lot of travelling, meeting with people, we would like to make it easy for people curious about our brand to have access to our pieces.

 Thank you very much!

AC: Thank you!

As a graphic designer, I'm fascinated by the crossroads between technology and aesthetics. Horology is one of these crafts, where art and engineering come together to produce mechanical wonders that grace the eye. WatchPaper was born from the desire to create an online tool where I can share my passion for watches.