As the head of bespoke tailoring house The Prestigious and a lecturer at LaSalle College of the Arts’ school of fashion, master tailor Thomas Wong has taken many students under his wing. But among these students, there are a select few he affectionately calls his “disciples”, including Dylan Chong, the founder and owner of bespoke tailoring company Dylan & Son, who studied the craft under Wong for over two years.
Master and protege were invited by The Peak and Vacheron Constantin to be part of this special feature for the latter’s latest Les Collectionneurs timepieces. Les Collectionneurs is the name of the representative collection of Vacheron Constantin vintage watches that are sourced and restored by the manufacture’s experts and offered for sale to brand aficonados. Each watch comes with a certificate of authenticity and a two-year guarantee – an offer unmatched in the watchmaking world. Speaking to both gents, first separately at photo shoots held at their respective ateliers and then together during an interview at The Prestigious, it was clear that the duo was a perfect fit for this feature in more ways than one.
Crafted by hand
Their horological preferences, for one, converge on the values that Les Collectionneurs represents. Wong is a fine-watch enthusiast with a penchant for the handmade, while Chong is a fan of classic, vintage timepieces. One of the pieces in Wong’s personal collection is the Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Self-Winding in pink gold with a pink-gold guilloche dial, which he bought in recent years. With a laugh, he shares, “I was window-shopping when I saw this watch on display, along with two other similar models. But I was hooked by this model because of the engraving on its dial; the other two had regular dials. I like watches with a lot of handwork, or other special touches that catch my eye and my heart.”
Consider all those boxes ticked for the two Les Collectionneurs pieces he chose to wear for our shoot: Dating back to 1967, the reference 6440Q is nicknamed Cioccolatone by Italian collectors, in reference to the square watch’s resemblance to a piece of chocolate. A highly sought-after vintage watch from the mid-20th century, the yellow gold timepiece has a self-winding in-house movement – Geneva Seal-certified, no less – and a hand-engraved sunray dial. The other Les Collectionneurs timepiece he opted for was a yellow gold wristwatch from 1952 that is affectionately known as The Crab (ref. 4659) because of the pincer-like shape of its lugs.
Wong chose to pair these timepieces with a blue wool/silk/linen double-breasted suit and a grey three-piece wool suit, respectively. On what gives vintage watches a different character from modern models, he muses, “Modern watches may have more precise movements and greater water-resistance, but vintage watches are special because they tell the story of how the traditional art of watchmaking has been passed down by watchmakers from generation to generation.
“It’s similar to how I learnt cutting and tailoring from my master and developed my own methods and style, and now pass my knowledge to my students, who then develop their own styles. Maybe one day, Dylan will do the same and pass down his skills as well.”
While Chong takes a less traditional approach to tailoring than his teacher – his is a distinctive style that combines “English sensibilities and Italian flair” – his taste in watches tends towards the vintage. He says, “I prefer the design language of the past, and I like classic, dressier watches because they pair nicely with suits. I’m also very slim, so I can’t wear bigger, sporty watches, even though I think they can look nice on other people.”
For our shoot, one of the Les Collectionneurs watches he chose was the reference 3507, a 30mm yellow gold wristwatch from 1936. Nicknamed The Prince, the timepiece is distinguished by concentric circles inspired by the geometric sensibilities of the Art Deco period. He paired this with a relaxed ensemble comprising a wool/silk/linen sports jacket, a white linen button-down shirt and cream-coloured cotton trousers.
The other model he chose was a pink gold wristwatch from 1955, reference 4658. In the 2021 Les Collectionneurs catalogue, Vacheron Constantin describes it as an example of the “creative and inspiring” design spirit of the 1950s. That’s for sure. More than just a regular wristwatch, the model 4658 also features a dial with engraved cross-hatching, as well as an angled, “Pagoda” case and glass design. While he chose to wear this with a brown suit in merino wool, Chong says, “I think both watches would work with either outfit, because they are on the dressy side and quite versatile. But, of course, I wouldn’t wear them with shorts or sportswear.”
A never-ending journey
Watching the duo seated comfortably next to each other and bantering lightheartedly, one is struck by the similarities between them, 34-year age gap notwithstanding. Both possess relaxed yet confident demeanours, and slim physiques that are invariably clad in ensembles that are sharp but never stiff.
They also share an unceasing quest for perfection. Having started out in the tailoring trade at 16, Wong has six decades of experience that has allowed him to gain mastery in all aspects of his trade: Cutting and tailoring – for jackets, trousers and shirts. The term “cutting” refers to the drafting of patterns and cutting of fabric, while “tailoring” – while often used in a broad sense – actually refers to the sewing and finishing of garments. Often, people in the trade specialise in just one area, and further to that, for a specific type of garment.
Chong is the head trouser-cutter at Dylan & Son, partly because he is following in the footsteps of his father, who is also a trouser-cutter and today continues to work at Dylan & Son. According to Wong and Chong, cutting is “the soul” of the trade, much like how an architect designs the blueprints of a building. Even though Chong has cut innumerable pairs of trousers over the past seven years, he still feels that he has a long way to go in mastering his craft.
He elaborates, “To me, ‘bespoke’ is about addressing the specificities of a wearer’s posture and physique. Before I started learning from Mr Wong, I used to think that a pair of trousers was just a pair of trousers. But when I learnt about how one can cut in different ways to suit different bodies, it gave me a brand new perspective and respect for the craft. Every body is different, and as I evolve, I keep discovering new things.”
These sentiments are echoed by Wong, who has a fierce aversion to resting on his laurels despite his vast experience. Whether he is working on his own commissioned pieces, or teaching his apprentices and students at The Prestigious or LaSalle, he continuously updates his methods – a practice Chong jokingly describes as “OS updates”. Says Wong, “What I teach my students is based on my experiences as of yesterday. Sometimes, after a month of cutting or calculating a certain angle in a certain way, I realise it can be improved. I always want to do things that are new and better. I don’t want to teach things from last year, or 10 years ago.”
It’s an ethos that brings to mind the long-established motto of Vacheron Constantin. As Francois Constantin, who in 1819 joined the watch company established in 1755 by Genevan watchmaker Jean-Marc Vacheron, declared, “Do better if possible, and that is always possible.”
The Les Collectionneurs collection is available for viewing at Vacheron Constantin’s boutiques at Ion Orchard (from now till March 17) and Marina Bay Sands (March 18 to 31).