The Business Times
THE COLLECTORS

Passion over possession

Chan Kok Weng and his wife Elaine Lim-Chan collect everything from spectacles to cars, but have no method to their acquisitions apart from sheer enjoyment.

Published Fri, Jul 16, 2021 · 05:50 AM
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THOSE OF US WITH THE COLLECTING BUG – that urge to possess anything from fine art and antique furniture to tropical fish and fridge magnets – are driven by passion and budget. Chan Kok Weng and Elaine Lim-Chan are collectors who love cars, and have the means to indulge in their passion. The classic, luxury and high-performance cars they own include a ubiquitous Lamborghini, a Jaguar E-Type that was first registered in Singapore in 1964 and not one, but two, Rolls-Royces.

She's a senior wealth manager at a private bank and he runs an eponymous aesthetic clinic. They enjoy the finer things in life but they also don't take life too seriously. Fancy cars, rare watches and fine wines are just a few of their favourite things. As the song goes, they work hard for the money – and get to spend their disposable income in ways that make them happy.

The pair, who grew up in Kampong Bahru but didn't know each other at the time, have been married for more than 20 years and working in their respective careers for longer than that. It adds up to partners who value their leisure time and have a close rapport – in life and as collectors.

Ask about any of their acquisitions and they're likely to reply in unison, taking turns to tell a story, finishing each other's sentences and correcting one another on some detail. Conspicuous consumption is the topic of the day, and this high-spirited, unconventional couple – colourful in more ways than one – are more than qualified to talk about it. Pick an item, any item, and they'll happily provide context.

"Every collection has a story," says Ms Lim-Chan, while her husband – a serial shopper (by her admission, at least) – readily imparts specifics about a futuristic, space age-y watch by Swiss horological concept lab MB&F (Maximilian Busser & Friends), one of several dozen timepieces housed in storage boxes seemingly scattered throughout the house.

"We're multi-brand, but we go for what makes things fferent," says Dr Chan, who sports close-cropped hair, yellow and black-rimmed eyeglasses (quirky frames are integral to his signature look; there are dozens more in every shape and shade in a walk-in closet upstairs) and a Rolex Daytona to match the one worn by his wife.

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For those of you out there keeping score, the couple owns many of the choice models coveted by watch collectors – diamond-studded Audemars Piguets, Pateks, his ‘n hers Daytonas in every precious metal conceivable – plus rare one-off s by independents like French watchmaker Vianney Halter.

They take great pains to emphasise that there's no investment strategy when it comes to their prized – and pricey – possessions. "We're not savvy collectors, we collect because we enjoy doing it," says Ms Lim-Chan. "I don't think we're planning to sell anything," says her husband. "If it goes up in value, we're happy of course – but that's not what is important to us."

Even their approach to home improvement goes against the grain. A five-year-old, seven-bedroom house was torn down to make way for their current three-storey, two-bedroom residence. "We just decided we didn't need so many rooms – instead, we have club-type facilities like a pool, jacuzzi, gym area and home theatre," says Dr Chan.

There are no children in the family equation, but they do have two prams and three pet canines: Miumiu (12), a West Highland Terrier, and Yorkies named Tintin (14) and Doudou (nine months).

"Collecting is not rational, it's just for me," says Dr Chan, who relates how he ended up with that classic Jag and a Porsche from 1962. The former was bought from a prominent doctor (who promptly donated the proceeds to charity) while the latter was purchased on impulse at auction in England. The winning bid was made while he was on board a plane awaiting take-off .

I have quite limited hobbies," says Dr Chan. "My mother told me I've loved cars since I was two years old. At first, I looked for modern sports cars (his first Lamborghini was bought in the early 2000s from someone who won it at a lucky draw)." He adds, "Rain or shine I drive, I like to smell the fuel, listen to the carburettors. I know how to change oil, spark plugs, I'm a hands-on person – that's why I'm in aesthetics."

Ms Lim-Chan cites their shared love for automobiles and driving holidays as a turning point on the road to collector heaven. She chimes in with car tales of her own. "I'm actually more of a car person than a jewellery person," she says. "My love for cars came from him – we enjoyed cars together over the years and I caught the passion."

"We work very hard to be able to enjoy our lives – it's not about buying things to make more money," says Ms Lim-Chan, a former president of the Ferrari Owners' Club here and the first-ever female in that role. Adds her husband, "Owning a football club or going to outer space is not a lifetime dream. One has to be sensible; things of value may become less valuable – it's what value you have in your heart and how you achieve that value. We are simply rich in experience, love and passion."

Meanwhile, the one-is-never-enough mindset that defines every collector is plenty evident in the aforementioned walk-in closet. That's where Dr Chan keeps an eye-popping shoe collection that somehow manages to put his spectacle collection to shame. "He has more Louboutins than me," says Ms Lim-Chan, without a trace of bitterness.

That's because she has a rather impressive handbag collection of her own (think rare Hermes bags and clutches), located in a nearby closet. Not surprisingly, there is a good story behind the acquisition of the Himalaya Birkin, otherwise known as the Holy Grail for handbag collectors. Suffice to say, Dr Chan knows his stuff – enough to impress even the most jaded salesperson of a coveted prestige brand.

Beyond collecting, having the right attitude and a proper work ethic is necessary, says Ms Lim-Chan. "The journey is just as important as the destination – we've achieved more than we could ever dream and we hope our story inspires others." Next on the bucket list? "Good can always be better," says Dr Chan. "It's not about possessions, it's about being happy."

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