A tribute to time

Of time & space

Married couple Serene Tan and Benjamin Kim have divergent tastes but bond over contemporary home design and a love for watches that are both rare and rich in sentimental value

SERENE TAN AND BENJAMIN KIM met cute, like a scene out of a romantic comedy. He accidentally (or so he claims) spilled his drink on her at a gathering organised by mutual friends. He apologised for the blunder and offered to spring for the dry-cleaning tab. Naturally, he asked for her number. And naturally, she declined. 'I'll do the dry-cleaning myself,' she told him.

Not long after that incident, they met again by chance and this time, it was kismet. They were married in 2009 and like any happily married couple, they have both shared and divergent interests. Both are among the most pleasant people you're likely to meet. She loves to read in her study, while he prefers to listen to music in his upper-floor man-cave. There's also a projector and a retractable screen in the living room.

He has a taste for nice cars and flamboyant clothing (more on that later); she confesses to being ''really boring.''

Serene Tan and Benjamin Kim enjoying couple time in their new Sentosa home, which they moved into 9 months ago.

Where the twain does meet, however, is in their affinity for stylish contemporary living. Nine months ago, they moved into a new residence, their second home in recent years.

The three-storey house, overlooking the 5th fairway and green of Sentosa Golf Club's Tanjong Course, is in the process of being renovated. ''We like doing up houses, putting together something we feel comfortable in,'' says Kim.

They have yet to dip their toes into the rooftop pool - or even the tub in the centre of their expansive and chandeliered black-and-white marbled master bathroom. It's where they watch the news (on a 65-inch screen) and catch up on their respective workdays: he's in the aviation industry and she handles compliance matters at a multinational. ''A lot of conversation takes place there,'' she says.

Benjamin Kim's watch collection includes those from Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe, Franck Muller and A. Lange & Söhne.

They also have a penchant for interesting watches, although both are reluctant to put themselves in the serious collector category. ''You see something pretty, you just buy it,'' says Tan. ''As you go along, you keep looking at things and find yourself drawn to watches and jewellery. From owning one, you gradually move on to a few.''

Tan, who is partial to bling from Bulgari and Tiffany, adds: ''I like watches because of the technology behind it - complicated movements and so on - and I have a range of them, though not necessarily a collection.''

The watch that means most to her is a Patek Philippe Nautilus that her father bought as an anniversary gift for her mother. ''She passed it to me about eight years ago and said 'I'd like you to have this,''' she says. ''I have some other less significant watches, but for me the three most important factors are (monetary) value, rarity and sentimental value.''

Asked to expand on some of her other watches, she singles out a Franck Muller Master Banker model, a lightweight and versatile leather-strapped piece with a multi-sub dial display - useful for those who travel frequently. ''Three time zones are shown but ironically, it's still hard for me to tell the time,'' she says sheepishly. ''For me it's more of a fashion statement.''

Kim's first notable timepiece was also a gift from his mother - the Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar was a 21st birthday present. He reels off the model's reference number (5038) - these things matter in the upper echelons of the watch world. ''It was completely unexpected and I don't remember much except I was simply elated to receive it,'' he says. ''I wouldn't call myself a collector - we have a few pieces between us but it's not a path we consciously followed.''

Unlike some couples, Serene Tan and Benjamin Kim don't buy matching pairs of watches.

Among the brands in their watch boxes are the usual suspects, including the likes of Audemars Piguet, Cartier, Richard Mille and A. Lange & Söhne. Unlike some couples, they also don't buy matching pairs. Says Kim: ''We don't buy them for the sake of potential appreciation, we just buy to keep because of the aesthetics and for personal enjoyment - we've developed a sentimental attachment to these pieces.''

When it comes to complicated watches, the sky's the limit and it's often a case of beauty and the best. As an interested observer of the watch scene, Kim is a professed admirer of rare Patek pieces, in particular the brand's Grandmaster Chime (ref: 5175), a double face masterpiece launched in 2014 to commemorate the company's 175th anniversary.

The limited-edition piece features 20 complications, including a patented acoustic alarm and date repeater. ''It's the pinnacle of watchmaking,'' he says.

The past two years have witnessed a general surge in the watch business, driven in part by pandemic-related pent-up demand. ''I think Covid has exacerbated the demand for watches; with people not being able to travel, the result is that prices have skyrocketed,'' says Kim. ''Three years ago, you could buy a watch from a prestige brand off the shelf but now there's a queue. They haven't reduced production, but demand has completely outstripped supply.''

Kim typically alternates watches to match the clothes he wears, but the Patek ''is my favourite - it's the most emotional piece''. There's no disputing his discerning sense of style but he also projects a split personality on the fashion front, as a quick look at the contents of his walk-in closet will confirm. On one side is a rack of impeccably tailored Ermenegildo Zegna suits.

Serene Tan's watches include (clockwise from left) Richard Mille RM 07, Franck Muller Master Banker, Patek Philippe Aquanaut, Patek Philippe Twenty 4, and Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Lady.

On an opposite rack is a jaw-dropping assortment of embroidered jackets, brocade-trimmed blazers and metallic floral-jacquard numbers, some with tassels and almost all with tags still attached because they've never been worn. It's an absolute riot of colour, courtesy of Dolce and Gabbana.

By contrast, his wife's section of the dressing room is positively austere, channelling a desperate swim against the lurid Lurex tide. ''I started it when I first bought one of those jackets for him a few years ago, but then he couldn't stop adding on - it will get him noticed for sure,'' says Tan. ''She opened a Pandora's Box,'' adds her husband with a shrug and a smile.

Pre-pandemic pursuits involved a fair amount of leisure travel, with the US a favoured destination. Kim previously lived in Arizona, where he developed an appreciation for the art and culture of the American Southwest. ''I can relate to Native American weavings because I like earthy tones and the colours of the rocks there,'' says the keen shutterbug with a love for the rugged landscape photography of Ansel Adams.''

Civilised pleasures give meaning to life, bestselling author Barbara Taylor Bradford famously announced. It's an unspoken truth in anyone's book, but Tan and Kim also enjoy having pure untethered fun. They're theme park junkies who have rollercoaster-ed their way through parts of the US. ''We love the thrill of the ride,'' says Kim. ''We're still kids at heart.''

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