It all started with my childhood
When I was small, my mother gave me my first analogue quartz watch because she thought that I should learn to tell time. It was bought from a street vendor. The watch was meant for children, came with submarine bezels and black plastic straps printed with dive tables. I wore my watch all the time. When I woke up during the night and saw that it was still at my service silently, I thought this was simply magnificent. It was then when I made lifelong connection with timepieces.
For my secondary education, I went to a Band 1 traditional grammar school, meaning that my life practically revolved around only studying. Besides the basic subjects of Chinese, English and Mathematics, other options like metalwork and woodwork was never on the table. I absolutely did not fancy education in the style of spoon-feeding. On account of a lack of a particular interest in the main subjects and my uncompromising personality, my school performance suffered, with me often getting the lowest marks in the whole form. Others often said that I did not know how to grasp a great opportunity: having a place in a good school yet not doing great at studies. My mother even said that she was going to send me abroad for studies, but I had always thought that I am an authentic Hongkonger and there was nothing bad with ‘Made in Hong Kong’. So I refused sternly.
”When you are passionate about a subject, it would lead you to a different path.Segovia LeungHong Kong Watchmaker
My life during secondary school was boring. I fared poorly at tests and exams and I did not get any satisfaction, so I had to while away my time looking for things to do that would interest me. Most of my classmates loved ball games or console games but I was somewhat of an outlier. I loved making models and robots… When I was in Form 3, the magazine Watch Critics began publishing. On the cover, set against the burgundy background, was a Cartier. When I was going to school every day, the advertisements for the magazines could easily be seen since they were placed right alongside the escalators. Out of curiosity, I bought the magazine to study what it would contain. It covered watches of various brands, a glossary of technical terms and structural theories related to watches and clocks – all of these seemed too complicated to an average pupil at secondary school. I spent an entire year before my mind started tuning in to watches and clocks. Despite the long time this took, my interest gradually grew. There is a saying that goes like this: only when the night sky was dark enough can one see a star-filled sky. Even though I could not exercise my potentials when I was in secondary school, I had cultivated a passion for watches and I had met good friends and teachers. In the year I left secondary school, a teacher advised against continuing my studies at traditional schools and suggested that I should try courses on creative arts instead. I landed on interior design.
In the early days of studying interior design, my mother was staunchly against my decision and was pessimistic about my prospects, but I was lucky I had my father’s support Studying design could really make one forget about day and night: with endless criticisms from instructors, concepts would go through rounds of changes before they would be optimised – all just for the sake of perfection. In one extreme case, I stayed awake for three days and it was truly tiring. This was the path that I chose myself, so by staying true to myself, the hard work was gratifying. During my studies in interior design, my passion for watches never waned. I would even squeeze time in my busy schedule to make small watch repairs for my classmates and instructors. The future was like a game of chess, they say – you never knew what would happen next. When I was about to start my third year, I learnt that Lee Wai Lee Institute of Vocational Education had just started to offer a Higher Diploma course in Horological Science and Technology. With much resolution I told my father my decision to change my course of study. He was inevitably taken aback, because I was only one year away from graduation and if I chose horological studies, I would have to start from the beginning and spend three years. It would feel like that I had wasted the interior design course. However, when one learns or experiences something in earnest, one could still achieve success in the future. I was still grateful of my two years spent studying interior design because it laid the foundation of the current workshop and my watch creations. My father asked, finally, ‘Do you really want to study watches and develop a career in the watch and clock industry?’ The answer, of course, was as touching as the answer often heard at the marriage registration office: ‘I do!’
The original aim of setting up the Lee Wai Lee Institute of Vocational Education was to nurture talents for the watch and clock industry as a token of service to the industry.
In my three years studying at Lee Wai Lee Institute of Vocational Studies, I could completely feel that I was enjoying my studies. All of the course content of the Higher Diploma in Horological Science and Technology was related to the watch and clock industry. With great patience, the instructors prepared me well for the watch and clock industry. To me, who was devoted to watches and clocks, I was particularly fascinated with movements. I was lucky that the year I graduated I teamed up with nine other classmates in modifying a Swiss-made movement and producing a case for it. We took part in the Chiang’s Industrial Scholarship and clinched the championship. Looking back, I still think that I am proud of having known the instructors and classmates back in my Lee Wai Lee days.
When you are passionate about a subject, it would lead you to a different path.
Ten years passed after graduation. Most of the time was spent on research and development work for mechanical movements, including a watch movement project organised by the Chinese University of Hong Kong. It was jointly spearheaded by the Federation of Hong Kong Watch Trades & Industries and the Hong Kong Watch Manufacturers Association, with funding sponsored by the SAR government. Later on, I also worked for a Hong Kong company that specialised in the research and development of watch movements. My work was mainly about testing, evaluating, improving and optimising new designs and parts developed through reports and suggestions. I was also lucky enough to join the development of silicone parts. It was the one and only opportunity in Hong Kong and was very hard to come by. I also worked in after-sale and staff training for one of the most expensive Swiss brands in the world. In these ten years I even had opportunities to travel to Switzerland and China to visit watch plants, movement plants, industrial instrument manufacturers as well as watch and clock school for exchanges and personal enrichment of knowledge. From these visits, I understood the essence of the watchmaking cultures of the East and the West. The experience was extremely precious.
If the watchmaking skills are mastered and developed into an industrial culture, then the Hong Kong watch and clock industry would be even more brilliant. Education is especially important.
During an exchange visit to Switzerland, I truly experienced how when a skill has taken root in a place and the locals have securely mastered it, then that skill can support the place, just like how the watch and clock industry has supported Switzerland. In the eleventh year since graduation, I founded a watch workshop with my friends, with the primary purpose of promoting the culture and education of watches and clocks. We even ran interest classes on watches because we wanted the public to know and get in touch with watches and clocks and nurture talents in the next generation. At the same time, I also became a guest lecturer at Lee Wai Lee Institute of Vocational Studies because I wished to make use of different educational platforms to make as much interaction as possible with the respected veterans and newcomers of the watch and clock industry as well as watch-lovers, so that the watchmaking culture could pass on down the generations.
Having spent more than a dozen years in the watch and clock industry, my passion for watches never receded. I even hope that one day I could create and make my own movement.
As a watchmaker, I have always dreamt of creating and making my own movement. In the process of movement making, I slowly learnt and grasped an underlying truth: timekeeping is the tao (the way). ‘Tao’ is the guiding thought in Chinese Taoism. Its origin was yin and yang, which represented the harmony of a balanced equilibrium, which ties in with the principle of mechanical movements: the parts inside the movement, whatever their size, are equally important; none can be too strong and none can be too weak; running out of sync was even out of the question. The movement itself needs equilibrium; therefore, it is an embodiment of ‘tao’. When I design a movement, I adopt the yin and yang of the Taoist school as the basic elements. I also analysed the main plate, which supposedly makes up most of the body. I practise the thinking that ‘nothing is the most important’. Yin and yang represented the start of my creations.
There has been a renewed interest in mechanical movements since 2000, with some calling it the second golden age of mechanical watches. There is an ongoing culture of independent watchmaking all around the world which emphasises on manual craftmanship and uniqueness. As the second largest market for watches in the world, Hong Kong should converge the efforts from sides, with the government pitching in its support, to train new talents for the watch and clock industry and to develop again a local research and development drive for mechanical movements, thereby activating a market for hand-made exquisite watches and clocks and forging another summit for the Hong Kong watch and clock industry.