Melbourne – Part IV
(Continued – Part 2)
by foie gras
Jas and Ms. Jas
Jason is primarily responsible for organizing Melbourne watch collectors into a cohesive group, meeting regularly for an evening of watch appreciation and companionship every 4 to 6 weeks. We all know Jason on Timezone as Jas. In his mid 20s, Jason has progressed rapidly as a watch collector, purchasing no less than 6 collectible watches in the last year. Just before my arrival, Jas quit his job, to prepare for a 2 month visit to Cyprus, where he will participate soon as a volunteer with his better half, Helen, in an archeological dig on the Greek portion of this Mediterranean island.
Jas and Helen have been close friends for 4 years, dating back to University days. They are inseparable. Jason’s watch collection includes an IWC Mark XII, an IWC Aquatimer, a Minerva Pythagore, an Omega Speedmaster Pro, and a couple of Rolexes. Helen wears Jas’ Rolex Sub, and in spite of the size, it suits her well. Helen and Jas seem to me the perfect couple, complimentary in virtually every respect. They are two of the nicest, most accommodating people I have ever been privileged to meet, chauffeuring me around Melbourne, showing me the sights, and serving as perfect hosts. I’m sure they got bored with me at times, but they never showed it!!
Jason’s father, Gilbert, runs Melbourne’s finest restaurant, the Flower Drum, regarded by many as the finest restaurant in all of Australia.
Seated left to right are Jas’ brother Michael, Helen, Jas, Foie; standing are Matwat and Gilbert. Michael, a practitioner of the martial arts, wears a huge black plastic G-Shock. Oh well, every family has a plastic watch-wearer!! Michael has had nice watches in the past, but they do not last long!
During the evening I was privileged to eat at Flower Drum, I enjoyed, beyond question, one of the ten best meals I have eaten in my entire life, including many of the best 3-star Michelin restaurants in France. We ate many wonderful dishes, including (1) Lightly grilled whiting with capsican; (2) Crab curry custard; (3) Peking Duck; (4) Beef with blackbean sauce and vegetables; (5) Shanghai Noodles; (6) Mango Crepes; (7) Fried Ice Cream; and (8), Almond Soup. These dishes were accompanied with fine Australian wines selected by the sommalier.
I also had the great pleasure to take a peak in the kitchen; I have never before seen such a professional operation. 28 cooking staff, all recruited from Canton or Hong Kong, all dressed up in whites, working in a huge kitchen, many workers with specialization in specific types or styles of cooking. There are many more kitchen workers than wait staff in this restaurant. Gilbert is known for his slavish devotion to FRESHNESS. No ingredient sits around in his refrigerators for more than a day or two; if it is not used by then, it is tossed out or given to the kitchen help. This is Chinese food as art; this is the meal you wished you ate after your last visit to a fine Chinese restaurant. But if you want to eat here, better reserve far in advance of your visit! Most days, the restaurant is fully booked weeks in advance!
On the day of my departure, I had the opportunity to spend a few hours at Jas’ house, speaking with Jas’ dad, Gilbert. He is a person of consummate wisdom, who has learned his trade through the school of hard knocks. Serving the customer is his all-consuming obsession. He would be successful at anything, because he listens to people and gives them what they want, if this can in anyway be done. Watching him make the rounds in his restaurant the night before showed me the depth of his talent. If anything, even the slightest thing, is wrong, he will pick it up before the customer even perceives that he is dissatisfied, and the “problem” is solved before the customer knew there was a problem. Gilbert is a perfectionist, and a very gracious individual, as is his wife. And one can readily see that a lot of them has rubbed off on their son, Jas. I hope to eat in Gilbert’s restaurant again, soon.
Matwat, pictured to the left of Jas, is one of those people who “grows” on you. Half-Chinese and half-European, he looks almost Italian, but if you look closely you can imagine the Chinese part. Quiet by nature, at first you almost don’t even notice he is there. But little by little you pick up on the charm, the grace, and the very subtle dry sense of humor that shortly has you ready to roll on the floor ! Matt works in the Information Technology (computing) department of a large Australian company involved in mining and resource extraction. He is a very neat dresser, wearing fine designer suits. Recently, he diverted enough money from his clothing budget to buy his first ultra fine watch, a JLC Master Control Grand Taille, which suits him very well. Matt lives in his own apartment, one of the major features of which is his computer, always logged on to Timezone.
Jas and Matwat met through Timezone. Jas took the first step, trying to arrange a meeting with Matt, who assumed initially that Jas must be some kind of weirdo for wanting to meet him. Although he was reluctant to make contact at first, Matt and Jas have become fast friends. Although they have only known each other for little more than half a year, on my visit I would have sworn they knew each other since childhood.
Shonie Herbath, owner of Armadale Watch Gallery, is pictured with his lovely wife Georgia, who also works in the shop, in both of the above pictures. I knew Shonie and Georgia before my trip, having purchased 5 watches from Shonie during the last year. Following a lifelong interest in fine watches, Shonie opened his present store location in Melbourne seven years ago (www.watchgallery.com.au). Although he deals primarily in vintage watches, including many high-end timepieces of recent vintage, he is periodically offered new watches for sale from various sources, and is also an authorized Jaeger Le Coultre dealer. Although his international clientele was already well developed before he recently became active on the Internet, his entry into “electronic commerce” has resulted in a veritable explosion in the depth and breadth of his business. Every transaction I’ve ever had with Shonie has been a delight, for he is both extremely ethical and hilarious, usually at the same time!!
Before my arrival Shonie and Georgia insisted on taking me out for dinner. We did this early on in my visit at a very fine restaurant near to my hotel, and I was thoroughly charmed by the both of them. Shonie insisted on ordering a horrendously expensive bottle of “Grange Hermitage” wine, which I think cost more than his total profit on all the watches he’s ever sold me!! Shonie also shares my passion for daily exercise, and every morning of my visit he accompanied me on an 8 to 12 km. brisk walk, either along the beach, on the banks of a the Yarra River, or in the local park. Shonie knows Melbourne well, as only a lifelong resident can. And he laces this knowledge with a keen sense of humor which kept me laughing almost continuously!!
Philip Gore is a true gentleman, and someone I would encourage you to meet. Dealing only in vintage watches, he is one of the few watch dealers anywhere who is also a working watchmaker himself, servicing the watches he sells from his own inventory. His business is located in both Melbourne and Ferntree Gully (www.ftgwatch.com.au). Phil was one of the very first watch dealers I ever had the pleasure to do business with, having been recommended to me by several prominent Timezoners. His area of interest is vintage watches from the 1950s and older, with a particular interest in old militaries, Tudors, and Rolexes. I’ve personally purchased at least 4 watches from him, all vintage militaries, and two old watches I bought from other dealers are currently in his capable hands for servicing.
Having dealt with Philip on the Internet, and occasionally by telephone, I wanted to meet him in person. We arranged to meet for lunch in Melbourne, with Jas and Shonie (an old friend) also in attendance. Phil showed me the two old military watches I had sent him for servicing which were almost ready for him to ship back to me in Idaho. They were barely recognizable to me. What had been old and tired was now new and polished!! Their return will give me something to look forward to at the end of my voyage. Phil will prove to you that it is not necessary to have lots of money to own fine watches. Almost everything he sells is inexpensive by modern standards. At any given time he will have numerous wonderful watches for sale well below $1000 USD. And his watches are as described; if anything, he underrates his watches, so you will be pleasantly surprised!
Ben is a Patek collector par excellence. I first met Ben at the Melbourne watch collectors’ meeting (detailed below), and then made a special effort to meet him a couple of days later, with the help of Jas and Matwat. Ben is the general manager of a large multinational company headquartered in Malaysia, manufacturing pewter tankards and other items. His primary interest is Patek Philippe watches, of which he tends to own about 3 at any given time. Currently he wears a PP Aquanaut for daily wear. Ben doesn’t keep any watch for more than a year. He tries to buy watches at very advantageous prices, reselling them, often for a profit, after a short period of ownership.
After even a brief conversation, I was very impressed with Ben’s knowledge of watches and his sense of humor. He knows the ins and outs of the watch market, and tries to avoid buying watches he believes will be difficult to resell later. I solicited his opinion on a couple of Pateks, and feel his advice was well worth heading.
Ben and Jas took me to Monards, the local Melbourne high end new watch store, with a very large range of watches available on display and for sale. We talked with Stephen Fung, the owner of the shop, who was most accommodating in showing me the range of Patek Philippe watches for sale. Although I did not buy a watch on my visit, I would certainly consider doing so in the future.
TO PART THREE OF ARTICLE