Talk about wearing many hats. Wilson Foo is a former CEO of a Cambodian real estate development company.
The 38-year-old is also extremely proud of his Hainanese culinary roots, and in fact operated his own food and beverage outlets on the side for most of his career. Then after building terrace housing for six months, he thought he could parlay his talent for a quick foray into custom watch modding.
However, this watch fan was humbled. The watch modding industry was more complex and intricate than he had imagined. With more than 144 mod options across 13 categories, making your own bespoke timepiece is easy when you have a Seiko base.
All the same, it can be challenging when you have so many options. Like many other amateur watchmakers, many are drawn to entry level Seiko watches due to lower costs to entry and the lack of fear in the event one makes a mistake: indulging in Seiko modifications are a great way to fulfil watch appetites that might not be satisfied due to low supply and financial constraints.
With premium quality parts now available on sites like namokimods.com and luciusatelier.com, watch modding has never been more appealing, especially when trainers like Foo are happy to teach you the basics. Beginning at S$699, Foo’s Seiko Bespoke workshop differs from others in the modding community by offering a brick and mortar store in Bugis Street.
Though you’re not about to become a bonafide watchmaker from a simple class, you do get pretty close to the essentials of watch assembly: from fitting the seconds, minutes, and hour hands to the dial, fitting the dial to the case, the case insert, the watch glass and then you get to go home with your very own custom watch creation.
One of Foo’s facilitators will guide you step by step throughout the whole process. All the tools and equipment are provided and if you aren’t happy with your final creation at the end of the day, the almost meditative state you will enter as you focus your concentration through the magnifying loupe will at least take you away from your worries for a couple of hours. Augustman caught up with Wilson Foo to learn the appeal of this burgeoning new hobby.
When and how did you get into watch modding?
I remember being laid off as an expat and returning to Singapore in August 2020. I took it as a sign that perhaps a season of rest was mandated. As watch modification works centred around clarity, patience, and precision, it aligned with what I was seeking. In February 2021, the company was incorporated, and business took flight.
What drew you to the hobby?
There are three main things a man flaunts. Real estate, cars and watches. All three can be bought but only the watch provides the opportunity to be built by one’s own hands in a Singaporean context.
Most men who have advanced well in their careers will eventually own a luxury watch and a good percentage of this market group will want to advance deeper into appreciation of mechanical watches. Seiko modifications have been the dominant choice for this target market as the availability and variety of components is bar none.
Many mods tend to be variations of the famous Submariner aesthetic. Do you feel that it is lazy or acceptable?
I have to say that it is acceptable mainly because of its root cause. Rolex simultaneously created a highly desirable product and controlled its supply. Half of all my customers who mod such “homage” pieces are not budget constraint but because they are in the waiting list, which could be excruciating.
What is your favourite mod so far?
My favourite mod was derived from Seiko 5 Sports, SRPD79K1. This stealth theme model became the best-selling Seiko 5 Sports model in Singapore this year hence I decided to mod mine to give it a personal touch. One thing led to another, and it looks nothing like an original Seiko anymore.
“MOST MEN WHO HAVE ADVANCED WELL IN THEIR CAREERS WILL EVENTUALLY OWN A LUXURY WATCH AND A GOOD PERCENTAGE OF THIS MARKET GROUP WILL WANT TO ADVANCE DEEPER INTO APPRECIATION OF MECHANICAL WATCHES. SEIKO MODIFICATIONS HAVE BEEN THE DOMINANT CHOICE FOR THIS TARGET MARKET AS THE AVAILABILITY AND VARIETY OF COMPONENTS IS BAR NONE.”– WILSON FOO
Many Seiko modders are happy to work through eCommerce, what made you decide on opening Singapore’s first physical Seiko mod store?
Over time, mechanical watches have lost the significance of its function but not lost the function of its significance. Most watches are purchased with intention of celebration, gifting or memory of an important occasion in one’s life. My team and I want our clients to know that we are respectful of their possession and assurance is best given face to face. Our profit margins are way thinner than our competitors, but we are resolute with our business values.
For someone not well coordinated or steady with their hands, how would you convince them that they can still be a modder?
I would say that a pair of dexterous hands is only the tip of the iceberg. Dominant hand can be steadied further with their secondary hand coupled with breathing technique. Abstain from excessive caffeine and sugar before starting on a project. Good modification works actually has greater emphasis on the synergy of state of mind, good lightning, workbench discipline and correct tools for the job.
Right now, modified Seikos are limited by what kind of handsets, dials and cases etc are available. Some like Lucius Atelier have even gone so far as to make a “Seikonaut” case. How far do you see this hobby growing?
In the past, the true definition of Seiko mods was synonymous with extending the lifespan of the watch and upgrading purposes; changing out a dull mineral crystal for a more reflective sapphire crystal or changing out a damaged aluminum bezel insert for a more scratch resistant ceramic piece.
As 2021 came to a close, this hobby had progressed into full customised watches. In the last six months, we have conducted full custom watch workshops for more than 200 participants based purely on organic referrals. In this decade, I won’t be surprised if every custom-made watch has an option to be bundled purchase with a NFT so that buyers can wear it in the virtual world too.
Do you foresee making your own dials and cases?
No. Our niche is actually in workshops for knowledge transfer and cultivating appreciation of mechanical watches. The mid-range market for all watch related products has a historical pattern of price wars whenever there are new entrants and I do not wish to be part of it. I will continue to stake my bet on the intangibles.
What will your ultimate mod be?
My first-born child is barely four months old now. When he learns to grab items in the near future, I will place before him a large variety of mod parts for him to choose. The end result will be a fashion nightmare, but it would be entirely fun and memorable for me to piece together.
(Images: S13 Bespoke)