Lim also shares his family company’s long links to the world of watches and his special relationship with the Malaysian market.
Options: Congratulations on Cortina managing the beautiful new street-façade Patek Philippe boutique at the JW Marriott Hotel Kuala Lumpur. Tell us more about the space and what it will offer watch connoisseurs.
Jeremy Lim: Thank you. Cortina Watch and Patek Philippe have come a long way since the opening of our first boutique at Suria KLCC in 2013. Patek Philippe is a brand that has always been at the forefront of horological innovations. With this second Patek Philippe store, we continue the legacy of bringing the finest timepieces to our horological connoisseurs in Malaysia.
We are truly excited about this boutique, as it is an architectural marvel that pays homage to Patek Philippe’s tradition and innovation. The façade is astonishingly beautiful, made especially for its prime location in Jalan Bukit Bintang. It stands majestically over 9.6m in height, and the design is based on the brand’s emblematic Calatrava cross, creating an artistic, recurring motif. It reveals a different expression by day and by night with the effect of the LED backlit glass wall which illuminates the monogram. Inside the boutique, the exclusive exhibition corner kit features the brand’s historical milestones, capturing its legacy in innovations and technical excellence.
Our journey with Patek Philippe has been close-knit for nearly 60 years, and that is another story to tell, between Philippe Stern and my father, Anthony Lim, which I will leave for now. In 2022, Cortina Watch will be celebrating our 50th anniversary and with this, I am also very pleased to hint we have exciting plans coming up with Patek Philippe.
The external clock hanging outside is particularly interesting. What’s the story behind it?
This is the first-ever clock Patek Philippe has installed in Southeast Asia. The external clock is based on the 5396G Annual Calendar Moon Phase launched in 1996, a collection that has always been well-loved by our connoisseurs in Malaysia.
How has the pandemic affected demand for timepieces?
We see watchmaking brands restrategising their brand communications and refocusing on signature collections or product line-ups with higher commercial values. And these new directives have proven to be sound, as reported by the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry. During the first five months of 2021, the value of Swiss watch exports fell very marginally by 3% below the comparable pre-pandemic period of 2019.
Watches are often, and still, perceived as good investments. The market is good for haute horlogerie timepieces, particularly for Patek Philippe, where demand surpasses supply. The love for the brand has grown exponentially, but what did not help was that supply was getting affected by the temporary shutdowns of the manufacture when Covid-19 hit Switzerland. There was also the persistent issue of supply chain disruptions. It will take time to make time. Patek Philippe watches are manufactured with delicate craftsmanship and innovations. It is definitely not just a simple game of catching up with demand. For now, it may take relatively longer to own a Patek Philippe, but we promise you it is going to be worth the wait.
What lessons did the pandemic teach you?
One of the most trending headlines nowadays is “this pandemic has accelerated digital transformation”, and I could not agree more. When it comes to the luxury retail business we are in, we have to learn to embrace this change. Patek Philippe has improvised from tradition and started to digitally launch its key novelties over an intermediate period this year. The brand made several launches spread across various collections, with the latest additions ranging from Twenty~4, Nautilus, Calatrava and Calendars, Aquanaut, Rare Handcrafts and Chronograph.
Likewise, Cortina Watch took this period to improve our back-office technical system processes and run heavy on training via Zoom webinars. It is important for our sales specialists to be able to provide good service, and we pride ourselves on being able to share watch knowledge with our clientele. These are fundamentals that solidify the Cortina Watch customer experience, and crafting the “right” retail environment will remain our key focus.
Our communications and engagements have adopted what I believe to be a good balance of both tradition and digital that helps to establish the customer’s journey. During the Movement Control Order, we improvised our retail reach from in-store to online, introducing our “In-conversation” webinar series where we invited brands to share their thoughts and forward strategies. We wanted to ensure we are putting something different on the table for our clients, and we are grateful to our partners for being so candidly transparent during these webinars. It was not only great to digitally meet everyone again, but also a joy to hear them find the series both insightful and interesting, with some even asking for more.
Cortina Watch has lived through several situations over the past 50 years, such as SARS and the Asian financial crisis. While systems, training and digitalised communications prepare us to move toward the new norm, I believe the people who stand behind our brand are the key reason we have persevered.
Did the pandemic change the way you live and work?
Without a doubt. Technology has replaced the usual business travel and even social activities with friends and family. There has been a spike in the number of video meetings we have to attend day to day and, slowly, you realise there’s no clear line drawn between work and family time as e-meeting schedules start to stretch through the evenings. The new norm is still evolving; the quicker we can catch on and adapt ourselves on the retail front, the more first-mover advantages we will be able to gain. Countries are in phases to recovery, and that is a positive development. I reckon it will take two more years for the global economy to propel itself back to pre-pandemic levels and for businesses to re-stabilise in their new form.
Which tech tools proved the most useful to you during the past two years and why?
I am usually a desktop person; now my laptop is always by my side. I have also invested in a good pair of earplugs and a speaker to support all the video meetings.
Where are you looking forward to travelling to most once the world looks safe again and why?
A seaside resort, either the Maldives or Bali, with my loved ones.
How do you stay calm, focused and relaxed during this tumultuous time?
By cycling or golfing.
What are you reading and listening to now and why?
I am not particularly into music. Apart from the daily business news feed, I do enjoy reading up on things using Wikipedia. It provides a good base understanding of any topic that I want to read for the day.
Describe a perfect Singapore weekend for you.
It would start with my cycling session on a Saturday morning, followed by a neat brunch with my wife Cheryl and the kids before heading out to meet my close friends in the night. On Sunday, I could do with a golf game in the afternoon, finishing the weekend with some quality family time with my parents.
This article first appeared on Dec 13, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.