Today, we’re back with our Collector’s Series column, where we leave the stage to a collector, sharing his views on one of his watches. And what a watch this is! The ultimate customization partners, this is how we could summarize this piece that results from the collaboration between BCHH and Andersen Genève. Today’s collector, Jonathan Quayle Higgins III, is a 58-year-old watch enthusiast from Germany. He has just received his fully customized Benjamin Chee Haute Horlogerie x Andersen Genève Celestial Voyager, and he’s over the moon! And he’ll explain to us what makes it so special.
Frank Geelen, MONOCHROME – We know what BCHH stands for, but for those who don’t, can you introduce the brand to us?
Jonathan – BCHH stands for Benjamin Chee Haute Horlogerie. Benjamin is an Art Aficionado from Singapore with a very broad watch knowledge. He started creating his own watches 10 years ago and he started the cooperation with Andersen Genève for the Celestial Voyager. The Celestial Voyager is created from scratch by Ben Chee. The manufacturing and the coordination of all the involved artisans is then up to Pierre-Alexandre and the team at Andersen Genève, who are making Ben Chee’s ideas and vision come true in the end. As you know, Svend Andersen himself is 80 years old now and the godfather of Indies and he’s still in the atelier in Geneva. A man of specialization, in his career of over 50 years, he only produced 1,400 watches!
It is not your everyday watch brand, I admit. I read about them first on MONOCHROME, in an article which summed up the best GMT watches for 2021. I immediately contacted Benjamin Chee himself to ask if he had any Celestial Voyagers left.
Nice to hear we inspired you! And now you bought the BCHH Celestial Voyager. What do you admire most about this model?
It’s better than any Worldtimer watch that has been created before. It has a platinum case, and then there are those gorgeous lugs! The cloissonée enamelled dial is fully customizable (and hell did I customize it!), with a real aventurine city ring on the outside, beautiful hands and on the back, you see the famous blue gold rotor. What I valued too, was the direct contact with the designer Benjamin Chee and Pierre-Alexandre from Andersen Genève, who manufactured my watch.
What was so good about the cooperation with these brands?
Benjamin Chee was totally approachable. We had many conversations about the watch in general and the possibilities for potential customization. He arranged a personal meet-up in Berlin to try out the watch in real life and to discuss the possibilities with Pierre-Alexandre (I only call him Alex), the owner of Andersen Genève, who travels on behalf of the company. Benjamin just wanted to make a very different and beautiful World Timer compared to Patek Philippe, and in my opinion, he did. Also, this is a world timer that is available, at Patek you will be put on a waiting list…
The funny thing is, most of the planning was done through Home Office, I saw a Celestial Voyager in real life first in February last year, and had a second look at it in November. On both occasions, I could wear the watch and see if the 37.8mm wasn’t too small for my wrist. It was totally perfect. But Benjamin Chee only saw the watch for the first time in November 2022. This demonstrates the level of trust and communication between the two companies.
I’d like to give you an example of the level of personal interaction with them. The first Cloisonnee Dial was damaged during printing, so they had to start all over again. Alex called and told me that he had some ideas to further improve my dial and that I’ll see those improvements on the next one.
Some weeks later, I saw a TV documentary about Lake Baikal in Russia and I called Alex, if he could incorporate Lake Baikal on my dial. He called me back some minutes later and told me “This is your lucky day as they are making the dial as we speak and Lake Baikal will be featured.
This level of communication goes far beyond what we are calling customer service!
Tell us more about the customization of your watch!
In the first conversation, Ben told me what the inspiration was for the Celestial Voyager: it was at the beginning of COVID and we all had been at home sort of locked up and he thought that it would be nice if we could travel in our minds to all those amazing places around the globes that we have been to or that we are dreaming of going to. I could totally relate to this and I started to ask questions if he could tailor my watch to my personal preferred places and he agreed.
So what customizations did he do for you?
First, he made a special Cloisonnée dial with an excerpt of the globe that would incorporate the three most important places for me: Hamburg (I’ve spent most of my life here), Hong Kong (my second home) and Bora Bora (the most beautiful place that I’ve ever been to). And he highlighted those three places with golden dots on the dial.
Then, I asked him if the Himalaya and the Alps could be highlighted in a darker tone, and if Lake Baikal could be highlighted on the map. Andersen Genève even added the Caspian Sea.
For more contrast, I also wanted the tone of the continents brighter and the tone of the deeper areas of the Oceans really dark. So that’s what they did. I pulled Alex’s leg by saying that I wanted the German Bodensee on the dial, too. Mind you, the dial diameter is only 18.3mm, look at the Himalayas and then consider the size of the Bodensee, it would be invisible! It remained a running gag between us.
Furthermore, I wanted to change several cities on the city ring tailored to my wishes, for example, Hong Kong instead of Shanghai, Wellington instead of Auckland (just because I liked that town more when I visited New Zealand), Helsinki, and Aspen had to be on it because that’s the place where I married.
There were three controversial points of discussion. Normally, Rio de Janeiro is just put on a ring as Rio, but I thought it looked much too empty between all the other, longer names. So Rio de J. (Full Janeiro would have been too long) it was. Then I chose the Bermudas instead of Bermuda, because to me it’s a group of multiple islands. And then, Bombay. It may be the old colonial name for Mumbai, but to me, it evokes romantic ideas about India. And it’s my watch!
Also, I wanted the GMT to be there as a homage to John Harrison, the godfather of Chronometry and so on. By the way, the sparkle of the Aventurine (Andersen Genève is using real Aventurine and not artificial) is mind-blowing.
And the back of the watch?
The back of the watch was tailor-made, too! I wanted the Blue Gold rotor to have the magic lozenge guilloche pattern and the colour to be really bright blue, just like the dial on Andersen’s Jumping Hours 40th watch! I have been given the chance to pick my rotor out of four proposals when I visited Andersen Genève in November 2022.
And as a special note to me and my love for French Polynesia and black Tahitian pearls, Alex from Andersen Genève made the ring around the movement in black Mother of Pearl!
Does your watch get a lot of wrist time?
I have owned the watch for 10 days now, and I have worn it every day. But now I’ve put it aside for a while because I will be participating in a video battle with a dear friend of mine, to see if his Patek Philippe Cloisonnée is better than my BCHH. I want to be sure there are no scratches when we make high-resolution close-up pictures. Otherwise, I think a watch should be worn, so I hardly have any safe queens in my collection.
Have you got any reactions from family, friends, other collectors, or complete strangers?
I’ve been on virtually every YouTube channel that I frequent. The reactions were mixed – from congratulating for having done a totally personal watch to “You are a moron spending such a ridiculous amount of money on a watch that no one knows and that you will never be able to sell.”
What’s the market value of this watch?
The current market value may be around CHF 65,000 plus taxes.
How would you describe your watch collection so far?
It’s got a strong Rolex core, a soft spot and passion for Lange, respect for IWC and a Porsche Design reissue because I feel that it is totally me.
Why is that?
I love the Porsche Design Chrono 1, because back when I was an 8-year-old boy (when the first Chrono 1 was introduced) I found it insane that someone would be willing to spend DM 725 (the same price for a Rolex Sub back then in Germany) on a watch. That was the epitome of insanity to me.
The 50 Years Re-Edition represents me in many ways: not mainstream back in the days, kind of old-fashioned from today’s standard but true to itself and still kind of cool (in my opinion of course).
Are there any more watches you would like to buy?
I have a Credor Eichi II on order and a Czapek Antarctique. One day I’d love to own a Cartier Collection Privée. And I’ll get the Andersen Genève Jumping Hour 40th one day (Blue Gold dial).
A strong taste for relatively small independent brands. Why is that?
I’ve had virtually all mainstream brands, still love some of my Rolexes but we are living in amazing times: the technological progress allows small independents doing all those crazy complications and that opens your perspective to an entirely new aspect of watchmaking. Something that you don’t get from mainstream brands!
Which other brands do you think are doing interesting work out there?
Lange & Söhne because they are so different and better than the holy Trinity and I truly love their Lange 1. In my opinion, the Lange 1 is THE iconic watch from the last 3 decades. Ferdinand Berthoud because they are a young brand initiated by a small company (Chopard) and they do totally high-end chronometry-inspired watchmaking. How can you not love that?
Greubel Forsay offers the best finishing of watches at the moment and super-crazy high-end watchmaking. Their Hand Made 1 is out of this world! Moritz Grossmann for being so different to everyone else, I like their Tremblage dials and their movement constructions and their hands are the nicest in the business. H. Moser, I love their creativity – particularly their Streamliner Chrono and the use of Vantablack.
What tips would you give other collectors who want the BCHH Celestial Voyager you possess?
Listen to your heart! If the watch speaks to you, get in touch with Ben Chee and have a chat with him. He’s an amazing person to talk to and if you pull the trigger, you can be sure that you are in the best hands with Ben and the team at Andersen Genève. The entire experience is so different to what you often hear with applications, wish lists and so on.
Do you have general tips for people who want to start collecting watches?
Search sideways from the hyped brands! There are so many watches out there that are under-appreciated and offer incredible value for the money. Try to find a local and well-qualified watchmaker. Oh, and if you buy Lange second-hand, have them check the watch in the factory (ask for an estimate).
Read, read, read. Join YouTube channels and follow the discussions there. Stay away from the drama, and listen to true watch talk which sometimes can sound boring.
Are you in touch with other collectors?
With many! Particularly since my activities on YouTube. It means a lot to me to share experiences and to get inspired to look at watches that I did not have on my radar. Besides watches, we created friendships for life and some of those friendships have been honoured in detail by my new watch.
Together with my friend Swis, I am running a tiny YouTube channel, called the Swis and Jon Show where we regularly are talking about watches in a sense that we don’t cover the mainstream brands, value retention and where to find the best deals. We focus on High Horology and Independents, things that we both genuinely love and enjoy talking about.
We sometimes appear on other watch-related channels and try to spread our love. Because of those activities, we have met many like-minded people who genuinely share our passion.