Confessions of a watch serviceman: 'Some don't know their family heirlooms are fakes'
Staring at hundreds of tiny watch parts on his workbench, the last thing Mr Goh Seng Moh wants to do is sneeze.
After all, losing parts can mean thousands of dollars in damages.
Even the noise and clatter of Tanjong Katong Complex does not faze the 57-year-old watchmaker, who works alone at his shop, K-2 Watch Company.
Peering through his magnifiers, he surgically dissembles a customer's old Rolex, cleans and oils each part, and then puts it back together again within minutes.
A passionate horologist, Mr Goh loves his job. He says: "This is like playtime for me. Not many people can say they can play at work and get paid for it."
He first learnt his skills by tinkering around with complicated mechanical watches, together with his elder brother.
It was his late father's way of keeping him disciplined, since plenty of patience and focus is needed to take apart a watch and put it back.
"At that time, my father would look at my work and decide whether I passed or failed. I failed 10 per cent of the time," he said in Mandarin.
"Watchmaking is not easy to learn and it took me a long time."
Mr Goh says he is part of Singapore's watchmaking royalty - his father was a co-worker of master Lee Seo Choon, a prominent watchmaker who trained many other local masters.
The name Seo Choon still carries significant weight among watch aficionados here. Several reputable watch dealers in Singapore can trace their lineage back to Mr Lee.
Since then, Mr Goh has carved his own niche repairing vintage watches, starting his company in 1984.
Barely larger than an office cubicle, the shop seems like a mess from the outside as his things are packed tightly in shelves and cabinets.
But Mr Goh says there is a certain order to the chaos.
"I am a one-man show, so I have to be very organised or else things will go missing," he says.
The most expensive piece he repaired is a Jaeger-LeCoultre watch worth more than $10,000.
Because watches can be pricey and delicate, finding a good watchmaker is a matter of trust.
He does not advertise, relying on word-of-mouth to rake in business.
Mr Goh can entertain around 20 to 30 requests each day, working from 1 to 9pm every day, taking only half a day off on weekends.
Everything he does has to be recorded meticulously on pen and paper to prevent customers from accusing him of fraud.
He recalls one incident when a Rolex owner accused him of stealing the links off his watch bracelet.
Mr Goh says: "Luckily I had made sure to count all the links before I started work on the watch, and it was all properly documented.
"It turns out that it was the customer's wrist which grew fatter."
He reveals that many customers often have no idea that their precious family heirlooms are imitations. He has to be their bearer of bad news.
"To help them save face, I sometimes choose not to tell the customer that their watch is a fake," he said.
"Some imitations are done so well that it can be quite hard to tell, but when I take a closer look at the materials used, I can tell."
SECRETS OF THE TRADE
- To keep a steady hand, you must have good fitness and stamina. You cannot be quivering after your 30th watch repair job.
- Be honest and charge based on part costs and workmanship, not the price of the watch or how wealthy your customers are.
- If you accidentally damage your customer's watches, make sure you pay for it. It is better to lose money than to ruin your reputation.