Mark Cho, Co-Founder of The Armoury, on His Massive 66-Watch Auction

IMAGE COURTESY

Welcome to Dialed In, Esquire's weekly column bringing you horological happenings and the most essential news from the watch world since March 2020.

It was said once by some wag in the rich world of collecting expensive vintage wristwatches that a true collector cries when he buys, not when he sells. For Mark Cho, co-founder of men’s clothing store The Armoury York and co-owner of the brand Drake’s, emotions might be a little more conflicted. He’s selling, through the auctioneers at Phillips (alongside watch auction superstars Bacs and Russo), almost his entire collection of fine watches.

The auction, devoted exclusively to Cho’s collection, just kicked off and runs until December 6. It features 66 watches Cho has collected over the past decade and a half, as his businesses grew. Many of them, from icons by extremely well-known brands to more obscure offerings, showcase Cho’s taste for pieces on the dressier side of the spectrum. At a time when tastes in serious collecting are shifting away from the somewhat predictable tool watch in favor of things that are a little more elevated, refined, and precious, the assortment feels especially timely.

Trends aside, Cho is selling his painstakingly nurtured collection deliberately and for a very sound reason. “It’s a surreal feeling but it’s good,” he tells me from Hong Kong. “I love my watches, but I love The Armoury more, and the sale will allow me to look into developing the business still further."

Cho’s business is tailored menswear with a traditional vibe, yet his customers in Hong Kong and New York (where he has just opened a new second store uptown on 69th Street) are far from the crusty old duffers one once associated with the high-end gentleman’s outfitter. Instead, they tend to be the young cognoscenti, guys who choose to dress that way precisely because it is no longer the norm. These are men with contemporary savvy, who know all about Japanese tailoring brand Ring Jacket, Italian trouser specialist Pommella Napoli, or Cho’s fellow Hong Kong maker Ascot Chang—just three of the refined roster of brands Cho has championed and collaborated with in his stores. But look deeper, and you’ll also find unusual and often hard-to-find brands like Tokyo’s the Real McCoy’s a purveyor of remakes of authentic military Americana.

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I asked Mark to pick out three highlights from his 66 lots. “Easy,” he said. “The first would have to be my very first Rolex, an Explorer Ref. 114270 [lot 8012; estimate: approx. $4,000-$6,500]. Then there’s Japanese watchmaker Naoya Hida [lot 8015; estimate: approx. $9,000-$13,000], with whom I’ve collaborated on a number of special editions for the Armoury”.

And, as every serious collector knows, a good watch usually comes with a good story in tow. “My third choice,” explains Cho, “would be my F.P. Journe Octa Divine in pink gold [lot 8008; estimate: approx. $26,000-$51,000]. After I got it, I put it in for a service with Journe. To my horror, when they examined it, it turned out that it had previously been stolen from the Journe boutique. Technically, it was the property of the insurers who had paid out for the robbery. But it all had a silver lining; as a result, I built a great relationship with FP Journe and, with their help, eventually managed to buy the watch back with a clean bill of ownership.”

Cho’s F.P. Journe watch.

Photo by COURTESY.
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To access the auction, and—why not?—bid on some of Mark’s prized pieces, go through his own site, which links to the Phillips page but features his own photography and storytelling about his watches, or go directly to Phillips. Even if you’re just gawking, it’s well worth the visit.

FromEsquire US

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Nick Sullivan
Nick Sullivan is Creative Director at Esquire, where he served as Fashion Director from 2004 until 2019. Prior to that, he relocated from London with his young family to Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. He has styled and art directed countless fashion and cover stories for both Esquire and Big Black Book (which he helped found in 2006) in exotic, uncomfortable, and occasionally unfeasibly cold locations. He also writes extensively about men's style, accessories, and watches. He describes his style as elegantly disheveled.
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