When Singapore-born Soon Boon Chong, 42, or Boon as he’s more affectionately known in the industry, first took on a marketing role at Corum in 2012, he didn’t expect that he’d become a key player in the acquisition of Corum by the Citychamp Watch and Jewellery Group Limited (previously China Haidian Holdings Limited). Nor did he fully realise that his career was about to accelerate beyond his expectations.
“It was in 2012 when Corum, then owned by the Severin Wunderman Group trust, began to look for a buyer. This was necessary due to limitations put in place by Severin before his passing in 2008. The following year, then CEO Antonio Calce revealed to me that there was a Hong Kong buyer who was interested in acquiring Corum,” recounts Soon. Proficient in Mandarin, Cantonese and French, Soon was involved in all meetings with Hon Kwok Lung, chairman of Citychamp Watch and Jewellery Group.
Hon himself has a long association with Corum, which led to his desire to acquire the company. In the early days of his career, he successfully brokered a deal in Singapore with an Indonesian property developer and received a Corum Golden Bridge as a thank you gift for his diligence. His vision for Corum is simple: to remain an exclusive boutique watchmaker, producing between 6,000 to 8,000 watches a year, and retain its avant-gardist approach to watch design and development.
After the acquisition was concluded, Corum faced a series of management changes, and a number of CEOs passed through the company. In the end, Hon decided that it was best to return the company’s management to its founding roots. Since Corum is a homophone of the word ‘quorum’, a collective of three individuals were selected to lead the brand. All executive decisions would be made in agreement or by vote, and the collective would report to the board of directors. Soon was handpicked to be a member of the collective as its Global Director of Sales and Marketing. In this role, he also becomes the first Singaporean to be placed in charge of a Swiss watch brand. Two other individuals, Yeznig Maghdessian and Maxime Ranzoni, manage company operations and finance and human resources, respectively.
In the last few years, they focused on the first part of Hon’s vision: to keep Corum an exclusive brand. Older references that were discontinued were removed from markets, while the number of references were streamlined. The existing collection was divided into five key pillars, and structured into perennial products, limited editions and special models. As that was being accomplished, they started work on the second part of the company’s directive: creating avant-garde watch designs.
Enter Corum’s 2021 novelties. They are bold, and from the sounds of collector and retailer interest, commercially successful. The limited-edition monochromatic titanium Admiral 42 is all but sold out. The new Golden Bridge Automatic features a new galet-style sapphire crystal case rendering the movement visible from all angles. And the highlight of the year, the Admiral 45 Openworked Flying Tourbillon, is housed in a carbon fibre and gold case that’s inspired by the jet-black sky littered with stars that you’d see if you were sailing in the middle of the ocean. There’s also a special edition Bubble watch – a modern re-imagining of the first Bubble skull watch, now in luminescent X-Ray style.
The new Golden Bridge Automatic, which features a double curved and domed sapphire crystal, is particularly outstanding. The carbon fibre case of the Admiral 45 Openworked Flying Tourbillon, moulded with flecks of white and rose gold embedded within, is both eye-catching and innovative. There are many more details within these models that have been carefully thought out by Corum’s team, such as the soft-touch alligator leather straps that add sophistication to the watches or the enlarged crown on the Golden Bridge, for easier operation. “We’ve really plotted out all these things by starting from the basics and taking things one step further, to create watches that are not expected,” says Soon.
If 2020 was a year of steadying guardianship for Corum, 2021 starts an era of forging ahead. The global pandemic required the brand to make many difficult decisions, including having to let go of some staff and restructure the organisation thoroughly. It also consciously chose not to celebrate its many milestones, such as the 65th anniversary of its founding to the 60th anniversary of the Admiral, the 40th anniversary of the Golden Bridge as well as the 20th anniversary of the Bubble.
“There were many more developments we’d created for the anniversaries intended for 2020, but we decided to shelve them and move on because these milestones are over and for us, looking towards the future is far more enticing than reminiscing about our history. We didn’t want to be restrained by these dates; we’re focused on continuing to build avant-garde designs for the brand,” says Soon. However, if you look hard enough, there are hints of Corum’s respect for its past within the new creations: on the three-minute counter of the Admiral 45 Openworked Flying Tourbillon, for example, three hands in red, white and black represent the brand’s three historical founders: René Bannwart, Gaston Ries and his niece, Simone Ries.