Collector Lung Lung Thun On Breaking Into The Boys' Club Of Watches
It’s 2012, and the 23-year-old is hot off yet another spending spree. In the boot of her car are several unopened shopping bags from similar splurges. She comes to a stop light and bursts into tears. “I was buying so much and just couldn’t understand why,” she tells me over gin and tonics at Hong Kong’s The Upper House hotel. “I felt really empty and wasn’t satisfied at all. I was feeling super unfulfilled.”
Now 31, Thun is crushing it as a successful financier who manages her own securities brokerage. Crackling with energy, she wears a moss-green jumpsuit that ties around the waist. Yellow gold bangles light up her wrists alongside an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Openworked Double Balance Wheel. It’s hard for me to believe that Thun, who is so sweet and self-assured, is the same woman that she describes from 2012. “In that very moment, as I sat there in that car, I made a mental note to always remember that buying things won’t make me happy. And that I can live without all that extra stuff.”
Born to a Malaysian father and a Taiwanese mother, Thun grew up in Singapore, where she attended an international school. Surrounded by teenage girls who were obsessed with boys and make-up, she became more self-conscious, a feeling that lasted well into early adulthood. “I thought: ‘Maybe I’m just weird and need to change myself in order to fit in.’” She began buying designer bags and shoes, but still felt like an outsider. “I’d tell myself: ‘You know why you feel this way? It’s because you don’t have a Birkin.’ So, I went and bought myself an Hermès Birkin. I remember opening the box and trying it on and thinking: ‘I just don’t feel anything.’”
A visual explosion of glitz and glamour, deep down Thun’s a tomboy. An only child, she spent her childhood playing rough and tumble with her male cousins. She loves sports and playing video games, but watches are what really caught her eye. She recalls flicking through pages of high-society magazines, including Tatler, which her mother would leave around their home. Instead of drooling over the jewellery, Thun swooned over the watches.
She bought her first serious timepiece, a Chanel J12, in 2010 after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in business from Warwick University. In retrospect, the J12 was, for her, a mistake. “I had no clue what I was doing,” she admits. “I liked it, but I didn’t feel that it was a true reflection of my personality. I felt like a fraud wearing it.”
When people first meet me, they think: ‘Oh, she just likes pretty things.’ But my watches really mean something to me
— Lung Lung Thun
Over the next several years, Thun bought dozens of watches in a bid to figure out what she wanted—and who she is. “At one point I had every Rolex Daytona in every colour.” She seems nervous and hesitates, perhaps wondering whether she’s already said too much. “Honestly, a part of me is super embarrassed about how outrageous I was.” For many collectors, watches are a status symbol but, for a long time, they represented a dark part of Thun’s life, as she struggled to recover from a romantic break-up and move past her feelings of self-doubt.
Opening up about her struggle to find happiness has made Thun stronger. She moved to Hong Kong in 2016 and has become one of the city’s most respected and knowledgeable watch collectors. She wears two of her Audemars Piguet wristwatches for Tatler’s photoshoot: a Royal Oak Frosted Gold “Carolina Bucci”; and a Royal Oak Openworked Double Balance Wheel.
She bought the latter after visiting the watchmaker’s factory in Le Brassus, Switzerland, in 2018. On the trip, she was asked to describe her dream timepiece. “I told them it would be yellow or white gold, with an openworked double balance wheel, measuring about 37 mm.” A few weeks later, Audemars called to tell Thun that the very model she had described had just been made. She, of course, had to buy it.
Thun also owns pieces by Patek Philippe, Richard Mille and A Lange & Söhne, including an extremely rare Datograph Flyback. Made from 18-karat pink gold, the handsome dial comes with an oversized date display. Thun had its brown alligator strap replaced with a playful sky-blue version that has a hot pink underside. Also among her favourites is an old-school Seiko pendant watch made from yellow gold that’s shaped like a sphere. More recently, she acquired Cartier’s vintage Tortue Monopusher Chronograph CPCP Ref 2396B.
Thun enjoys watch-spotting on Instagram and regularly posts pictures of her collection using the handle @lunglungthun. “When people first meet me or visit my profile, they assume my watch collecting is very superficial,” she says. “They look at my feed and see how I dress and think: ‘Oh, she just likes pretty things.’ But my watches really mean something to me. They’ve helped me find myself.” That being said, being a woman in a traditionally masculine watch world isn’t easy. “A lot of guys would send me messages online saying: ‘You’re a woman! How can you afford this stuff?’”
The joke’s on them—misogynistic comments like these have spurred Thun to break her silence and encourage more women to get involved in watch collecting. “As women, we’re always told that there are limited spaces for us as at the top.” She leans forward. “That’s simply not true. And we should be working to build each other up, rather than tear each other down.”
See also: 5 Minutes With Fine Jewellery Designer Deborah Pagani
- Photography Stephanie Teng