Vintage Rolex Is What This Collector Craves

“I really like the Stellas and wear them a lot,” he said, noting that their solid enamel dials are quite delicate. The model also has dials in ultramarine blue, Kelly green and a tangerine orange, and Mr. Yong hopes to acquire all of them.

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Mr. Yong said that at one time he owned several dozen watches; now he has honed his collection to half as many.

Credit
Juliana Tan for The New York Times

“Many for sale have swapped parts,” Mr. Yong said. “It’s very hard to find originals that are not cracked. I’m taking my time to find really nice ones.”

The youngest of three sons, Mr. Yong caught his brothers’ collecting bug as a boy, first receiving a TAG Heuer from his mother and then, at age 16, a Zenith El Primero from a brother.

He started collecting vintage watches from flea markets during his studies at New York University. “With vintage, I could buy great brands on a budget,” he said. Picking up his Patek Philippe Calatrava, he noted that the older model cost a fraction of the nearly $20,000 price for a very similar modern one.

He also added that vintage watches often have 34-millimeter cases that particularly suit his small wrists.

But isn’t it easy to make mistakes when buying on the secondary market? “Have I gotten burned?” Mr. Yong said. “One hundred percent.”

He recalled the time he bought a secondhand Rolex with a fake dial. “I tried to get a refund,” he said, “but the dealer said it was a consignment where he earned a commission and couldn’t do anything — caveat emptor.”

On his wrist this particular day, the timepiece he wears most often and calls his “best value” watch: a white gold Patek Philippe 3940G Perpetual Calendar, purchased for $30,000 — before Patek replaced it with the 5140, which Mr. Yong said is one millimeter larger and retails for close to three times the price.

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Mr. Yong’s collection includes a Rolex Stella Dial Day-Date from the 1970s.

Credit
Juliana Tan for The New York Times

Now considered the family watch expert, he credits much of his knowledge to the Vintage Rolex Asylum, known to its members as V.R.A. It was founded in 2013 by serious collectors in Jakarta, Indonesia, and is now one of the world’s largest vintage Rolex collectors’…

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