Red Bar, the underground society for watch lovers, finally reaches Australia

Prospective partners of anyone who declares a passion for high-end mechanical watches should be well aware, the love affair is seldom satiated by a single purchase.

No matter how enraptured your loved one may be with the horological masterpiece newly strapped to their wrist, the reality is they're probably thinking it's just one of many.

For that reason, many partners of watch lovers might be a bit anxious about with the arrival of Red Bar Group in Australia.

Likeminded fellows

Founded in New York ten years ago by former Manhattan copywriter Adam Craniotes, Red Bar is a sort of underground society for watch connoisseurs that now has chapters in 20 cities around the world, with Melbourne being one of its most recent additions.

But there's one defining attribute of Red Bar: it's not all about the bling.

"Some people like the aesthetic value of a watch and some people like the status associated with a watch," says Ernie Tang, who founded Red Bar's Melbourne chapter after meeting Craniotes in New York. "But most at Red Bar are primarily interested in the history of watches and the engineering behind them. That's what we're always talking about."

More than face value

Such was the case late last year, when members gathered at an upmarket Italian restaurant in Melbourne's Bourke Street for one of Red Bar's platinum events.

Held over a long relaxing three-course meal in a private dining room, members sat back to listen to the guest of honour Patric Zingg, managing director of Swiss/English group Graham Watchmakers.

In between courses, Zingg – an impeccably dressed Swiss man with an accent that could make a digiphile engrossed in the workings of a mechanical movement – dons a pair of white cotton gloves to handle a number of the brand's signature Chronofighter range, which retail between $7000 and $20,000.

Time and history

As part of the storytelling that is a key element of Red Bar events, he explains that the bold trigger that engages the chronograph (stopwatch) was heavily used by RAF pilots in WWII.

"When flying bombing raids over Germany and occupied territories in WWII, RAF pilots liked to wear watches with a trigger function," says Zingg. "They had to cut their engines to avoid detection and they used their watches to measure distance once they'd switched them off. A watch with a trigger was much easier to operate….Nowadays it's a feature that you either love or hate."

It's just the kind of detail that fuels great levels of excitement about mechanical watches and the historic companies that produce them. But Zingg isn't finished. The next exhibit, and highlight of the evening, is a $500,000 Graham Tourbillon Orrery Planetarian Watch. An incredible piece of watchmaking, it's unbelievably refined movement, decorated in 18K pink gold, depicts the orbit of the Earth and Mars around the Sun and even the orbit of the moon around Earth, and will do so accurately for the next 300 years (with just the one service every 100 years). Suffice to say, the mere sight of this has Red Bar members swooning in their chairs.

Target markets

By their own admission, Red Bar's members say it can get all a bit geeky, but this is a group of geeks that is very much in demand.

"Luxury watch brands and retailers pay tens of thousands of dollars to better understand their target markets, and yet here they have a concentrated group that is highly informed, highly resourced and are always focused on their next timepiece. Essentially Red Bar is exactly the market they're searching for," says Justin Hoang, Managing Director of Skycorp Branding Services, which has Red Bar Melbourne as one of its clients.

A ticket to bigger things

It's no small wonder then that Red Bar is on the radar of just about every PR company representing luxury watch brands and their distributors. And this means Ernie Tang doesn't have to ask for an invite when a luxury brand is spearing no expense on a lavish event.

Last month he was a guest of luxury watch retailer Hour Glass Australia at the Australian Open where he was introduced to tennis legend and Rolex ambassador, Rod Laver.

"He couldn't stop talking about his Rolex Datejust in yellow gold," chuckles Tang. "I hardly said a word."

Before that he was up in Sydney as a guest of Swiss luxury watch brand HYT to jump on-board a carbon fibre catamaran mid-race during the Alinghi Extreme Yacht Challenge.

Nice PR-funded work if you can get it.

Bipartisan affair

Back at the platinum event on Bourke Street, one of its first members Tom Le, a partner in a Melbourne law firm, is talking about his Rolex Kermit, the nickname given to the 50th anniversary Rolex Submariner watch due to its distinctly green bezel.

After telling me that he is married, I wonder what his wife makes of his passion. Is she a fellow watch geek or has she reconciled herself to the fact that trying to curtail it would probably be as futile as trying to stop time itself?

"My wife will not let me buy a watch that she cannot wear," says Le. "So, if you look at it that way, it's half the price."