HONG KONG — Watch collectors often focus on a certain niche once they start getting serious. For some, it is all about key models of a certain maker (like Rolex Daytonas or the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak); for others, it may be a specific movement (like Patek Philippe complications).
But for Winston Koo, a Hong Kong businessman, it’s all about color — or to be precise, a lack of it.
Mr. Koo, 44, has amassed a collection of timepieces that can best be described as his “50 shades of black.” He looks for models that have black dials, black bezels, black straps — then some years ago, he narrowed his focus further to black sports models that are made of composite or modern materials like titanium, carbon, boron carbide or ceramic.
A few of his watches have slight color accents, like small splashes of red or yellow on the hands, but their appearance generally is monochromatic. “For me, the blacker the better,” Mr. Koo said. “My father has always taught me that a gentleman doesn’t need too much embellishment, just a decent watch, belt and shoes. I do a lot of sports and I have always wanted my watches to be functional and durable. I love the color black. It is actually so versatile and spiritual.”
In contrast, Mr. Koo is surrounded by exuberant color and sparkles most days. He helps to oversee his family’s business, UCP International, which makes colorful silk flowers and Christmas decorations for sale to large outlets like Target, Pottery Barn and Walmart.
“I actually started collecting watches in the early 1990s, after I returned to Hong Kong from the United States,” Mr. Koo said. “I was amazed at the variety of watches I could access through the network of retailers here. I wasn’t too focused on precious materials like gold and diamonds, but I was interested in the story behind the watchmaker, the function and the aesthetics of the model.”
Quickly amassing almost 200 pieces from brands like Rolex, IWC, Patek Philippe and Omega, Mr. Koo began focusing on ceramic and composite materials in the mid-2000s.
“It was then that modern composite materials got more popular, and I liked the durability of these models,” he said. “I want to wear the pieces I acquire, not to be precious about them, and I just started gravitating to exclusively black models because it matched my personal style.”
His first all-black piece was the IWC Doppelchronograph, one of the company’s Top Gun collection, which he purchased in 2007. “This was one of the finest pilot’s watches in ceramic,” Mr. Koo said.
He then began to cull his collection, selling more than half through auctions and to friends to make room for new acquisitions, around 50 so far.
Another of his all-black acquisitions was the IWC Ingenieur made in 2016 with boron carbide, a material used by Mercedes-Benz for their cars and considered among the toughest and most scratch-resistant materials in the world. “This is the hardest kind of ceramic and was considered a watch industry revolution,” Mr. Koo said. Although there was a long waiting list for the timepiece, he managed to get one from the IWC boutique in Geneva when a customer canceled an order.
Panerai is one of Mr. Koo’s favorite makers, and he is friends with Angelo Bonati, its chief executive. When the brand released a 2016 special edition of its black Ceramic Tourbillon that combined a six-day power reserve with water resistance to 100 meters, Mr. Koo couldn’t wait to get it — although he had Panerai create one without the word tourbillon on the dial.
“I wanted to be low key about it, and even though it’s such an amazing watch, when I turn it around and see the movement through the skeleton case, I didn’t want people to notice it right away,” Mr. Koo said. “It’s only something I need to know as the wearer.”
He likes dealing directly with a brand. “I work a lot with reputable dealers in Hong Kong but also buy direct from the manufacturers, such as JLC [Jaeger-LeCoultre] and Panerai,” Mr. Koo said. “I enjoy the personal interaction, and you understand so much more about a watch’s creative process.”
Other favorites include his black Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Diver, which Mr. Koo said he loves for its combination of a ceramic bezel with a titanium case. He bought two black versions, one accented with yellow hands and one with orange.
He also has a Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Flyback Chronograph Blancpain Ocean Commitment II, one of only 250 models commemorating the watchmaker’s support for environmental protection.
And once in a while, he lands a one-of-a-kind piece like the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor Chronograph 2, a model that Mr. Koo described as one of the best “mountaineering watches” ever created. He pointed to the red outline in the minute counter of the chronograph display, a small detail that qualifies the engraving of “piece unique” on the back of the watch.
He admits that his taste differs from some other Asian collectors, who are more attracted to fancy bling pieces that show off their wealth. “I work in the design field and I look at colors every day, so the absence of color is appealing to me,” he said. “In fact, I feel more open to the world when I am in black.”