Ronny Chieng is having a moment. The already busy stand-up comic, Crazy Rich Asians cast member, and Daily Show correspondent, appears in Marvel's Shang-Chi, which premiered earlier this month and has settled in comfortably at the top of the box-office rankings. Ronny can also currently be seen on Disney+ in Doogie Kamealoha, M.D.
While Chieng is a laugh a minute, he's serious about his watch choices – with a collection focused mainly on Rolex, Omega, and Seiko. Some of the watches came from his late father, while others were sought out as part of an enthusiast's path he credits to watching videos right here on HODINKEE.
Chieng's collection is focused on iconic models from highly regarded watchmakers, but his selections seem to veer one or two clicks away from that which is most predictable. He has two early Seiko 6139 automatic chronographs, but rather than the "Pogue," Chieng wears the "Bruce Lee." He has an Omega Speedmaster, but instead of the Moonwatch, his is the First Omega In Space. And when it came time for a travel watch, Chieng chose a GMT-Master, but rather than the "Pepsi," it's a "Root Beer."
Chieng's journey began with a humble Seiko 5, purchased online while he was in university, and progressed to his most recent purchase, the GMT-Master, with plenty of great stories along the way. This is your Talking Watches with Ronny Chieng.
Omega Speedmaster 'First Omega In Space'
Chieng purchased the Omega Speedmaster First Omega In Space not long after his arrival in the States. As we'll see throughout his collection, his decision to choose this Speedmaster variation over a more straightforward Moonwatch is part of a pattern – avoiding the norm. The First Omega In Space is based on the ref. 2998 worn by Astronaut Wally Schirra aboard the Mercury program's Sigma 7 mission. The pre-Moon variation had a smaller size of 39.7m as opposed to the Moonwatch's 42mm, and that difference is reflected in Chieng's modern tribute to the watch worn by Schirra.
The Seiko 5 is a haven for good old-fashioned, low-cost, high-value fun, and is subsequently an entry point into the world of mechanical watches for many folks. Chieng brought his Seiko 5, purchased while he was in college, to the table for our chat. We had a bit of fun talking about it, specifically the origin of its name, which isn't without a bit of controversy. Some online lists include Seiko's Diashock and Diaflex systems, but for the record, according to Seiko, the five attributes are automatic winding, a day/date display at three o'clock, water resistance, a recessed crown at four o'clock, and a durable case and bracelet [or strap]. Though you'll notice that this Seiko 5 has the crown at 3. Like many young watch fans, Chieng was drawn to the Seiko 5 by the automatic movement and found the asking price wholly reasonable.
Seiko Ref. 6139-6010 Speed-Timer Dial Variant
His next dive into the world of Seiko was quite a bit deeper. After talking with HODINKEE friend and Talking Watches alumnus Daniel Dae Kim, Chieng was connected with Nick Ferrell of DC Vintage Watches, who helped him source this black dial variation of the legendary Seiko 6139. One of the three automatic chronographs to debut in 1969, the 6139 is a classic of Japanese watchmaking that is best-known as the timepiece worn by Astronaut William Pogue into space aboard Skylab 4. But the choice of the black dial variation rather than the Pogue was informed by his admiration for the Chinese-American actor and martial-arts expert Bruce Lee, who is believed to have worn such a watch. This Speed-Timer variation was made specifically for the Japanese domestic market and features a day display in Kanji characters.
Seiko Ref. 6139-6010 'True Bruce Lee'
Further research into the watch worn by Lee, carried out by the same Nick Ferrell of DC Vintage Watches, concluded that the specific variation worn by Lee was more likely the one seen here. As such, Ferrell and collectors have taken to calling the watch the True Bruce Lee. Chieng says that much of what's known about Bruce Lee's watches comes from photos that appear on the official Bruce Lee Instagram account.
Rolex Datejust From His Father
Coming from humble origins, Chieng's father was a successful businessman working in Hong Kong by his thirties. The younger Chieng remembers this watch most from his childhood and his father. Back then, its modest 36mm size seemed huge. Later in life, after his father started running a farm, he stopped wearing the watch, and Chieng asked his dad if he could wear it. Chieng brought the enduring memory of his father to an appearance on Antiques Roadshow that aired earlier this year in which the appraiser traced its serial number to 1984. To me, a two-tone Datejust feels about as '80s as it gets.
Omega Seamaster From His Father
This Omega Seamaster came from a bag of watches that his father purchased while working in China in the '90s. Chieng says that out of the whole lot, it was the only one that he had repaired. A simple dress-sized watch with hours, minutes, seconds, and date, its dial design strikes me to be out of the early 1970s, and in fact, when Chieng brought the same watch to the celebrity edition of Antiques Roadshow earlier this year, that's where the appraiser dated the movement number to.
Rolex Submariner 'Hulk'
In the middle of the pandemic, Chieng was in Hawaii binge-watching HODINKEE videos when he decided he needed to add a Submariner to his collection, but not just any Sub would do. He'd landed a part in Marvel's Shang-Chi, and the Hulk seemed like as close a connection to the world of Marvel Comics as could be. The green-on-green Sub is an example of Chieng's penchant for choosing slightly off-beat takes on iconic watches.
Rolex GMT-Master 'Root Beer'
The funnyman's most recent pickup is the GMT-Master ref. 16753 "Root Beer," a version of the iconic Rolex made famous through its use in commercial aviation and partnership with Pan American Airlines. While working in Hawaii for six months on a television show, Chieng's apartment faced Honolulu's Pan Am Building. At this point, he was well into watches, so he quite naturally thought "Pan Am – GMT, I've got to keep track of time in New York and Hawaii." And being Ronny Chieng, he wanted a version that was a little bit less expected than a Pepsi. "This is where I've really got to stop, with this watch … I've got to stop watching HODINKEE videos, honestly."