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Sincere Fine Watches' Kate Lim on her new role

Audrey Simon
Audrey Simon • 13 min read
Sincere Fine Watches' Kate Lim on her new role
As the granddaughter of Anthony Lim, the founder of Cortina Watch, and the daughter of Raymond Lim, CEO of Cortina Holdings, Kate Lim is part of a renowned family (Pictures: Sincere)
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Kate Lim has recently been appointed regional general manager at Sincere Fine Watches, a position she stepped into as the company celebrates a milestone, its 70th anniversary. As part of this celebration, Sincere Fine Watches is bringing back the Sincere Watch Academy, now known as The Horology Lab, to cultivate a space that reveres and values the artistry of horology. 

As the granddaughter of Anthony Lim, the founder of Cortina C41 -

Watch, and the daughter of Raymond Lim, CEO of Cortina Holdings, she is part of a renowned family. In 2021, Cortina Holdings acquired Sincere Fine Watches, ushering in a new era of growth and innovation.

This acquisition has paved the way for ambitious ventures, including the Sincere Haute Horlogerie (SHH) concept boutique, which leverages Sincere’s expertise in sourcing and offering premium timepieces. Founded in 1954, Sincere Fine Watches has a reputation for selecting a distinguished collection of exceptional timepieces, and these recent developments signal an exciting future for the company.

Lim understands the gravity of her new role and acknowledges her grandfather’s profound passion for the business in its early days. Witnessing her father’s generation’s relentless dedication, she recognises the significance of her contribution as a third-generation member.

Her decision to take on this responsibility was not sparked by a singular event, but rather by a gradual accumulation of experiences and a deep appreciation for her family’s commitment to building a successful business.

Before this, she was the regional operations manager, responsible for ensuring the smooth running of Taiwan and Hong Kong operations. With over six years of experience in the watch retailing business, she has garnered extensive knowledge about the industry. 

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After hosting a live Facebook event, Lim remains calm as she takes a moment from her hectic schedule to chat with Options about her responsibilities and growing up in the family business.

What are your top priorities as you enter this new regional general manager role at Sincere Fine Watches?

The immediate project I have to handle is the regional projects, like the 70th-anniversary campaign. We also hope to extend that campaign to the other regions in which we are present.

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One of the efforts we are currently undertaking is to live-stream our programmes in Singapore. Additionally, we are uploading a lot of content online to assist other regions in reaching out to their customers.

Apart from the 70th-anniversary project, we have other regional campaigns, such as the SHH. We have opened our SHH concept in Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Thailand. It is crucial to maintain a consistent marketing message across these countries. Therefore, we are putting in a lot of effort here to create materials that all regions can use to ensure consistency. 

Regarding staff training and standard operating procedures, everything needs to be aligned and consistent. This is where I step in to enforce that and identify areas for improvement. Lastly, I aim to go deeply into each country to understand and implement the best practices.

I always believe that just because we are the headquarters does not mean we have all the answers. I strive to adopt the best practices from each country and implement them uniformly across the board because every country is unique, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. 

Given your age and the centuries-old tradition of watches, how do you plan to engage and attract a younger audience to the timepiece industry?

I have noticed that many of the younger collectors I’ve encountered, some even in their twenties, are incredibly passionate about watches and high-end watchmaking. Their knowledge is quite impressive; they have absorbed a wealth of information from digital platforms.

As a company, it’s important for us to enhance our approach and connect with this younger generation through digital channels, which we have gradually implemented over the years. As retailers, we remain rooted in the brick-and-mortar business.

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This traditional setup is crucial because, as I experienced today, some collectors mention that a watch can look very different in person. Trying it on the wrist can also reveal variations in sizing, making a physical shop essential for the tactile experience. 

The key challenge is ensuring a smooth transition from online platforms to the physical store. We are putting in substantial effort to engage the younger generation effectively. While their first interaction may be online, we aim to attract them to our physical stores.

This approach allows us to connect with the new generation, and it’s interesting how many of them are intrigued by the rich history and heritage of watches. The value lies not just in the physical timepiece but in the stories, the artistry, and the craftsmanship passed down over decades or even centuries, which continues to be a cornerstone of the watchmaking industry.

You mentioned the live-stream as one avenue to reach the younger generation. Are you looking at other ways too?

Certainly, perhaps some new collectors might feel slightly intimidated about attending an event where they perceive a high presence of experienced collectors. They may feel hesitant to participate in such a setting. This is why we offer live-streaming sessions where they can actively engage with us, leave comments, and take part in Q&A sessions at the end.

We believe that this setup provides a welcoming platform for new collectors who may initially feel a bit reserved, allowing them to observe the event environment and potentially be motivated to join us for live events in the future. Even if they choose not to attend, they can still benefit significantly from the informative content provided in the videos.

At what point in your life did you realise your future role within the company, and what inspired or influenced this realisation?

I am the eldest granddaughter in my family, making me the oldest among my generation. I have been involved in the family business since its inception. Today, at the age of 36, I vividly recall being present during the company’s 50th-anniversary celebration a couple of decades ago.

I experienced the early days of the business firsthand, where both my father and grandfather were very hands-on. I have fond memories of accompanying my father in his car every evening as he personally closed each shop. This was a time before the advent of technology and advanced security systems, requiring a lot of manual work. I must have been less than 10 years old at that time, and I enjoyed those outings, especially knowing that I would get an ice-cream treat afterwards.

From those early days, I witnessed the deep passion my grandfather had for the business, along with my grandmother’s participation too. Moving on to my father’s generation, the unwavering passion, commitment and dedication continued. Observing what they had painstakingly built and the challenges they faced, I felt a strong desire to contribute and carry forward that legacy. As a third-generation member, I recognised the importance of stepping in. There wasn’t a distinct moment that spurred this decision; rather, it was a culmination of continuous exposure and witnessing the immense passion they all shared.

What were the typical discussions like at the family dinner table in relation to the business, and how did they impact your understanding and involvement in the company?

This question is one I get asked a lot. Our family dynamic is not what you might see on TV dramas, where my grandfather would interact with everyone enquiring about the business. In reality, it was quite different. Much of my exposure to business matters occurred away from the dinner table, as I lived with my grandparents from a young age until I turned 30 and moved to my own home.

Our regular Sunday gatherings for dinner were more about casual conversations on topics like travel and food, rather than business discussions. When business was discussed, it revolved around products, which was my initial exposure to the watch industry.

We often discussed new timepieces, shared thoughts on various things, and exchange market updates and insights. Questions like “Have you seen this new watch?” or “What do you think about it?” were common, along with enquiries about customer feedback. These dialogues, centred around products and market trends, were interesting even for family members not directly involved in the business.

Although I had the opportunity to overhear some business-related discussions due to living together with my family, these conversations remained relatively casual. The more serious business conversations usually occur in the workplace.

Can you share some valuable advice your grandfather and father have shared with you?

For my grandfather, I believe it’s not so much about giving advice as it is about the exposure I had to him. He is a person who radiates kindness towards those around him and places emphasis on fostering friendships and relationships.

Observing how he interacted with brand partners and customers, I witnessed the enduring bonds he cultivated with them, relationships that endure to this day. People often share with me, “Oh, I know your grandfather, Mr Lim.” He invested a considerable amount of time in the early years nurturing these relationships, many of which form the cornerstone of our business today. 

The partnerships we currently have trace back to the foundations laid by my grandfather through his relationships in the past. This is why I place great importance on building relationships with both my customers and brand partners. Attending our events and engaging with customers allows me to foster these connections.

My father imparted a valuable lesson to me and that is to always think long-term. When I initially entered the workforce, I was highly focused and task-oriented, often focusing on short-term goals. At such times, my father would remind me that it’s okay to forgo certain things in the short term. This advice resonates with every decision I make now. It’s true that sometimes, letting go of immediate gains can be challenging, but it’s crucial to consider the bigger picture. My father has a strategic mindset and emphasises long-term vision.

Family values are ingrained in me; it’s not just a piece of advice but a core value. I believe many customers tell me that the individuals at Cortina Holdings or the Lim family exude warmth and reflect strong family values.

The importance of family values in business is a lesson I’ve learned from my uncle, aunt, grandfather and father. It’s about ensuring that these values shine through in our dealings with customers and brand partners, creating a sense of trust and reliability.

As Sincere Fine Watches celebrates its 70th anniversary, what achievements and contributions has the company made to the watch industry today?

When I first joined the company, I discovered that we were trailblazers in many aspects, particularly in introducing several brands to the market. We were pioneers in bringing renowned brands like A. Lange & Söhne, Panerai, and independent brands like FP Journe and Franck Muller, into the market long before others. Sincere has always been at the forefront, identifying and introducing promising brands early on, contributing significantly to the watch industry.

One notable achievement was the establishment of the Sincere Watch Academy, a venture that many fondly remember with nostalgia. We launched this initiative in 2007, and at that time, it was considered groundbreaking as it was solely focused on education with no commercial ties. The primary aim was to educate collectors and potential watch enthusiasts, embodying our commitment to knowledge-sharing within the industry.

Our significant contribution to the watch industry can also be seen in the trend of brands now hosting workshops with watchmakers and brand partners. I believe our early efforts with the Sincere Watch Academy played a role in shaping this trend.

In 2006, we were honoured with the Singapore Tourism Board award for the best retail concept for our boutique at what was then known as Hilton Hotel. At that time, our focus was on independent brands, setting a unique concept in the market. Over the last five years, independent brands have gained prominence, but we were already immersed in this sector well ahead of time. Witnessing the growth in this area, we are delighted to have relaunched SHH and hope to continue setting new milestones for the company.

How would you change the Sincere Watch Academy, now known as The Horology Lab?

Many collectors have shared their thoughts with us on a common question: How can we ensure relevancy in the present context? In the past, our events resembled traditional lectures held in a classroom setting, often with multiple sessions.

With the start of social media and the abundance of information available online, collectors today are already well-versed and well-informed. To adapt to this changing landscape, we recognise the need for more interactive sessions. One key aspect we are revamping is to introduce more interactive elements, such as initiating fireside chats. These sessions bring together collectors, media, brand representatives and retailers to engage in discussions on a wide range of topics, aiming to foster a more engaging and dynamic experience.

This interactive approach marks a departure from our past practices, emphasising a shift towards more engaging interactions between the audience and the brand. Additionally, instead of hosting events in a single location, we are opting to organise them in various venues to inject a sense of freshness and diversity, keeping the audience interested.

Considering the current environment where individuals are constantly exposed to new experiences, we question whether maintaining the status quo will continue to keep their interest. By exploring different venues, we intend to infuse a sense of excitement while maintaining our objective of delivering valuable content. Our primary goal remains centred on education and expanding knowledge within the world of watchmaking, at a more advanced level.

Looking ahead, what is your vision for the future of Sincere Fine Watches? How do you envision the company evolving over the next five years under your leadership?

I can’t go too deeply into this topic, but when considering our SHH concept, it presents a highly scalable model due to the global demand for independent watches. Our concept is truly unique, offering significant potential for expansion beyond our current markets in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Taiwan, and into other regions as well.

Additionally, the digital aspect is crucial. It signifies an evolution that we must embrace to stay current. In today’s fast-paced environment, five years can bring about substantial changes. It’s essential for us to stay tuned to these shifts and adapt accordingly. 

 

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