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How Bruce Lee Inspired Ronny Chieng’s Watch Collection


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Ronny Chieng is having a moment, from his Netflix specials (2019’s Asian Comedian Destroys America! and the just-released Ronny Chieng: Speakeasy) to his ongoing The Hope You Get Rich comedy tour and roles in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (as flossed-out fight club owner Jon Jon), Young Rock and Doogie Kamealoha, M.D.

In fact, it’s going so well, it can be seen on Chieng’s wrist. When he joined The Daily Show With Trevor Noah in 2015 as a correspondent, he celebrated by getting himself an Omega Speedmaster “First Omega in Space” watch, a 2012 model based on an Omega worn on the Mercury-Atlas 8 mission in 1962.

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The Omega Speedmaster “First Omega in Space” timepiece (no longer available, it debuted in 2012 for around $5,200)

Courtesy of Brand

“I didn’t realize it at the time, [but] it marked my moving to America and joining the American institution that is The Daily Show. It also marked me kind of becoming a bit more professional, in terms of how I view my role in show business. At the time, I was still in the very frugal mindset of, ‘I’m just going to buy one watch and that’s it.’ My dad had one watch, so I’m going to just have one watch too. But with the Speedmaster, I loved they used the watch in a human endeavor — going to the moon — and it looks classy and it’s understated.” And, adds the comic with a smile, “Face it, no one is going to murder you for your Speedmaster.”

As he’s grown his collection (a mix of vintage and new pieces), the New York-based Chieng, 36, has taken inspiration from other collectors in Hollywood, including actor-producer Daniel Dae Kim. “Like all hobbies, you look at what other established people are doing and you get inspired by them. Obviously, you don’t go all out and copy them for various reasons — either financial or the fact we all have different tastes — but I like to look at other guys who are in the watch-collecting hobby and see what they are into. Daniel Dae Kim was someone who, when I got to know him, would show me watches. He was a watch guy before I was into it, and I would ask him hey, ‘What you do think about this watch?’ He’d be like, ‘yes, yes, no, no,’” says Chieng.

Some of Chieng’s most prized pieces are two Seiko 6139 Bruce Lees, a name that collectors have given to vintage examples of the automatic chronograph worn prominently by the action star starting in the late 1960s. Growing up in Malaysia, Chieng recalls being aware of Bruce Lee as “an Asian movie star. I was always a fan of Bruce Lee,” he says.

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Bruce Lee (with co-star John Saxon) on the set of Enter the Dragon in 1973, wearing a Seiko 6139. It was introduced by the Japanese company in 1969. Right: Chieng’s two Seiko 6139s, acquired from DC Vintage Watches. Examples trade for $1,500 to $2,700.

Warner Bros. Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis/Getty Images; Courtesy of DC Vintage Watches

But it was only when Chieng moved to the U.S. that he realized “how much white people loved him or how Asian Americans viewed him as an icon. We didn’t fully understand that in Asia. I just knew him as a badass movie star who was awesome. It’s only when I came to America did I realize, ‘Oh, man, this dude was fighting all these battles to tell an authentic story back in the day — the ’60s and ’70s.’ And it’s a battle that we still fight. I mean, I’ve personally fought those battles many times to try and tell an authentic story in America, so I can only imagine what this guy was going through years ago, so that made me respect him even more. I saw the documentary Be Water by Bao Nguyen and it really spoke to me, and then I became an even bigger fan,” explains Chieng,

“From there,” continues Chieng, “I saw that Daniel Dae Kim had a Bruce Lee watch, and I thought to myself, ‘Now it’s on, this is the way I can express my fandom.’ It’s just a classy watch. It doesn’t say ‘Bruce Lee’ on it, it’s a Seiko, so again, that’s more Asian pride in there,” says Chieng, who sourced his Seikos through Los Angeles-based DC Vintage Watches. He also works with dealer Eric Wind of Palm Beach, Florida’s Wind Vintage to acquire pieces. (It was Kim who first introduced Chieng to Wind.)

“Ronny and I have a long esoteric and dorky text thread on [the Seiko] 6139, he has a real passion for watches,” says Nicholas Ferrell of Los Angeles-based DC Vintage Watches, who also has sourced Bruce Lee Seiko models for Kim and for The Good Doctor star Will Yun Lee.

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Rolex Submariner Date with green bezel, dubbed Hulk by collectors.


Chieng’s timepiece collection includes a Rolex Submariner known as the “Hulk” for its green bezel, a vintage “Root Beer” two-tone Rolex GMT-Master I and a few pieces from his late father, including a stunning late-1950s Omega Seamaster, a two-tone Omega Constellation and a two-tone Rolex Datejust.

Chieng admits, though, that the two-tone Rolex isn’t a style he would have gravitated to on his own. “In Asia, everyone is very Rolex heavy. There’s a lot of gold and two-tone watches, which I tend to avoid,” he says. “I wish I could say romantically that my dad passed his design aesthetic to me, but the truth is, we have very different tastes. I would never pick out a two-tone Rolex Datejust in a store, but the fact that he gave it to me makes me wear it proudly. It’s an homage to him.”

Asked if he is going to purchase something new to celebrate his latest Netflix special, Chieng laughs. “We can find all sorts of excuses to buy watches, and you can mark any occasion, so much so you that can connect it to anything — it’s almost like the Kevin Bacon number, six degrees of watch collecting — if you really want that watch, you’ll find a way to connect it to your life.”

He adds that he’s not worried about his watch collection losing value over time: “The nice thing about show business is that we have a hack to make things much more valuable. All I have to do is wear the watch while I’m performing and it instantly gains some value.”

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An example of a vintage “Root Beer” two-tone Rolex GMT Master I, which, according to dealer Eric Wind, can sell for $15,000 to $20,000.

Courtesy Of Eric Wind

A version of this story first appeared in the April 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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