7 minutes

MING: The best independent watch brand in the world?

By Jorg Weppelink

The story of MING is a special one. It all starts with the brand founder Ming Thein, who started out as a watch collector, worked as a watch photographer, and then decided to start creating watches under his own name. While the story of the brand is closely linked to Ming Thein, he founded the brand in 2014 with the help of five other watch enthusiasts in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Over the last eight years, MING has built a name for itself as one of the most exciting and sought-after independent watch brands in the world. So, let’s find out more about Ming Thein and MING. 

MING: The Extraordinary Story of Founder Ming Thein 

MING founder Ming Thein has an extraordinary story. He finished high school at age 12, started university at age 13, and graduated from the University of Oxford with a degree in physics at age 16. During his time at Oxford, Thein developed an interest in the design and technology of watches. He found himself frequently photographing extraordinary timepieces at watch meet-ups and became an active member of several online watch forums. For his graduation, Thein’s parents gifted him an A. Lange & Söhne 1815, which only accelerated his fascination. After exploring the corporate world for a good number of years, Thein had the opportunity to pursue a career in professional photography. He built up a great portfolio for a wide range of clients, from watches and architecture to food and products. Thanks to his connections in the watch world, Thein got work with several watch brands in the Richemont and Swatch groups. But as Thein has explained in multiple interviews, the jobs he did for watch brands took away his initial passion for watches, because working for the brands is inherently different than being a watch enthusiast and collector. Six years after starting his professional career in photography, Thein joined the advisory boards of Hasselblad and DJI. 

It was on a flight back from a watch show in 2014 that Ming Thein and a number of fellow watch enthusiasts decided to start their own watch brand. With Thein as the leader and central figure, he and his five co-founders created MING. Though Thein had lived in Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, it only made sense to base the brand in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. That is where he was born and where he lives now; it’s home. Each of the founders brings different business expertise to the table, and complement each other’s skills. Thein is in charge of design, strategy, and photography for the brand. All of the founders share an interest in watch collecting and a fascination for fine timepieces. 

Ming Thein leads design and operations for MING.

From Watch Collecting to Watchmaking 

The central mission for the watch brand comes from this shared joy of collecting watches. Over time, the team at MING found that the collecting world had changed quite a bit. Vintage watches were becoming increasingly more expensive, thus making a lot of iconic timepieces less accessible. Many collectors could not and still cannot buy some of the world’s most iconic timepieces due to the drastic price increases. This realization was the foundation for launching the MING brand. Thein and his team wanted to bring back the excitement and sense of discovery that they first felt when they started collecting watches, and before they were too expensive. Accessibility and value for money characterizes the brand to this day. While MING doesn’t produce any watches in-house, they work with a select group of Swiss suppliers that take care of component production, assembly, regulation, and testing. The watches are then shipped off to Malaysia for a final quality control. 

This approach has proven very successful for the brand over the last five years. Yes, you read that correctly: five years. While the brand may have been founded in 2014, it obviously takes time to design and produce that initial timepiece. Luckily, Thein had a pretty good idea of what he wanted the first MING watch to look like. Of course, translating the design into metal is a whole new ballgame. Thein learned what goes into bringing a design to life by ordering several bespoke timepieces from Ochs & Junior. Armed with that knowledge and his designs, Thein and the other founders started their adventure. By 2016, the team had a solid idea of what they wanted to achieve. Finally in August 2017, they were ready to make their first design public with the release of the MING 17.01. 

The release of the MING 17.01 marked the birth of one of the most successful independent watch brands.

MING: Design Meets Functionality 

From the moment that first watch was released, the brand gained a loyal following among hardcore watch enthusiasts. The combination of outstanding design and a selection of great movements showcases what makes MING so special. The brand’s design signature is very recognizable, particularly the case shape with its characteristic curved lugs. When it comes to dial design, the brand has gone in a few different directions, but the clever thing is that there is an underlying style that connects them all. With more than 40 releases in five years, it’s safe to say that MING has found its own unique signature in the crowded world of horology, where new brands pop up left and right. 

So, let’s zoom in on some of the amazing pieces MING has created to get an idea of the creativity behind the brand. One of the things that makes MING so unique is that it produces each model in a small limited run. With more fans than available timepieces, getting your hands on a MING can be quite a challenge, but once you do, you know you have something special. The collection can be divided into two parts: the “regular” production models and the Special Projects Cave, which is home to its more novel and complicated timepieces. As you may have guessed, these timepieces are even more limited in number and also a lot more expensive. Nevertheless, the motto of offering “value for money” is always there front and center. 

It’s difficult to pick the best watches from the large range the brand has produced. Everything obviously began with the MING 17.01 – a 38-mm watch with a titanium case that immediately displayed the brand’s distinct style. The watch comes with a gray or blue multilayered dial featuring a refined pattern at its center that changes depending on how the light hits it. The numerals represent the first expression of the iconic MING style that has gotten more recognizable and outspoken over time. When it comes to the movement, Thein chose the hand-wound Sellita SW210-1. The choice of a manual movement gives the wearer more interaction with the watch, making you more aware of the timepiece on your wrist. 

The MING 19.01: The ultimate daily wearer?

The second model we have to discuss is the amazing MING 19.01. This watch was based on the 17.01 and released in 2017. It features the same case style, but measures 1 mm larger at 39 mm. When designing this timepiece, the team at MING continually asked themselves: what would the ultimate daily wearer look like? That set them on a quest to come up with something truly special. The watch needed to have a certain depth and substance, both in terms of design and horological pedigree. For the design, MING played with the idea of skeletonizing a watch. While that’s certainly not a new idea, the way they went about it very much is. The center of the sapphire crystal dial starts out in a deep opaque blue which fades to transparent on the dial’s edge, revealing the inner workings of the special Schwarz-Etienne MSE100 movement. There are many more intricate details that make this a very special creation overall. It was a finalist in the prestigious Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève in 2018 – quite the honor for such a young brand.  

But that wasn’t the watch that ultimately won MING a prize. In 2019, the 17.06 won the Horological Revelation prize. A year later, the brand was again a finalist with their 27.01 and 18.01 H41 models. This just goes to show that MING is not only popular with watch enthusiasts all around the world, but is also respected among its peers in the industry. 

The MING 27.01

I urge you to check out all the different watches that this brand has created. There is literally something for everyone, if you like the characteristic MING style, that is. Some of my personal favorites are the 19.02, which builds on the success of the 19.01, a GPHG finalist. The timepiece adds a world time complication and replaces the hand-wound movement with a micro-rotor automatic movement. It is a stylish watch for the modern traveler and a great daily wearer. Another standout piece is the aforementioned 18.01 H41. It’s MING’s take on a modern diving watch and the result is spectacular. Its minimalist style combined with modern materials and execution creates a timepiece that is far from a traditional diver, but one that has its own appeal. 

The MING 18.01

Last year, MING collaborated with Massena LAB to create a pair of watches. Both MING x Massena LAB 17.09 models are characterized by their color combinations. The first features a honey-colored dial with a honeycomb pattern and black alcantara strap. The second features the same honeycomb dial in black with a beige leather strap. Both watches are powered by a modified version of the Sellita SW330-2 movement which allows you to set the hour hand independently – perfect for people who travel a lot. MING’s latest creation is the 22.01, the brand’s great take on a traveler’s watch. The GMT watch represents the perfect evolution of the MING style. 

The MING 17.09

And those are just some of the regular production models. If we dive into the Special Projects Cave, things get even wilder in terms of style, execution, materials, and horological impact. It’s hard to explain it all in words, so I’ll just advise you to check out the various executions of the 20.01, the brand’s first chronograph. Last year’s Series 2 is a true work of art. Then again, the 20.01 Mosaic with its unique dial that lights up in the dark is another brilliant timepiece. The list goes on and on… In five years, MING has managed to build a diverse collection of watches that has gained tremendous praise from watch fans all over the globe. As a result, the timepieces are in incredibly high demand. With the limited production numbers, it’s not always easy to get your hands on one of the new releases. Don’t be surprised if prices on Chrono24 marketplace are a lot higher than the watch’s official list price – further proof of MING’s incredible success.  

About the Author

Jorg Weppelink

Hi, I'm Jorg, and I've been writing articles for Chrono24 since 2016. However, my relationship with Chrono24 goes back a bit longer, as my love for watches began …

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