There was a time when having a watch meant the difference between having food or not. During the Khmer Rouge period, watches were used as currency nearly as often as gold or US dollars. Now, in less turbulent times, watches are often a gift or a status symbol.
Thakral Indo-China Pte Ltd has now opened Cambodia’s first licensed distribution company for Omega and Rado brand watches—bringing back an old favorite from decades past.
“These two kinds of brands were popular in the 1960s and early 1970s,” said Minister of Commerce Cham Prasidh at the opening for the distribution center at the Hotel Inter-Continental.
The designer watches, advertised by photos of beautiful celebrities, run anywhere between $200 and $3,000, so most market vendors were unfazed by the news of a new distributor.
“[Customers] are always looking for a cheap price, so I have to sell them a low quality one, otherwise I make no money,” said Kea Deoun, 43, a vendor at the Olympic Market.
“I don’t see many people who are looking for Rado and Omega,” said another vendor. “Most are looking for a $10 watch.”
He said about 90 percent of the people who passed his shop were looking for something cheap and useful, although he did have four secondhand Rado watches he had purchased over the years from people in the countryside.
Thakral executive T Ramesh was unconcerned by the availability of cheap Omega and Rado knock-offs.
“I don’t think buyers would buy fake ones, because it will be a very low value compared to the original one,” he said.
But whether for $10 or $3,000, watches will remain a part of Cambodia’s past and current culture.
“I still miss my Rado watch, which I lost during the Khmer Rouge regime,” Cham Prasidh said. “In the Khmer Rouge regime, what I saw were Rado and Omega watches become targets for the Khmer Rouge against the rich.”
“If we had a Rado or Omega, we were able to exchange them for food, for life, and surviving,” he said.
Now, watches are better for wooing than trading. A watch is especially important between lovers, usually given as a first gift.
It’s not the cost that matters so much, said Nop Sophana, 19, but the thought.
“If my boyfriend and I would like to make an appointment, the first question will be: ‘What time should we meet?’” she said, pointing to her $15 watch. “So time is very important. The heart will be broken if my man does not come on time.”