Hubert Burda Media

Darren and Dana Cheong: Two Of A Kind

From hunting down novel dining experiences to globetrotting adventures, the couple talks about their favourite pursuits.

On Dana: High Jewllery Necklace in Pink Gold with Emeralds, Rubies, Diamonds and Bronze Coin; Serpenti Watch in Pink Gld with Diamonds, Emeralds and Tanzanite, both from Bvlgari
Dress, from Loewe

On Darren: Octo Finissimo Tourbillion Ultranero Watch in Titanium, from Bvlgari
Shirt, from Ermenegildo Zegna, Trousers, from Dior Homme 

The Cheongs are are having breakfast on the patio when we arrive at their villa at the Phulay Bay, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, in Krabi, Thailand. “Sorry, we’re almost done,” Dana says hurriedly after greeting us with a flurry of good mornings. “They brought our breakfast late,” she explains. Back at the breakfast table, Darren sips his coffee languidly, gazing out at the expanse of green stretching out before us.

Dining together, I soon discover, is more than just a daily ritual for them — it is a shared passion. “We love to eat,” Dana divulges later, while getting her hair and make-up done. “We also enjoy discovering new restaurants. We like interesting dining concepts and experiences. The food and atmosphere has to be good too,” Darren chimes in from his seat, singling out Japanese restaurant Bincho (from Unlisted Collection group) as one of their interesting finds of late. Located along Moh Guan Terrace within the hip Tiong Bahru neighbourhood, the place is a traditional kopitiam by day (selling typical coffee shop fare like fishball noodles and kaya toast) that transitions into an izakaya outfit by night. “In fact, Dana and I are going back to Bincho next Monday,” he adds brightly.

Travelling, the Cheongs reveal, is another activity they thoroughly enjoy as a couple, which also explains why our cover shoot is taking place on an island 500 miles away from the one we call home. “We like the same things, but in a different dimension; a different space,” Dana says. She elaborates that while they both love travelling, they each have very different inclinations. While Dana is game for everything, whether it is exploring the grittier streets of Cuba or holidaying in glitzy Paris, Darren favours “comfortable” trips to places that are ideally no further than a six-hour flight away (but he will make an exception for certain European destinations). He also prefers cosmopolitan cities to rural, scenic locales. “I want to see people around,” he explains. “I like feeling connected to the world.”

While it is a healthy comprise that keeps both happy on vacations, it also works in their favour that their 23-year-old daughter, Beatrice, shares her adventurous spirit, while their son Brandon, 20, is more like dad. “So the family, including my parents, will perhaps go on a nice, comfortable cruise. And when they all head home, Beatrice and I will carry on travelling — but Bohemian style,” Dana shares with a laugh.

High Jewellery Earrings in White Gold with Rubies and Diamonds; High Jewellery Necklace in Platinum with Jadeite, Rubies and Diamonds, both from Bvlgari 
Dress from Boss

Jewels and high fashion

For all their shared passions and interests as a couple, the Cheongs relish their separate pursuits as well. Besides being a fitness enthusiast and certified Gyrotonic instructor, Dana is also known on the local fashion circuit for her sense of style. More than just an appreciator of all things beautiful, the mother-of-two points out it is the little intricacies of fashion design that really speak to her. She cites the current work of Nicolas Ghesquière at Louis Vuitton as an example: “It doesn’t look like much, but he puts so much effort into playing with fabrics just to create a certain look that is quite subtle. And I admire that.”

While she describes her personal aesthetic as “edgy”, Dana reveals it is always function and practicality that takes precedence over elaborate forms when she dresses for events. One hardly sees her in large ball gown, for instance, because she would rather be “walking around freely” instead of worrying about her dress impinging on someone else’s personal space. “I believe in things that are simple, functional and have a good silhouette,” she says, adding that her slight frame is also a huge consideration. “I can’t have too many things piling on me,” she says. “It really is about adapting what is suitable for yourself.”

This judicious approach is reflected in Dana’s taste in jewellery too. “Jewellery is not like buying a pair of jeans. You don’t just buy something and then put it aside,” she says. Importance should instead be placed on purchasing pieces that will withstand the test of time — ones that her children might possibly want to wear in the future. “I always visualise my daughter getting married [in my jewellery]. It’s a mum thing, you know?” she states with a hearty laugh.

High Jewellery Ring in White Gold with Emeralds and Diamonds; High Jewellery Necklace in White Gold with Emeralds and Diamonds, both from Bvlgari 

So what then does she consider a timeless design? “A Bulgari Serpenti,” she declares without skipping a beat. “I see jewellery as pieces of artwork and it’s incredible how Bulgari managed to make the Serpenti come alive.” Jewellery pieces that showcase the art of movement in some shape or form, and particularly if they present nature or animal motifs, are her  weakness, she reveals. Examples include the Zip necklace from Van Cleef & Arpels; Cartier Panther pieces; and of course, the Serpenti collection by Bulgari.

That is not to say that the jewellery aficionado rules out all other types of designs. In her opinion, the most important thing is for a piece to tell a story and one such specimen is the Monete collection from Bulgari. Created by Nicola Bulgari (one-half of the Bulgari brothers and a coin-collecting enthusiast), the Monete was first introduced by the Italian jeweller in 1966 and features Ancient Greek, Roman or American coins as centrepieces in place of gemstones. “I love the idea behind it as I am actually wearing a piece of history,” she enthuses.

While Dana clearly has a rather specific palate when it comes to her appetite for jewellery, she surprisingly has no particular preference for gemstones. “My grandmother used to tell me to only wear white diamonds, but I think life is more colourful than that,” she shares. In fact, it is less about the colour of a stone and more of whether the entire aesthetic of a piece looks well put together and matches her skin tone. “At the end of the day, I am still all for functionality,” she reiterates. “It’s about striking a balance, really. You can’t own everything in this world.”


High Jewellery Earrings in Pink Gold with Amethysts, Turquoise, Emeralds and Diamonds; High Jewellery Necklace in Pink Gold with Amethysts, Turquoise, Emerlads and Diamonds, both from Bvlgari Dress from Bottega Veneta

Horology and torque

A property developer by profession, Darren’s interests, on the other hand, can be succinctly summed up in three words: Cars, watches and shoes. While the former two hardly comes as a surprise to many (he is, after all, known to be a knowledgeable collector of both), “shoes are my all-time favourite,” Darren reveals. “I’ve always liked shoes. Any kind — from fancy dress shoes to casual sneakers from Adidas.” His only prerequisites are that they are comfortable, functional and aesthetically pleasing.

The same could be said of his taste in timepieces as well, but with the added consideration of price and value. “If a watch isn’t value for money, I wouldn’t touch it,”  he says. Which is why his recent purchase of a Bulgari Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater was such an easy decision. Apart from currently being the world’s thinnest minute repeater, the ticker’s chiming resonance is on par with that of its peers made by brands with far longer watchmaking histories. “It was a bargain for the price,” he explains. The seasoned collector also counts Greubel Forsey and A. Lange & Söhne among his favourite watchmakers.

While a minute repeater might be among his latest horological acquisitions, Darren discloses that his favourite complication is, in fact, the split-seconds chronograph — simply because of the degree of difficulty associated with its production. Revealing his inner nerd, he adds that his dream watch would feature not just a split-seconds chronograph, but one operated via a monopusher, combined with a fusée and chain transmission. “No one has created this yet,” he says with a chuckle.

Limited Edition Ammiraglio Del Tempo Watch in Pink Gold, from Bvlgari 
Jacket and Shirt, Both from Dior Homme

He does grudgingly admit though that watch complications serve little practical purpose in this day and age. In fact, he predicts the demand for mechanical timepieces to plateau with time, due to the technological advancements of personal devices. “Perhaps in the future, people might still purchase a mechanical watch just for the sake of owning one, but I don’t think the younger generation is interested,” he laments. “Like my son, he doesn’t even bother wearing a watch. He says he can just tell the time with his phone!” But to him, a timepiece is more than just a means for displaying the time — it is a wearable piece of art. “Like how ladies wear jewellery, we men wear watches,” he quips.

Apart from haute horlogerie, Darren’s appreciation for fine mechanisms also extends to the world of automobiles. But even then, his stance on practicality and usability remains. “It’s fun to have some power, but you don’t need to have super horsepower,” he points out. “Instead, it’s about how the car performs and how it takes the corners.” While the motoring enthusiast counts British marque McLaren among his favourite brands, it is the German Porsche he prefers for everyday use. “It’s easy, user-friendly and practical,” he explains simply.

These days, Darren has also taken to collecting wines, with a preference for reds (particularly from the Bordeaux and Burgundy regions) over whites. “Now, I like to buy good wines to drink, to share with others,” he says. “Because sharing is important, don’t you think?”