MANILA, Philippines - People like to say timing is everything. For Lea Salonga and Will Stein, co-founder of the luxury watch brand Philip Stein, timing had a hand in their respective successes, as they look back on the journey that led to where they are now.
For Lea, timing served her well in her first international break 25 years ago. It’s a story told and retold many times, but one never gets tired of hearing: Lea, only 17, originating the lead role in Miss Saigon on Broadway and West End, and winning all possible awards there are, including a Tony, for her performance.
“There are people for whom success comes after many years of toiling and hard work, and just that. But for me, especially with the break that Miss Saigon gave me, (it was a matter of) being at the right age, at the right place, at the right time. It’s funny, because if I decided not to go to that audition, if I had decided on something else, I don’t think a lot of (things in my life and career) would have happened. So, there’s something to be said about perfect timing. And I’m a really good example of it,” the singer/actress said.
For Will — a former airline executive who created Philip Stein with wife Rina, combining his marketing savvy with her over two decades of experience in the watch business — they couldn’t have chosen a better time to introduce the brand than 13 years ago.
Will Stein, co-founder and president of Philip Stein, has collaborated with Lea for the Legacy collection — limited edition watches inspired and co-designed by the singer-actress herself
“When we started Philip Stein in 2002, in America, things like yoga and aroma therapy, alternative medicine and all these alternative therapies (were on the rise). The watch market was so saturated. How can you create a buzz in such a saturated market, if you don’t have a unique selling point? It was perfect timing to bring the technology into the mix that nobody has heard before of. Today, the buzzword is wearable technology but I would even say that we were the first ones who came out with natural wearable technology,” Will said of what has become the trademark of the brand, its Natural Frequency Technology, so that each watch is “calibrated to bring balance and well-being to wearers.”
Call it “perfect timing” as well that the two have come together for The Legacy Collection, which they revealed to The STAR during this exclusive interview held weeks before the actual launch.
Legacy is the latest and limited edition line of Philip Stein, specifically manufactured to celebrate Lea and her many exploits that brought honor to the country. Only 222 timepieces have been produced to represent Lea’s birthday, Feb. 22.
“Lea is, of course, the most accomplished international entertainer from the Philippines. She is not only known here but she is known all over the world. Wherever I go and I meet people, they say, ‘It was the best choice you could have ever done to have Lea Salonga as ambassador,’ because Lea is loved by the Filipinos. She’s not only a person who has accomplished a lot but she is really loved by the people. That was very important for us,” Will said.
The admiration is mutual for Lea. When she first learned she was to work with Philip Stein, “I was thrilled! I have been a fan of the watches before they even asked me to be a brand ambassador. I think I had owned two pieces, and then recently, my mom got me another piece as a present. I’m a big watch person. I have more watches at home than anything else, more than shoes, clothes, whatever.”
More than just an endorser, Lea also became a co-designer of the collection. It was during Lea’s tour with the popular classical crossover group Il Divo in Europe last year when she first met Will and Rina. Accompanied by her hubby Rob Chien, she gave her inputs on the Legacy Collection — from the colors, to the dials and numericals to use — while visiting the brand’s Switzerland headquarters, where her photo is now hanging on the Wall of Fame, side by side with that of media mogul Oprah Winfrey, who was hugely responsible for stirring buzz for Philip Stein when it was still starting.
While the Legacy carries the dual time zone configuration, a hit feature from Philip Stein’s Signature Collection, it boasts of details that reflect the Filipino roots and artistry of Lea, like the mother of pearl dials, the interchangeable Teal Blue Silk Calf strap (“Because I’m from Ateneo,” Lea quipped), the musical G-clef in place of the sixth hour spot on the lower dial, the special wooden box with a black piano finish, the personal note from Lea, among others.
Apart from the “smoother, softer and more streamlined” craftsmanship and design, Will believes that the watch is a perfect fit for Lea what with the much-touted Natural Frequency Technology. Every Philip Stein accessory, according to Will, is programmed to function like a “fine-tuned antenna, which picks up natural frequencies harnesses them and channels them to the body for personal benefit” — to even out “man-made frequencies” coming from the likes of cellphones and computers, that people are largely exposed to.
Will further said, “It’s (the technology) also important for her because as an international performer, you know you have a very hectic schedule, you’re constantly on the road, you’re constantly flying, you have to be full of energy from morning to evening, so what our watch does, it grounds you, it balances you, it gives you harmony.”
Lea and Will showing the Legacy Collection to The STAR during an interview
Of course, technology can only do so much when your lifestyle isn’t in sync. Asked how they “live in tune,” which is also the tagline of the brand, Will said, “I try on a daily basis to, first of all, realize that it’s another day. I thank God for another day that I was given and this is not joke, but when I open my eyes, I say, thank you I can see, thank you I can walk… First of all, when you have that realization, I think you’re already in a frequency that you’re not longing for things that are unattainable. Then I go through my day, I work hard but I also have time where I just completely shut off. I’m the kind of person, contrary to my wife (laughs), that when I leave the office, I can shut off and go on my paddle board, go hiking or whatever it is. That’s how I live in tune. I also travel most of the time, but when I come home, I wanna be with my family and do things together.”
On her part, Lea said she makes sure she has time for herself and for the relationships she values. “When I’m able to find time to shut down and rest and relax, I do, even if it means I need to go to the salon or not talk to anybody for a few hours, or I wanna watch my kid ride her bike or take a nap, watch a movie, read a book, or interact with my friends. I think that’s what keeps me sane.
“My friends are all over the world but technology keeps us connected to each other. When we do see each other again, it’s like time didn’t pass which is wonderful. If I feel any frustration that I can’t seem to get rid of, I talk to my best friend. There are certain people that just know how to set you back on a path that ‘OK, we’re back.’”
Another activity that’s also making her inspired and excited nowadays is sharing her learnings. Lea, who is regarded by many aspiring singers as a benchmark for world-class musicality, gets to mentor in her ABS-CBN reality show The Voice of the Philippines.
She said, “The timing for this (collaboration with Philip Stein is) perfect. I actively mentor and coach. Even after The Voice Season is over, there’s a few people whom I oversee still and try to encourage and push, like audition for this, or you can do this, or we’re always in conversation with one another. The mentoring doesn’t really stop.”
“If anything, if I coach enough on The Voice, it means that there are people I’ve left something with. So, the legacy I want to leave behind as a coach is when one of my people shows up, that they know what they’re supposed to be doing, they don’t give a hard time to the musical director or anybody else they’re working with, that they’re easy to work with and absolutely professional. And it’s beyond showing up on time, it’s not wasting other people’s time,” added Lea who, right after the Aug. 30 finals of The Voice Kids Season 2, will fly to New York to do the Broadway run of Allegiance with Star Trek star George Takei.
For Will, part of the legacy-building is seeing to it that Philip Stein is ever improving and evolving into a lifestyle brand, which has already begun with the addition of bracelets. One can perhaps expect the Philippines to be one of the markets on the front row to any developments.
Will said, “I love the Philippines. I think soon I can get an apartment here (because I’m always here). In fact, the first time I came to the Philippines, I was 20 years old. I was backpacking and of course, on a very, very low budget. We went on a bus to Banaue Rice Terraces and we went on a boat to Puerto Galera.
“I had just finished high school. And I had set myself, ‘Now, I want to see the world’ and I got on a Pan-Am flight at that time. It was a ticket that was called ‘80 Days Around the World’ so I went around the world and one of the stops was the Philippines.
“At that time already, I felt that Filipinos have a certain energy, which is not only expressed in music but that you feel it. I don’t know, it’s a happy energy, a very outgoing energy that I just love coming here. It’s a positive energy for me.”