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Ferrari Collector David Lee on His Rolex Daytona, the Excellent Martini, and His Latest Prancing Horse

Ferrari Collector David Lee on His Rolex Daytona, the Excellent Martini, and His Latest Prancing Horse

While most youthful infatuations rarely lead to long-term relationships, there’s always the exception. Just ask David Lee, who never forgot the feeling of that love-at-first-sight sucker punch—though his heart’s desire was not for a person but for a 1985 Ferrari 288 GTO. “The model debuted when I was in high school, and I fell in love with it but never dreamed I could own one,” says the 57-year-old bon vivant, who’s regarded as one of the foremost Ferrari collectors. 

The son of a world-renowned gemstone craftsman, Lee graduated from USC’s Marshall School of Business with a degree in entrepreneurial studies, then began working for his father’s namesake atelier. Now CEO of the Hing Wa Lee Group, he has spent more than three decades selling high-end jewelry and timepieces and has a real-estate portfolio that includes shopping centers and apartment complexes. Recently, Lee partnered on the development of an automotive-themed line of eyewear and watches under the name Monza Design and opened an innovative clubhouse-like retail space—with a speakeasy—in Southern California’s trendy Larchmont community. 

Yet despite being able to drive a different exotic every day of the month, Lee measures true prosperity by the capacity to empower others. “A successful person is one who first provides for their family, then helps friends and gives back to the community.” As for that bewitching GTO, he’s as smitten as ever: “I just bought another one,” he says. 

What have you done recently for the first time? 

Vintage racing. Everybody involved knows these are valuable, and nobody wants to go crazy and get in an accident, but we’re still competitive and want to see what these cars can do. There’s a thrill in that. Collecting is cool, but I’ve always appreciated the driving experience. 

First thing you do in the morning? 

I do my devotion. I’m a Christian and religious and spend about 30 minutes in prayer and quiet time. 

What in your wardrobe do you wear most often? 

A light, deconstructed sport jacket from Hermès. 

Do you have a uniform for certain occasions? 

I like to wear black because it’s slimming and is appropriate for many occasions. 

Monza Design’s Moderna (top) and Speciale sunglasses

Philip Cheung

What do you most crave at the end of the day? 

A little Swiss chocolate from Läderach. 

Who is your guru? 

My father was my mentor. I followed a lot of his advice, but I thought some didn’t apply because he didn’t understand or times had changed. Now, thinking back, maybe he was right. 

What’s your favorite cocktail, and how do you make it? 

A very cold martini, stirred, with Monkey 47 gin.

What’s the most recent thing you’ve added to your collection? 

My 812 Competizione Aperta. It’s the latest front-engined, track-focused road car from Ferrari and the only one in America right now. It’s the first time Ferrari has used a color-changing paint, and this one’s called Verde Volterra, which changes from green to bronze and is inspired by the landscape of Tuscany.

What’s the most impressive dish you cook? 

I get a three-inch-thick rib eye from the butcher shop, add a fine olive oil and a little salt and pepper, then briefly grill it conventionally before putting it in the Big Green Egg to be slow cooked and smoked. You don’t have to do too much, but I have a few little tricks. 

Who is your dealer, and what do they source for you? 

Because important cars are not always bought at auctions but through private sale, a lot of serious collectors have brokers who have their own network. Mine is Kevin Cohen of Beverly Hills Motoring. 

David Lee poses for a portrait next to his 1985 Ferrari 288 GTO in his garage.

Lee next to his 1985 Ferrari 288 GTO

Philip Cheung

What is your exercise routine, and how often do you do it? 

I work out for an hour, once a week, with a trainer who comes to the house. Then I do an hour of cardio on the treadmill another two days and balance that with golf. 

If you could learn a new skill, what would it be? 

Yoga, for flexibility. A lot of my friends are doing it. 

How much do you trust your gut instinct? 

Gut instinct comes from experience, and I think I’ve gained a lot of experience, so I trust it very much. 

Where do you get your clothes? 

Louis Vuitton in South Coast Plaza [in Costa Mesa, Calif.], Hermès in San Francisco, and Dolce & Gabbana in Beverly Hills. 

Are you wearing a watch? How many do you own? 

Yes, I’m wearing a Rolex platinum Daytona with baguette-diamond markers. Because I’ve been in the watch business for the last 30 years, my take is a little different than other collectors. I just keep the ones that are really special to me or excite me, and it’s hard to excite me. I keep about 15, all with high complications. 

A Rotonde de Cartier Grande Complication Skeleton; an Oyster Perpetual Day-Date Rolex

A Rotonde de Cartier Grande Complication Skeleton; an Oyster Perpetual Day-Date Rolex

Philip Cheung

When was the last time you completely unplugged? 

Last week at a beach club in Saint-Tropez, drinking rosé and listening to music. 

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How would you describe your look? 

Conservative but elegant. 

What’s your favorite hotel? 

Château de Saran in Champagne, which is invitation-only from LVMH. It was a home of the Moët family that Bernard Arnault restored. Every room has a theme. 

What is your email etiquette? 

Whether it’s my texts—WhatsApp or any kind of messaging equivalent—or email, I like to respond quickly and clear the queue every day before I go to sleep. 

What’s worth paying for? 

Peace, balance, and harmony. 

Wine opener owned by collector David Lee; 1966 Petrus Pomerol

One of his collection of wine openers; 1966 Petrus Pomerol

Philip Cheung

Last box set or Netflix binge? 

I’m watching Suits right now. I’m on season five. 

What kind of music makes you happy? 

Blues rock from the ’60s and ’70s—that music really connects with me. I like a lot of the Eagles.

Source: Robb Report

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