A S Watson & Company Ltd aka The Hong Kong Dispensary – a Timeline 1841 to 1945

3rd June 2021 An additional image and information sent in by Dheeraj Khiytani was added. See 1907.

HF:Watson’s is possibly the oldest retailer still in existence in Hong Kong and unquestionably among a tiny few that have opererated continuously since the early days of the colony…

By 1941 Watson’s was already the largest chemist, retailer of health and beauty products, dealer in wines and spirits, and manufacturer of aerated water in Asia. .. Today it is part of the A.S. Watson Group, which in turn is part of Hutchinson Whampoa Ltd.(1)

With over 175 years of history, A.S. Watson has evolved from a local dispensary to become the world’s largest international health and beauty retailer in Asia and Europe.

1841 The Hong Kong Dispensary is founded in Hong Kong.

1858 Alexander Skirving Watson, a British pharmacist, joins the company as Manager

1862 The name A.S. Watson (after Dr. Alexander Skirving Watson who joined the company as Manager in 1858) begins to feature prominently with the Hong Kong Dispensary

1869 Hong Kong Dispensary is appointed the chemist of the Hong Kong Governor and the Duke of Edinburgh

1870s A.S. Watson sets up scholarship to support local medical school. Dr Sun Yat–sen, the renowned politician and revolutionist in China, is also one of the beneficiaries under the scholarship scheme

1871 The Hong Kong Dispensary begins trading under the name A.S. Watson & Company

A S Watson Chemist Advert China Mail 1.8.1878

China Mail 1st August 1878

1883 A.S. Watson expands overseas to the Philippines and China; establishes a pharmacy and a soft drink factory (1884) in Manila

1886 A.S. Watson becomes the 15th company registered on the Hong Kong Company Registry

1895 A.S. Watson operates 35 stores and produces about 300 dispensary, toiletry and perfumery lines

1903 Watsons Water is established to provide pure water in Hong Kong and Mainland China

1907 Dheeraj Khiytani has kindly sent this A.S.Watson promotional calendar from 1907 and adds: These were distributed to clients and suppliers of A S Watson at the turn of the century. You can see a few more variations of this on the A. S Watson Group website under their 180 year celebration e-booklet, as well as on the Hong Kong Museum of History website

A S Watson 1907 Promotional Calendar From Dheeraj Khiytani

1910 To concentrate resources and energy, A.S. Watson closes all branches in China and the Philippines

1937 The Japanese invasion of China halts A.S. Watson’s China operations

1941 A.S. Watson celebrates its centenary just months before the Japanese force attack on 13th December

1945 A.S. Watson resumes business on 1stSeptember (2)

Mackeson Stout Advert AS Watson HK Sunday Herald 29.10.1950

HK Sunday Herald 29.10.1950

1963 Hutchison Group (forerunner of CK Hutchison Holdings Limited) acquires a controlling interest in A.S. Watson & Co., Ltd

1972 A.S. Watson establishes PARKnSHOP supermarkets

1973 Acquires Peter Pan Toy Shops. Launches Mountain Cream ice-cream products

1981 A.S. Watson becomes a fully-owned subsidiary of Hutchison Group (forerunner of CK Hutchison Holdings Limited). At the time we have 75 stores

1987 Watsons expands to Taiwan

1988 Watsons expands to Macau and Singapore

1989 Watsons reopens in China

1990 Fortress joins the A.S. Watson Group


  • Water factory opens in Beijing
  • Watsons expands to Malaysia

1996 Watsons expands to Thailand

1997 Acquires Shanghai Sparkling Drinking Water


  • FORTRESS opens its first store in Taiwan

1999 A.S. Watson sells ice-cream businesses in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong to the Unilever Group

2000 A.S. Watson enters European market by acquiring the Savers health & beauty retail chain in the UK

2001 Watson’s wine business expands into Europe by acquiring Swiss-based international wine wholesaler/distributor Badaracco SA

2002 A.S. Watson acquires the Dutch-based Kruidvat Group, adding famous European brands into the portfolio, including health and beauty retailer Superdrug, Trekpleister, Rossmann and luxury perfumery ICI Paris XL


  • igns agreement to sell European water operations to Nestlé Waters
  • Superdrug opens its first new identity store in the Bullring Birmingham in the UK
  • Watsons Water celebrates its 100thanniversary of purity & persistence.


  • Enters Eastern Europe through acquisition of Drogas health & beauty retail chain in the Baltics.
  • Watsons acquires Apex Pharmacy Sdn Bhd from Apex Healthcare Bhd in Malaysia
  • Purchases a 40 percent stake in Rossmann Germany, adding 786 stores to the Group’s retail portfolio.
  • TASTE launches in November
  • Watson’s Wine introduces a new store concept in Hong Kong


  • Watsons celebrates 100th store in Mainland China and 300th store in Taiwan
  • Enters Turkey through acquisition of Cosmo Shop.
  • First Watsons health & beauty store opens in Korea.
  • Acquires UK specialist perfume retailer Merchant Retail Group including The Perfume Shop in August.
  • Acquires Spektr in Russia in October


  • Opens the first Watsons in Indonesia.
  • Watsons celebrates its 200th store in Mainland China in June
  • Enters Ukraine through acquisition of DC, the largest health & beauty retail chain in the market in July.
  • PARKnSHOP Hong Kong launches the MoneyBack loyalty programme, which is later extended to Watsons and FORTRESS Hong Kong, and PARKnSHOP China in 2009


  1. Dictionary of Hong Kong Biography, ed M Holdsworth & C Munn, HKU Press, 2012 This wonderful book collects in one volume more than 500 specially commissioned entries on men and women from Hong Kong history.
  2. 2. A S Watson History – Company website

This article was first posted on 12th May 2020.


  1. https://gwulo.com/atom/20862
  2. The story of A.S. Watson: from a Hong Kong pharmacy to world’s largest health and beauty group SCMP 27th October 2018
  3. Protests take a toll on sales at Watsons, one of Hong Kong’s most instantly recognisable retail chains SCMP 30th July 2019
  4. Hong Kong retail giant AS Watson converts water plant to face-mask production line to help meet demand amid coronavirus SCMP 4th May 2020












  1. Companywebsite – history

One comment

  • My name is James Watson and I am the direct x 3 great grandson who started Watson’s Pharmacy. I have a photograph of the first store I would like to send. Can someone get in touch? Thanks James

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