Alhambra Watch (平安表行)
- York Lo: Alhambra Watch (平安表行)
Left: Chiu Chun-fai (left) and Luk Ying-tai at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Shanghai Street store of Alhambra Watch in 1958 (WKYP, 1958-8-17); Right: Omtis’ congratulatory ad to Alhambra Watch on the opening of its Tai Po Road store in 1963 (WKYP, 1963-4-28)
Operated by its founder Frank Chiu Chun-fai (招振揮) and his family, Alhambra Watch is one of the oldest watch retailers in Kowloon and pioneering distributor of luxury watches in the mainland. While the Chinese name of the firm means peace (and the firm derived its Chinese and English name from Alhambra Theatre where it first started), the retailer has been touched by many robberies over the years.
According to his grandson Freddy Chiu, Alhambra founder Frank Chiu (whose original name was Chiu Fook-choi 招福財) was the third son of Chiu Pak-yuen (招伯元), a cobbler from Foshan who was a close friend of the father of J.H. Leung (梁知行 ), the founder of Star Industrial, the maker of the famous Red A brand of plastic products. Frank’s younger brother Paul Chiu (招福林, rank fifth) later worked for Star Industrial in HK until his retirement. Frank himself followed the Leung family to Shanghai when he was still in primary school and later studied language in college in the city. His first job in Hong Kong was working for the famous Precision Watch Co (金輪錶行, founded by Dickson Poon’s father Poon Kam Kai) before striking out on his own with a watch counter within a store named Fook Hing Loong (福興隆) inside the Alhambra Theatre on Nathan Road.
Left: Mr. & Mrs. Frank Chiu with actress Jeanette Lin Tsui at the opening of the Shanghai Street store in 1960; Right: a young Frank Chiu at Precision Watch (Photo courtesy of Freddy Chiu)
When the Alhambra Theatre was being torn down for re-development in 1958 (see article about the Alhambra Building for details), Frank moved his watch retail operations to 147 Shanghai Street in Yaumatei where another watch store by the name of Wah Mei (華美表行) and opened his store under the name of Wah Mei Alhambra (華美平安表行). The opening ceremony was attended by famous figures in the HK watch industry at the time including Federation of Watch Merchants chairman Luk Ying-tai (陸應泰), Lun Tin-lok (倫天樂) of Edward Keller & Co and Chong Ching-um of Chung Nam (father in law of Li Ka-shing). The new store featured electronic watch testing equipment to test the accuracy of watches. (WKYP, 1958-8-16) In December 1960, the Shanghai Street location was renovated and the actress Lam Tsui was guest of honor at the re-opening. (WKYP, 1960-12-22)
Left: Frank Chiu (second from right) with his wife and son with actress Fung Wong Nui and Yee Kwong (first and second from left) at the opening of the Tai Po Road store in 1963; right: Mrs. Frank Chiu at the Tai Po Road store (Photo courtesy of Freddy Chiu)
In 1963, Frank Chiu ended his business relationships with the owner of the site of the Shanghai Street store who kept operating as Wah Mei Alhambra while he opened Alhambra Watch on the ground floor of Penta House (五聯大廈, Chiu served as chairman of the owners association of the building as a result) at 192 Tai Po Road in Sham Shui Po. The actresses Fung Wong Nui and Yee Kwong were present at the opening ceremony.
Scene from the opening of Alhambra Watch at 192 Tai Po Road in 1963. Left to right: Chiu Chun-fai, Mrs. Chiu, Fung Wong Nui, Yee Kwong. (WKYP, 1963-4-28)
In June 1965, a 21 years old thief by the name of Chan Kwok-keung stole a $310 watch from the Shanghai Street store but was chased down by a staff across several streets and sentenced to three months imprisonment. (WKYP, 1965-7-1)
Left: Frank Chiu (right) with Citizens watch distributor Samson Sun (also the brother in law of Frank’s former boss Poon Kam-kai); Right: Frank Chiu on front of family friend J.H. Leung’s Red A booth at the HK Products Expo. (Photo courtesy of Freddy Chiu)
In 1974, Alhambra Watch Co Ltd was incorporated. In July 1979, a thief pretended to be a customer and asked to look at a watch at the Tai Po Road store. While the staff was not looking, the thief grabbed three expensive watches worth over HK$15000 from the tray and ran off with his accomplice waiting on a runaway bicycle outside. (WKYP, 1979-7-21)
Article about the robbery of Alhambra’s Tai Po Road store in 1983 (TKP, 1983-2-1)
1980 was a particularly bad year for Alhambra as it encountered four cases of robberies. In April, burglars visited the 147 Shanghai Street branch while staff were busy serving customers and took four luxury watches worth over HK$64000 with them. (WKYP, 1980-4-5) In June, three robbers in their 20s stormed into the Tai Po Road store with a gun and axes while Chiu’s wife and son were present and took over 100 watches worth over $300,000 and fired two shots before they left (WKYP, 1980-6-27) In November 1980, a 18 year old thief took a $9000 watch at the 750 Nathan Road branch but was caught by the police a few blocks away (WKYP, 1980-11-3). In December 1980, four robbers robbed 64 watches worth over $380,000 from the Nathan Road branch with a home-made bomb and axes and one of the six staff was injured. (WKYP, 1980-12-31)
In January 1983, four robbers robbed the Tai Po road store of 60 watches and police fired three shots, two of which hit the robbers’ getaway van but the burglars still managed to get away.
In November 1987, two masked robbers with guns stormed into the Alhambra branch at the Pioneer Centre on Nathan Road and took 39 Baume & Mercier watches and 35 Rolex watches worth a total of $1.5 million. (WKYP, 1987-11-21)
Left: Chiu Chun-fai (second from right) receiving a gift from Chow Kwan-lim of Chow Sang Sang (second from left) and other members of the Sham Shui Po Pier district committee celebrating his receipt of Medal of Honor from the Queen in 1981 (WKYP, 1981-1-17); Right: Chiu Ying-cheung
When Frank Chiu couldn’t find the right neon signs for his watch stores, he started his own Alhambra neonlight business to make his own signs and signs for other businesses. Outside of business, Frank Chiu was active in community affairs, having served on various committees in Sham Shui Po for which he was awarded a medal of honor from the Queen in 1981. He co-founded the HK Chiu Clan Association and helped to acquire its premise in 1983.
Frank Chiu died in April 1983 and the 8 pallbearers at his funeral included the civil servant and historian Dr. Patrick Hase, Stephen Ip Shu-kwan (葉樹堃, later Secretary of Economic Development and Labour), Chow Kwan-lim of Chow Sang Sang Jewelry and family friend J.H. Leung of Star Industrial. (WKYP, 1983-4-29) He was succeeded at Alhambra by his wife Lee Hoi-yin (李凱賢, the daughter of famous Chinese doctor Lee Kwong-hoi 李广海, 1894-1972) who handled the retail arm of the business into her 90s and their son Chiu Ying-cheung (招應璋) who expanded the distribution side of the business (operated out of Pioneer Centre in Kowloon in the 1980s before moving to Tsim Sha Tsui) through the distribution of Longines and Rado watches in the mainland in the 1990s. Chiu Ying-cheung has served as chairman of the HK Chiu Clan Association and in 2009 established a fund in the name of his father which has supported many charitable his native causes in Foshan and HK.
Sources (other than those cited above):
This article was first posted on 28th September 2020.
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