Foo Hang, Tai Hang, Lee Heng and B. Green– Four Leaders of the HK Diamonds Industry
York Lo: Foo Hang, Tai Hang, Lee Heng and B. Green– Four Leaders of the HK Diamonds Industry
Left: Lo Fong Siu-po of Foo Hang (right) receiving a souvenir for her generous donations to establish the Lo Ka-chow Memorial Opthalmic from Sir Oswald Cheung while Max Ma of Lee Heng (center) as chairman of Tung Wah looked on. (WKYP, 1983-3-4)
Earlier on the website, we covered Casey Liu, who was known as the “King of Diamonds” as the only sightholder for De Beers in the Far East at one time and started the region’s first diamond cutting factory. Foo Hang Jewellery, Tai Hang Jewellery, Lee Heng Diamond and B. Green are four major players in the diamond industry in Hong Kong which emerged after the War in the 1940s and helped to popularize diamonds in Hong Kong. Before then, diamonds were primarily sold to Westerners in HK and the Chinese population generally preferred gold and jade and the diamond trade was also dominated by merchants of foreign descent such as the Ipekdjian family and the Gregory family (to be covered). As diamonds became a passport for survival during the Japanese occupation given its ease to hide, the Chinese population became interested in diamonds and when the Communists came to power in the mainland in 1949, many Shanghainese brought diamonds with them to HK where they were able to sell them and then used the capital to establish various textile and other factories. The influx of Shanghainese refugees provided another boost to the local diamond business.
With Hong Kong’s status as a duty-free port and diamond imports was restricted in most Asian countries after the War, the diamond business in HK took off in the 1950s and 1960s as merchants from throughout Southeast Asia came to HK to source diamonds. (Taiwan also became an important market for HK diamond traders after it was ousted from the United Nations in 1971) To establish and raise the standards for the industry, the traders formed the Diamond Importers Association (DIA) in 1959. In the 1970s, the local jewelry manufacturing industry emerged in HK which provided another boost to the industry and as local retail sales also took off thanks to increasingly affluent local residents, the DIA introduced its DIA Decal which jewelry stores could display and also the “Introduction Card Kit” to tourists and local residents to enhance consumer confidence and protection. In the more recent decades, the lifting of trade barriers and the emergence of the Internet has disrupted the traditional business model of the diamond importers and wholesalers and forced them to shift more into manufacturing and retail. According to HKTDC, HK exported US$15.2 billion worth of rough and non-industrial diamonds in 2016.
The four firms and the families behind them have ran the trade organization Diamond Federation of HK (DFHK, founded in 2000) and its predecessors – the DIA and the HK Diamond Bourse (HKDB, founded in 1985). Below are their profiles.
The Lo Families and Foo Hang Jewellery(富衡珠寶)
Left: Obituary of Lo Kon-ting (KSDN, 1970-5-12); Right: Lo Ka-chung at the 60th anniversary celebration of Foo Hang in 2004 (Foo Hang’s website)
Foo Hang was founded in 1944 by Lo Kon-ting (盧幹庭), a native of Zhongshan. The family was involved in peddling of food and goods during the Japanese occupation and it was allegedly his wife who convinced him to enter the jewelry business and the family preferred diamonds as it did not involve warehouse space and also preferred wholesale vs. retail as it involved no advertising costs. With the help of his sons Lo Ka-chung (盧家驄, 1923-) and Lo Ka-chow (盧家騶), the firm which operated out of the 7th floor of the King’s Theatre Building (later the firm moved to the 16th floor of the building) joined the HK General Chamber of Commerce which was then dominated by British merchants in 1947 to get access to important information about the international diamond trade. The next year (1948), Foo Hang became the first firm in HK to import diamonds from the newly independent Israel and Lo Ka-chung was allegedly HK’s first holder of an Israeli visa. Back then, a flight from HK to Tel Aviv took over 60 hours and Lo Ka-chungoften travelled solo with two passports for safety. Thanks to the efforts of the brothers who established ties with Israel and South Africa, Foo Hang quickly emerged as one of the leading importers of diamonds in Hong Kong. In 1959, Lo Ka-chung and Lo Ka-chow co-founded the Diamond Importers Association in HK with J. Blitz of Johannesburg Manufacturers as its first chairman. The low-key Lo family has been active with the group and its successor DFHK since its inception (Lo Ka-chung’s son Ken is currently vice chairman of DFHK) but has never served as its chair.
Lo Ka-chow (second from left) and George Bloch (first from left) and Dorfman welcome Israeli diamond tycoon Moshe Schnitzer (second from right) in 1963 (WKYP, 1963-7-31)
In the 1960s, the Lo family was involved in the development of Melbourne Plaza in Central where Foo Hang has operated since the 1970s on the 18th floor and Lo Ka-chung’s son Pak-shiu has served on the board of the building’s landlord Melbourne Enterprises since 1989. In 1970, Lo Kon-ting died at the HK Sanatorium at the age of 78. In September 1976, Lo Ka-chow died at the Westminster Hospital in London where he had gone for treatment for eye disease. He was survived by his wife Lo Fong Shiu-po (方小寶) and two sons – Colin Lo Chor-cheong (盧楚鏘) and Lo Wing-hong (盧永康). (KSEN, 1976-9-16). In his memory, the family donated HK$10 million to the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals in 1983 and after many years of planning and construction and additional funding from the government and Tung Wah, the Lo Ka Chow Memorial Ophthalmic Center next to Tung Wah East Hospital opened in 1991.
Article and picture of the opening ceremony of the Lo Ka Chow Memorial Ophthalmic Centre in 1991 (WKYP, 1991-9-3)
As the wholesale business evolved, Lo Ka-chung with the assistance his sons Ken Lo Chung-fai (盧仲輝) and Lo Pak-shiu(盧伯韶) and his nephews expanded into manufacturing and retail with the establishment of Jewellery Flair Ltd in 1979, Eternity Diamond &Jewellery (永生珠寶) in 1981 andEternity Manufacturing (永生製造廠) in 1986. In Singapore, Lo Ka-chung established Singapore Gems & Metals in 1972 with S$1 million in capital with three other businessmen and joined other HK tycoons in developing Suntec City in the 1980s which he served as vice chairman and was on the board of Amcol Holdings.
Outside of business, the family has been active in philanthropy. During the War, Lo Ka-chow gave away half of his fortune in the form of ten taels of gold to feed the starving Jesuit priests at his alma mater Wah Yan College. Wanted to become a doctor but had to forego further education to support his family at a young age, Lo sponsored many educational institutions including sponsoring the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals Lo Kon Ting Memorial College in memory of his father and generous donations of the HK Baptist University, HK Polytechnic (where he sponsored the Lo Ka Chung Center for Natural Anti-Cancer Drugs Development) and HKUST (where there is the Lo Ka Chung University Center).
Sources (other than those cited above):
The Siu Family and Tai Hang Jewellery (大行珠寶)
English ad for Tai Hang Jewellery in 1949 (The China Mail, 1949-7-14)
Tai Hang was founded in the 1940s by Siu Man-wai (蕭文蔚, 1909-1968) and his younger brother Siu Man-cheuk (蕭文焯, 1911-2014) who was chairman of the DIA in 1962-63. Also known as Siu Kit-kan (蕭傑勤) and Siu So (蕭蘇), Siu Man-wai was a native of Panyu.
The firm was the sole agent in HK from the 1940s for cut diamonds produced by Liberty Diamond Cutting Works (Pty) Ltd from Johannesburg, South Africa, which was controlled by the family of Jewish diamond merchant Louis Abrams. In the 1940s and 1950s, Tai Hang operated out of the 7th floor of the Bank of East Asia Building in Central. (see above ad) In the 1960s and 1970s, it operated out of the Hang Seng Bank Building in Central. (AA Far East Businessman Directory, 1969) In the 1980s, the firm moved to the 22nd floor of the HK Diamond Exchange Building on Duddell Street in Central where it stayed until the late 1990s when it moved to New World Tower. (HK $ Directory, 1988; Business Directory of HK, 1991)
Like other jewelers such as Cheng Yu-tung of Chow Tai Fook and Kwok Yat-wai of Grandview covered earlier in the group, the Siu brothers were also involved in real estate development in the 1960s and in 1965, they developed the Shanghai Mansion (上海大廈) at 380-390 Shanghai Street in Kowloon, with flats starting at $20000 each.
Ad for Tai Hang’s Shanghai Mansion in 1965 (WKYP, 1965-2-22)
Left: picture of Siu Man-cheuk before flying to Europe for business in 1964 (WKYP, 1964-1-6); Right: Siu Man-cheuk playing table tennis at the age of 100 in 2011.
Outside of business, the Siu brothers left their marks in the history of table tennis as Siu Man-wai was a member of the first table tennis championship team in HK while Man-cheuk, who started playing with his brother at the age of 16 in 1927 won many championships over the years and served as chairman of HK Table Tennis Association from 1946 to 1948. Man-cheuk was also an avid bridge player and was the HK bridge champion from 1954-56 and continued to play ping pong after his retirement in 1964 and could still continuously hit a ping pong ball over 100 times when he celebrated his 100th birthday in 2011, three years before his death. (Thanks to Bryan for providing info)
Siu Man-cheuk served as In May 1968, Siu Man-wai died at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital at the age of 62 and was survived by five sons – (Kin Sun, Kin Fai, Kin Hei, Kin Ming, Kin Pong). His funeral at the HK Funeral Home was attended by over 1500. (KSEN, 1968-5-20)
Article and picture of the wedding of Kin S. Siu and Rebecca Man in 1966 (WKYP, 1966-6-26)
The brothers were succeeded at Tai Hang by Man-wai’s eldest son Siu Kin-sun (蕭健燊), who served as chairman of DIA in 1971. A graduate of St Joseph’s College in HK, Kin-sun studied electrical engineering at Northrop Institute of Technology before returning to HK to join the family business and his wife Rebecca Man Miu-yung (文妙容)who had worked for Moutrie& Co was also a director of the firm. (HK $ Directory, 1988) As a firm, Tai Hang Jewellery was incorporated in 1968, dissolved in 2005 and then re-registered in 2008.
Sources (other than those cited above):
The Ma Family and Lee Heng Diamond (利興鑽石)
Lee Heng founder Ma Hing-chow with Lau Shiu-yuen, Kenneth Lo Hung-cheuk and other directors at the opening of Chiu Chow Restaurant in 1964 (WKYP, 1964-2-28)
Lee Heng Diamond was founded in HK in 1949 by Chiuchow native Ma Hing-chow (馬興秋) although as a firm it was not incorporated until 1977.
In February 1964, Ma opened the Hoover Chiuchow Restaurant (豪華潮州酒樓) at the Hoover Theatre in Causeway Bay with himself as chairman and Chan Sing-chiu(陳昇朝) as managing director and directors included fellow jewelers Lo Hung-cheuk of Foo Hang (see above), Lau Shiu-yuen (劉紹源) of Mays Jewellery (see article), Woo Yau (胡有), Cheng Man-bun (鄭文彬) and Wong Man-tsang (黃文增). In 1966, Lee Heng focused its business on import and wholesale of diamonds.
Hing-chow passed away was succeeded by his wife Cheng Shuk-ying (鄭淑英) and their three sons – Michael Ma Chan-yui (馬燦銳), Maximilian Ma Yung-kit (馬墉傑) and Lawrence Ma Yung-yee (馬墉宜), who joined the family business in the 1970s.
In 1985, the family established its first retail store – MabrosJewellery. In 1992, the family set up AblemasterJewellery Manufacturing (合意珠寶廠) in Hunghom to manufacture jewelry. The next year (1993), the family launched Ma Belle (瑪貝爾), the first mass market diamond jewelry retailer in HK. Ma Belle expanded its business to the mainland in 2001 and today, Ma Belle has 41 stores in HK, 18 stores in the mainland (including major cities such as Shanghai and Xiamen) and 1 in Taipei.
In 1997, the family acquired Falconer Jewelers, the oldest jeweler in HK which was founded in 1855 and has been operating out of the Peninsula Hotel for many years. In 1998, Lee Heng launched Madia, a higher end diamond retailer which over time grew to 7 shops in HK.
Max Ma served as chairman of Tung Wah in 1982-83 and was vice chairman of the Diamond Bourse while Lawrence Ma served as founding chairman of DFHK from 2000 to 2005 and married Dora Li, the daughter of Far East Exchange and SEHK founder Ronald Li.
Sources (other than those cited above):
The Leung Family and B. Green Co Ltd (嘉年鑽石)
Left: Leung Sik-wah; Right: Leung Yuen-wang (left) receiving the chairman seal from Ho Pak-to of Chow Tai Fook in 1985 when he became the chairman of the (WKYP, 1985-12-30) HK & Kowloon Jewellers& Goldsmiths Staff Association (WKYP, 1985-12-30)
The Leung family is not only one of the leading diamond importers in HK via B. Green but also the leader in the cultured pearl business through Cogent Trading (康源貿易).
Native of Shunde, the Leung family was in the pawn shop business in Canton but made the very natural extension into the jewelry business under Leung Chiu-lam (梁釗林) before the War and later established Po KwongJewellery (寶光珠石) on Queen’s Road Central in HK. In 1961, Po Kwong’s office was located on the first floor of 9 Queen’s Street while its factory was located at 387 Castle Peak Road. By the late 1960s, its offices were located at Room 301-303 at the Man Yee Building in Central while its factory was located at 89 Tung Chau Street. (Overseas Chinese Business Directory, 1969) Later it moved to 82 Queen’s Road (see article on Pinocine for picture of the shop).
By the 1960s, Chiu-lam’s three sons Leung Sik-wah (梁適華, 1930-2019, married to the sister of “Pentax Yuen”, see article), Leung Yuen-wang (梁願宏) and Warren Leung Yuen-cheung (梁願暢) had joined the family business and attracted by the lucrative pearl and diamond wholesale trade, they incorporated Cogent Trading in 1963 and B. Green in 1965 to deal in pearls and diamonds. Sik-wah was the founding chairman of the HK Diamond Bourse from 1985 to 1992 while Warren had served as chairman of DIA from 1981-83. As diamonds was tightly controlled by De Beers, Leung Sik-wah became interested in the cultured pearl business and went to Japan in 1959 and he formed partnership with Japanese producers, which pioneered the production of cultured pearls. In the 1970s, the Leungs began to produce cultured pearls themselves and over time established cultured pearl farms in Australia, the Philippines and Indonesia. They also became the partners of Paspaley Pearls from Australia, the largest producer of South Sea pearls in the world and co-organized its auction in Hong Kong.
Left: Warren Leung; right: Leung Sik-wah with some of his pearls (The Sun)
One of the industry’s leading spokesperson, Leung Sik-wah served as the chairman for the HK Jewellers’ and Goldsmiths’ Association from 1971 until his death and chaired the jewelry advisory committee for HKTDC for 15 years. For his contributions to the HK jewelry industry, he was appointed Justice of the Peace in 1989 and received the Silver Bauhinia Star in 2008 and the JNA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013. He owned several horses with “Success” in their names with his son Lawrence Leung Ka-chi (梁家治), who succeeded him at Cogent.
Sources (other than those cited above):
Next Magazine 2012-10-18
This article was first posted on 1st June 2022.
Related Indhhk articles:
- Three Generations and Three Industries: From Budson Watch to Casey Diamonds to Ingrid Millet
- Kwok Yat-wai (郭一葦, 1915-1990): Jeweler, Developer and Philanthropist
- J. Ullmann (烏利文) – Swiss Watchmaker and Jeweler in HK and China
- Lau Shiu-yuen (劉紹源): Jeweler and Developer from the 1960s
- Cheung Lai Chun Jewellery and Shing Chai Tong Herb Co.
- G Falconer & Company, Watchmakers & Jewellers – HK agent for Ross Optical Ltd, Clapham, London and Kelvin & Hughes, marine instruments, London