Hong Kong Jade Industry and some of its pioneers

York Lo: Hong Kong Jade Industry and some of its pioneers

The trading and manufacturing of jade is one of the oldest businesses in HK but the industry did not form its group until June 1965 when the US government imposed an embargo on HK jadeite goods and in response, J.D. McGregor, then Deputy Director of Commerce and Industry suggested industry leaders to form the HK Jade & Stone Manufacturers Association (玉石製品廠商會, hereafter referred to as JSMA) to negotiate with the US government to lift the ban, which resulted in losses of $20 million in annual revenues and several hundred jobs. Thanks to the lobbying efforts of the group, the US resumed imports of jadeite in 1967 from HK with certificate of origins and the group, which was renamed the HK Jewellery& Jade Manufacturers Association in 1997 remains the jade industry’s leading organization today.Below are the profiles of some of the 11 founding directors of the Association (including 3 who had served as chairman) and two key figures who dominated the HK-Burma jade trade (Burma being the main source of jade) in the 1950s and 1960s and were affiliated with the Association in its early years.

Sources (other than those cited above):



Lee San-chiek (李生澤), Yon Kwan-wan (容貫雲)and Yue Fung Company (裕豐公)

Hong Kong Jade Industry Image 1 York Lo


Left: Lee San-chiek; Right: Lee Yon Kwan-wan (center) with his sons and staff and pieces of the Royal Jade boulder (Richard S.K. Lee, Journal of Gemmological Association of HK)

Lee San-chiek, whose Burmese name was U Loy Yo, and his wife Yon Kwan-wan (1923-2013) were a power couple in the HK and Burmese jade industry and together with Lee Chan-taik to be covered in the next section at one time controlled 80% of Burmese jade traded in Hong Kong.

A native of Tengchong in Yunnan province (雲南騰冲), Lee was born into the jade business as his father Lee Pun-yan (李本仁), was a leading jade merchant in Yunnan and Burma with branches in Mogok and Mogaung. In 1915, Lee Pun-yan and his partner acquired a boulder weighed over nine tons that was unearthed in northern Burma. This turned out to be one of the most precious jade stone ever discovered and was sold in China for 100,000 dollars (Yuan Shikai currency).The boulder was cutinto thirteen pieces, five of which were bought by Shanghai jade dealer John Chang Wen-ti who commissioned 150 craftsmen to turn it into the Green Jade Pagoda, which was featured in the China Pavilion of the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933 and heralded as “The Eighth Wonder of the World” before it was donated to the Oakland Museum where it was sadly kept in the basement for many years. (Magnificent Chinese Jade Pagoda by Mae Chang Koh) The boulder earned Lee the title of “King of Jade” and he became a major supplier of Burmese jades to jewelers in major cities in China including Shanghai, Canton and HK.

Lee San-chiek and his cousin Lee San-wahinherited his father’s business and together with his wife Yon Kwan-wan who was a native of Canton, took it to the next level. San-chiek managed the mines and sourcing of jade in Burma which were shipped to HK where Yon determined whether to cut them locally or ship them to Europe and the US. In 1954, Lee San-chiek and San-wah acquired a 600 kg stone in Burma for HK$360,000 and resold it in HK for over HK$2 million. In 1960, Lee San-chiek bought half interest in a stone from Lee Yuk-shan (see below) for $540,000 and later sold the stone for HK$8 million in HK. Aside from jade, Lee also dealt in a material called maw sit sit and invited the renowned gemologist Dr. EduardGubelin (1913-2005) to visit Mogok in 1963 to study the gem. (Journal of Gemmology, 1965) After the Burmese dictator Ne Win came to power and nationalized the mines in 1962, San-chiek moved his base to HK and Bangkok where he and his family continued to deal in Burmese jade under Yue Fung Company and other companies.

In the early 1960s, the Lee family’s mine in Sanka in northern Myanmar recovered a boulder weighed 101 catties (approx. 61 kgs) which was shipped to HK and the couple named it the “Royal Jade Boulder”. During the riots in 1967, the Lees shipped the boulder to Sydney for safekeeping and finally cut and polished in 1992.

Lee San-chiek died in 1974 and was succeeded by Yon, who continued to deal in Burmese jade and was presented with gifts by two deputy prime ministers and the Minister of Mines of Myanmar (the name of Burma after 1989) in 1993 for attending the annual Myanmar gem emporium for 30 times.She died almost four decades after her husband in 2013. Their two sonsRichard S.K. Lee (李承光) and S.Y. Lee (李承耀) are both medical professionals and Richard is also a graduate gemologist.

Sources (other than those cited above):




Lee Chan-taik (李昌) and Man Ching Co (萬青公司) and Yun Chan Co (雲昌公)

From the 1950s to 1980s, the family of Lee Chan-taik was major player in the HK-Burmese jade trade. A native of Shandong, Lee Chan-taik grew up in Yunnan where his father who was a soldier in the Manchu army stationed there. He started his career as a photographer across the border in Burma and switched career to jade after a piece of stone he bought in Phakant, the town known for its jade mines in northern Burma, turned out to be a precious piece of jade netting him 2000 dollars (warlord currency) in profits. He put all his money into jade in Burma, buying stones from the natives and started his own mines. In 1952, he and Wang Tak-kwong (王德光) opened Tak Yuan store (德源商行) in Mogok which became a gathering place for jade dealers in the region.

In the 1940s, Lee Chan-taik assisted the KMT forces against the Japanese and befriended the KMT general Li Mi (1902-1973), the commander of KMT troops in northern Burma who attempted to retake Yunnan from 1949 to 1953. Lee maintained close ties to the KMT regime in Taiwan, where he established the Lee Chan-taik Scholarships at the Chung Hsin New Village, a new town built in 1956 in the suburb of Taipei. When he went to Taipei for the World Chinese Business Conference, he received a patriotic medal from Chiang Kai-shek and was also elected to the board of the Burma Chinese Association and the Overseas Chinese Save the Nation Federation.

Hong Kong Jade Industry Image 2 York Lo

Lee Yuk-kwong and Kathy Chiu at a Po Leung Kuk function

In 1950, Lee Chan-taik entered the HK market with the help of an old friend he had helped in the past in Phakant. He formed Yun Chan Co in HK in partnership with Lee Yon Kwan-won (the firm’s name being an acronym of their names) to distribute Burmese jade throughout Southeast Asia and he and Lee San-chiek and Lee San-wah became known as the “Three Lees” which dominated the Burmese jade trade.

After Ne Win came to power in Burma in 1962, he nationalized all the jade mines and 40 crates of Lee family’s jade were seized including a 200 kg boulder which was later displayed at the Burma Pavilion of the World Expo in Canada that still had the family’s seal on it.Lee Chan-taik moved to Hong Kong while his eldest son Lee Yuk-shan (李旭山, 1937-1987), whom he had groomed to be his successor since the age of 16, stayed behind to tend to business. Yuk-shan had a natural talent for spotting gems and the bravado to operate in the treacherous terrain in Burma and Thailand dealing with both the wilderness (allegedly he had to shoot wild deer off the highway leading to the family’s jade factory) and the dangerous characters in the region. He established Man Ching Company, who opened an alternative route for buying Burmese jades to the state-controlled auctions by buying them from traders in northern Thailand.

After the JSMA was founded, Lee donated a large sum to help the organization acquired its premises at the Hang Lung Building in Central in 1968 and in appreciation for his generosity, he was named life president of the group.

In 1971-73, the Lee family sold two pieces of jade which broke the record for Burmese jade – a 50 kg boulder was broken into ten pieces and sold through Man Ching Company for a total of HK$14 million (3 pieces for $5.3 million to Kwong Tai Jade to be covered below and 7 pieces for $8.7 million to Chow Tai Fook) and another piece for HK$9 million through Yun Chan Company.

In January 1974, Lee Chan-taik died at the HK Sanatorium at the age of 70 and his ashes were buried in Taipei. He was survived by his wife Hau Pak-kan and his four sons (Yuk-shan, Yuk-tung, Yuk-kwong and Yuk-fai – the last four characters together stands for “glory of Shandong”, an homage to the family’s native province) and only daughter Yuk-fan, a B.A. graduate of Taiwan University. (KSDN, 1974-1-28)

The Lee family remained a major player in the jade business in the 1970s and 1980s under the leadership of Yuk-shan. While Yuk-shan have had a lot of success buying stones over the years, in 1981 he bought a 200kg stone in Thailand for HK$6 million which turned out to be a forgery. Hedied of cancer in Taipei in 1987 and as none of his younger siblings were interested in the jade business, it was discontinued. The highest profile family member in recent years is Kathy Chiu Kam-hing (趙金卿), who was married to Chain-tak’s third son Lee Yuk-kwong (李旭光). A former private banker and daughter of New World Theatre proprietor Chiu Sheung-chau, Chiu has served on the board of 9 listed companies and was chair of Po Leung Kuk in 1991-1992.

Sources (other than those cited above):



香港富豪列傳 II, 1993

Robert Lee (李蔭樛) and Hong Kong Gems Ltd (香港寶石有限公)

Hong Kong Jade Industry Image 3 York Lo

Left: Headline news article about the death of Robert Lee in his office in 1983 (KSDN, 1983-1-18); Right: Robert Lee (center) and Wong Chun-hang (right), secretary of HKJSMA greeting a visitor from the US jewelry industry during a breakfast meeting at the Hugo ballroom at the Hyatt Regency in HK in 1974 (KSEN, 1974-4-29)

A native of Ningbo, Robert Lee (1925-1983) was the founding chairman of JSMA for 18 years from its inception in 1965 until his death in 1983. His firm – Hong Kong Gems Ltd – operated out of Room 325 of Man Yee Building from 1957 when the building was first built (Gems and Minerals, 1957; Commerce, Industry & Finance Directory, 1965)

Aside from successful lobbying efforts with the US government, JSMA under Lee’s leadership organized the first jadeite exhibition in HK in 1968 at the City Hall and sent delegations to major jewelry trade shows in the US, Japan, Europe and the Middle East. In 1981, Lee was appointed committee member of the Jewellery Industry Training Authority. In January 1983, Robert Lee suddenly dropped dead at his desk in his office in Man Yee Building and was discovered by his colleagues with a handwritten note stating “I have taken the medicine” and empty medicine bottles. According to his friends, he was suffering from heart disease and high blood pressure.  After his death, the firm continued to operate out of 325 Man Yee Building into the 1990s. (Gem &Jewellery Yearbook, 1996) As a firm, HK Gems Ltd was dissolved in 2002.

Cheung Yui () and Kwong Tai Jade Company (廣泰玉器)

Kwong Tai Jade Co was one of the leading players in the jade business in HK led by its founderCheung Yui. The firm operated out of Man Yee Building in Central with its head office at Room 125, wholesale office at Room 126 and showroom at U-23 in the shopping arcade. (XianggangShikuang, 1970) According to author Ng Suk-yin (伍淑賢) whose older brother worked for the firm in the 1960s, the store had the look of an old establishment with its Chinese signage hung prominently in the center although it was never really busy and her brother eventually quit even though he was sent to Burma to learn the trade.

In October 1965, Cheung Yui as vice chairman of the newly formed JSMA spoke to the press about the supply of Burmese jade in HK. According to him, there were 50000 pounds of jade in HK with certified sources and another 100,000 pounds in the hands of jade merchants and collectors and annual exports at the time was only several thousand pounds so there was no concerns for supply even though Burmese jade had been nationalized. The group was also organizing two delegations to Burma to participate in the state sponsored jade fair that month, first one with 26 people and second one with 60 people. He reiterated that almost all jade in HK came from Burma instead of mainland China and Burmese prefer to trade directly in HK dollars rather than dealing with the mainland Chinese so the Americans should not worry. (KSDN, 1965-10-22)

After the death of Robert Lee in 1983, Cheung Yui (張銳) succeeded him as the second president of the HK Jade & Stone Manufacturers Association and served in that position until 1985 when he was succeeded by Fong Hung-yiu. In 1984, Cheung Yui spoke to the press as chairman of the HKJSMA about how the restricted supply of jade from Burma was threatening the HK jade industry which was already struggling due to lower jewelry sales thanks to the economic slump. (KSDN, 1984-5-17)

Cheung Yui passed away in 1995. In 1996, Kwong Tai Jade Co Ltd (廣泰玉器有限公司) was incorporated but it was dissolved in 2003.

Sources (other than those cited above):


The Fong Family and South China Artcrafts & Gems Co Ltd and Singapore Gems

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Left: Singapore Gems Building; right: Wife of Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser during her visit to Singapore Gems in 1984. (Straits Times, 1984-3-20)

JSMA founding director Fong Hung-you (方洪耀) founded South China Artcrafts& Gems (南華工藝寶石) in 1962 (although as a firm it was not incorporated until 1975) andincorporated South China Industrial (南國實業) in 1968. From the late 1960s onwards, South China operated out of Tung Chong Factory Building on King’s Road in North Point. (Red Book, 1969)

In 1972, Fong established Singapore Gems & Metals Factory (新加坡宝石金属制品厂) in Singapore with JSMA co-founder Chen Loy-hing (陳來慶) of Kung Hing Jade Co (公興玉器號), Hanson Kwauk, chairman of the Singapore Land and Housing Developers Association and Lo Ka-chung of Foo Hang Jewellery (see article on diamonds). By 1979, Singapore Gems& Metals was the largest jewelry factory in Singapore with over 200 workers and receiving tens of thousands of visitors per year (NYSP, 1979-10-5) In HK, he also established the watch company Designtime Ltd (天姿鐘表, incorporated in 1985 and dissolved in 2006) to produce precious stone clocks and watches.

In 1985, Fong Hung-you succeeded Cheung Yui as chairman of JSMA and served in the position for 10 years.During his time as chairman, the Association established the HK Jade & Stone Laboratory in 1993 to provide certification services to the trade and consumers and participated in many international trade shows, including the “Hong Kong Sparkles in New York” event at the JA International Jewelry Show in NYC in July 1990 to celebrate the Association’s 25th anniversary which was organized by his son Wallace along with Tse Sui-luen, Charles Chan Sing-chuk (陳聖澤, who succeeded him as JSMA chairman in 1995) and Henry Wai (see below). In 1990, Fong’s various businesses including South China, Singapore Gems and Designtime teamed up to build a “Gem Castle” for jewelry fairs in HK and Singapore, inspired by castles he saw in Germany and Luxembourg. The “Gem Castle”, which took 3 months to make and made up of 10000 pieces of different gemstones, was sold for HK$1.5 million to a Japanese buyer. This was followed by another “Gem Castle” inspired by Russian artwork in 1991. (WKYP, 1990-12-6)

Fong Hung-you died in 1999 and was succeeded by his children – Wallace Fong Wa-ngok (方華鍔), Tony Fong Pui-ching (方培正) and Lily Fong Lai-wah (方麗華).

Hong Kong Jade Industry Image 5 York Lo

Left: workers outside of Singapore Gems’ factory in 1985 (Straits Times, 1985-5-28); right: workers at Singapore Gems making “gem paintings” in 1979 (NYSP, 1979-10-5)

Sources (other than those cited above):


Tai Yick Lai Kee (大益麗)

Hong Kong Jade Industry Image 6 York Lo

Left: Tai Yick Lai Kee on the right; right: picture of Lam Wai-yue at the airport before boarding a JAL flight to Japan in 1966 (WKYP, 1966-8-15)

JSMA founding director Lam Wai-yue was the founder of Tai Yick Lai Kee, which operated out of 238 Queen’s Road Central as shown in the picture in the profiles of neighbors Cheung Lai Chun Jewelry and Shing Chai Tong Drug Co. It was founded in 1952 but was not incorporated until 1957 with $600,000 in capital. Its chairman at launch was Chee Kaw-ho (朱裘浩), whose listed address was 1 Derby Road in Kowloon, while its managing director was Lam Wai-yue (林惠如), who was listed at 14 Electric Street. (FEER, 1957)

In June 1970, Lam Wai-yue went to the US with his wife and daughter to attend the wedding of his second son Lam Kwok-chi (林國志) and to visit his eldest son Lam Kwok-wah (林國華) and his fourth son Lam Kwok-kwan (林國鈞). (WKYP, 1970-6-11) In 1971, Tai Yick Lai Kee was one of the first six firms from HK to participate in the Jewelers of America (JA) trade show along with Tse Sui Luen and others.

Outside of the jewelry business, Lam Wai-yue was also a director of the HK Toishan Chamber of Commerce. The firm has operated out of Tack Building on Gilman Street since the 1980s and is managed by Allan Lam (林國籌), presumably one of Lam Wai-yue’s sons. It is an OEM jewelry manufacturer and its products are shipped to North America, Western Europe, Australia and Southeast Asia.

Sources (other than those cited above):


Henry Wai (韋永龍) and Astor Jewellery (滬光珠) and Maxim Jewellery (美星珠)

Hong Kong Jade Industry Image 7 York Lo

Article and picture of the opening of Astor Jewellery’s newly renovated store in 1966 with Wai Ho and Wai Wing-lung greeting guests. (WKYP, 1966-1-26); Astor co-founder Chung Ling (HK Album, 1967)

JSMA co-founder Henry Wai, who is also honorary life chairman of the HK Jewellery& Jade Manufacturers Association,has been attached to Maxim Jewellery Co and Astor Jewellery Co. Unlike other profiled in the article which focused more on jade, his firms have also been involved in diamonds, gold and other precious stones in addition to jade.

Wai is a descendant of Y.K. Wai (韋堯耕), who co-founded Pao Chang Jewelry (寶昌珠寶行) in Shanghai in the 1930s with Chung Ling (鍾靈). Pao Chang emerged as one of the leading jewelers in Shanghai and when the Communists came to power in 1949, the Wai family and Chung moved to HK where they founded Astor Jewellery in 1951, whose Chinese name means “glory of Shanghai”. Chung, who was born in 1913 as described earlier in the article about M.C. Oung was director of Oceanic Cotton Mill in HK and was also a director of Union Button Factory. In Shanghai, Pao Chang was renamed Cheng Huang Jewelry (城隍珠寶) under state ownership but later reverted back to its old name in 1993 and back to Chenghuang again when it moved to the Yuyuan district in 1996.

In January 1966, Astor Jewelry opened its new store at the Man Yee Building in Central after renovations. At the time, Wai Ho (韋灝) as chairman of the firm while Chung Ling was managing director and Henry Wai was manager. (WKYP, 1966-1-24) In early 1971, Astor was burglarized twice – first in March when a burglar took a diamond necklace but was later arrested and then in April a burglar broke the display window and took three diamond and jade rings worth over $300,000. (KSDN, 1971-4-11) The next year (1972), Astor Jewellery Ltd was incorporated.

Maxim Jewellery also operated out of Man Yee Building. (HK Exporter and Far Eastern Importer, 1970) As a firm, Maxim Jewellery was incorporated in 1987, dissolved in 1997 and then re-registered again in 2006 and dissolved in 2008. Currently the firm operates out of Loke Yew Building and is managed by Joseph Wai.

Sources (other than those cited above):


The So Family and Wing Wah, Tai Hang and Wo Sang

Three of the 11 founders of JSMA – Chu Ying-lun of Wing Wah Jade Ware, So Shung-kim of Tai Hang Jade Co and So Shung-lai of Wo Sang Jade Co are related by blood as they came from three branches of the So family.

The patriarch of the So family of jade dealers was So Man-lung (蘇文隆, 1896-1970), who was also known as So Wai-nam (蘇偉南). He died in May 1970 at the HK Sanatorium at the age of 74 and was survived by two wives, 6 sons and 7 daughters. (WKYP, 1970-5-17)

Wai-nam’s son So Shung-kai (蘇崇佳) and his son in law Chu Ying Lun (朱應麟) operatedWing Wah Jade Ware Co(永華玉器), which operated out of 184A Queen’s Road Central to the right of Cheung Lai Chun and Shing Chai Tong covered in an earlier article and also next to Tai Yick Lai Kee covered above. In 1965, Hang Tak Co Ltd, the landlord of Wing Wah’s premises at 184A Queen’s Road Central filed a lawsuit against Chu Ying-lun, So Shung-kai and Wing Wah for $400,000 in damages due to construction delays caused by their unwillingness to move out and the Court ruled in favor of HangTak. (WKYP, 1965-7-20)

In 1976, Chu Ying-lun gave a talk about jade at the Rotary Club of HK West. According to Chu, there were about 100 jade traders and over 2000 small jade factories and many of the vendors in the Jade Market on Canton Road in Kowloon formerly operated in the jade market in Canton which has history of over a century. While jades were sourced from multiple countries across the globe, the majority of it still came from Burma where the government held an auction every February that attracted traders and jewelers from across the globe and some of the Burmese jades also came through Thailand. (WKYP, 1976-10-2)

As a firm, Wing Wah Jade Ware was incorporated in 1961 and dissolved in 1994.

One of Wai-nam’s sonsSo Shung-kin (蘇崇健, rank 11) studied engineering and worked as a civil engineer in Toronto married Hui Yan-duen (許仁端), a graduate of HK Baptist College and daughter of Hui Chi-ping (許志平) in 1968 (KSEN, 1968-8-13) In 1983, Sung-kin raised HK$150 million from a consortium of banks including HSBC to develop a waterfront hotel in Cham Kong which was benefiting from the nearby South Sea oilfield with target completion in 1986. (TKP, 1983-6-29)

Wai-nam had two younger brothers – So Cheung-yiu (蘇長堯) and So Kwong-fai (蘇光輝) and a younger sister. So Cheung-yiu has three sons and six daughters and one of his sons – So Shung-kim (蘇崇儉) operated Tai Hang Jade (大恒玉器號). So Kwong-fai had six sons and two daughters and one of his sons So Shung-lai (蘇崇禮) operated Wo Sang Jade (和生玉器號) out of 78 Jervois Street (Xianggang Shikuang, 1970)

This article was first posted on 26th April 2021.

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