Shui Hwa Watch (瑞華表行)
York Lo: Shui Hwa Watch (瑞華表行)
Ad of Shui Hwa Watch in 1977 listing all the brands it was sole agent of (WKYP HK Yearbook, 1977)
From the 1950s to the 1980s, Shui Hwa Watch was one of the leading watch dealers in Hong Kong, best known for being the sole agents for famous Swiss brands such as Piaget (伯爵表, founded in 1874), Baume & Mercier (名士表, founded in 1830), Corum (崑崙表,founded in 1955) and Valgine (威震表,founded in 1917) watches and Angelus (founded in 1891) and Derby electronic clocks for the HK and Southeast Asian markets.
Left: article about the Duke of Kent’s visit to Shui Hwa in 1952 (KSDN); Right: Lam Hee-kang (first from the left), Mr & Mrs. Fan Ka-shu (center) and Omega’s HK representative (first from the right) at the opening of the Miramar branch of Shui Hwa Watch in 1959 (WKYP, 1959-3-27)
The founder and key figure at Shui Hwa was Lam Hee-kang (林豈耕), who as described in an earlier article was the manager of the Canton branch of leading watch retailer Lam Yuen Fong. Fan Ka-shu (范家樹) was also listed as a co-owner of the firm in the 1950s and 1960s. The name Shui Hwa reflect its business focus of distributing Swiss watches to the Chinese market as the word “Shui” means Switzerland while “Hwa” could mean China or Chinese. The original store for Shui Hwa was located at 77 Queen’s Road Central (now the China Travel Building). In November 1952, the Duke of Kent visited Shui Hwa’s store in Central accompanied by senior staff of Jardine Matheson during his visit to HK. The Duke spent 40 minutes at the shop and bought Omega watches. (KSDN, 1952-11-4) Another VIP client was Tetsu Katayama, the former prime minister of Japan, who visited Shui Hwa in 1961 during his trip to HK to look at Piaget watches. In 1959, Shui Hwa expanded to Kowloon by opening a branch at the Miramar arcade.
Lam Hee-kang (first from the right) and staff greeting former Japanese prime minister Tetsu Katayama (片山哲) (third from the left) in 1961. (WKYP, 1961-7-30)
Left: storefront of Shui Hwa Watch at 77 Queen’s Road Central and the damaged Bulova watch display thanks to the attempted burglary in 1961 (WKYP); Right: tram with Shui Hwa Watch ad in the 1960s (Facebook hkoldphoto group)
At around 6pm on a day in late September 1961, a 20 something year old burglar broke the window display at the Shui Hwa store on Queen’s Road Central and ran away with a Bulova watch. Three employees of Shui Hwa ran after the thief and were finally able to stop him several blocks away at the Li Po Chun Chambers. (WKYP, 1961-9-22)
While it carried American brands such as Bulova and other Swiss brands such as Omega (distributed in HK by the Beraha family of Omtis), Shui Hwa shifted its focus to the more lucrative business of distribution, especially of Piaget and Baume & Mercier which it had secured SE Asia sole agent rights in the 1960s. In August 1962, Shui Hwa organized an exhibition of Piaget watches at the Gloucester Hotel in Central, showcasing over 500 watches with prices ranging from HK$2000 to HK$26000 and worth over HK$3 million in aggregate. The watch collection, which was brought over by a Piaget director from Switzerland, included the 2.3mm Caliber 12P watch which was the thinnest watch in the world at the time and created in 1960. The event was attended by around 400-500 guests. (WKYP, 1962-8-15, KSDN, 1962-8-12)
Article about the Piaget exhibition in City Hall organized by Shui Hwa in 1963. Left to right: Lam Hee-kang, representative of Piaget, Fan Ka-shu (WKYP, 1963-10-15)
In October 1963, Shui Hwa organized another special exhibition of Piaget watches on the 8th floor of the City Hall. The most expensive watch on display was a platinum watch with 100 diamonds which cost over HK$144,000. The reception as described in the article above was attended by over 1000 VIP guests including Sir T.N. Chau, Ngan Shing-kwan, Kwok Chan, Peter H. Sin, S.W. Lee (see article) and the Ma brothers of Tai Sang Bank. (WKYP, 1963-10-15)
In August 1965, Lam Hee-kang and Fan Ka-shu visited Switzerland and other European countries at the invitation of Piaget and B&M to discuss plans for expansion in the Far East and to gather market intelligence in preparation for the opening of the largest watch store in HK the next year. (KSDN, 1965-8-16; KSEN, 1965-9-20)
In August 1966, Shui Hwa relocated its flagship store to the ground floor of the Realty Building at 71 Des Voeux Road Central. The new location had great traffic from both Des Voeux Road and Pottinger Street and organized its products by types rather than brands, which was allegedly a first in the industry in HK. (KSDN, 1966-8-2) In addition to exhibitions, opening new stores and traditional print advertising, Shui Hwa also promoted its watches through outdoor advertising on trams and sponsored contests such as the Baumer & Mercier/Valgine bowling competition in 1971 and the Miss Hong Kong beauty pageants shown below.
Shui Hwa Watch representative Auyeung Chi-keung (right) presenting prize to a winner of the Baumer & Mercier/Valgine bowling contest sponsored by Shui Hwa and Four Seas Bowling in 1971 (KSEN, 1971-7-19)
By the 1970s, Shui Hwa’s Kowloon branch had relocated to 9-11 Cameron Road in Tsim Sha Tsui.
In 1972, Shui Hwa established Shui Hwa (Import & Export) Pte Ltd in Singapore to handle the Southeast Asian distribution of Piaget, Corum and Baume & Mercier watches and opened Shui Hwa Jewellery Co (Pte) Ltd on the first floor of the Tanglin Shopping Center as the retail distribution outlet. In addition to selling the Swiss watches it represented, Shui Hwa Jewellery which was staffed by two master craftsmen from HK assisted by two local craftsmen also sold jewelry made from stones imported from HK. (New Nation, 1972-6-10). Shui Hwa Jewellery later moved to Lucky Plaza on Orchard Road in the late 1970s and Far East Plaza on Scotts Road in the 1980s.
In October 1978, Shui Hwa organized an exhibition of Piaget and Baume & Mercier watches at the HK Hilton during which Mrs. Aw Hoe (胡陳秀容, Chan Sau-yung) received a $50,000 gold Piaget watch with diamonds from Lady Rodrigues. (SCMP)
In October 1980, Shui Hwa organized a special Chinese banquet at the Lee Garden hotel for distributors and the press to celebrate the 150th anniversay of Baume & Mercier. In addition to showcasing B&M watches (there were over 800 variety at the time), the celebration also featured a large watch shape cake. (WKYP, 1980-10-1)
Lam Hee-kang (right) presenting watch prizes to Miss Hong Kong Irene Lo Kam-sheung (勞錦嫦) at Shui Hwa in 1981 after the original winner Doris Law Pooi-chi (羅佩芝) was disqualified (WKYP, 1981-10-9)
In the 1980s and 1990s, Shui Hwa operated out of 50 Des Voeux Road Central. (ads from Far Eastern Economic Review and Asia Week). In 1988, the two principal brands represented by Shui Hwa – Piaget and Baume & Mercier – were acquired by the luxury goods conglomerate Richemont.
Outside of work, Lam Hee-kang was also an art collector. He was predeceased by his wife Madam Siu who died in 1966 and together they have two sons Lam Sie-hang (林錫衡) and Lam Sie-nin (林錫年) and one daughter Lam Shui-tan. (KSDN, 1966-7-2) In March 1999, he died in Sydney and his executor was listed as Vincent Lam Sie-yue. (Sydney Morning Herald, 1999-9-4)
As a firm, Shui Hwa Watch was incorporated in 1968 and dissolved in 1997. The two subsidiaries in Singapore – Shui Hwa Import & Export and Shui Hwa Jewellery were also dissolved in the early 2000s.
Sources (other than those cited above):
This article was first posted on 30th March 2020.
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