The King of Watchbands: Poon Yuen-sang (潘遠生) and Yuen Sang Hardware (遠生金屬)

York Lo: The King of Watchbands: Poon Yuen-sang (潘遠生) and Yuen Sang Hardware (遠生金屬)

The Kong Of Watchbands Image 1 York Lo

Poon Yuen-sang delivering a speech as chairman of the HK & Kowloon Watch and Clock Merchants Association in 1961. Left to right: Mrs. Gertrude Kwok (郭贊夫人), Poon Yuen-sang, Lau Kam-fat (劉錦發), Lun Tin-lok (倫天樂), Chan Peng-fei (陳鵬飛) (WKYP, 1961-9-10) 

In the 1950s and 1960s, the HK watch industry began to take off as enterprising industrialists began to import watch movements from Switzerland and the US and assembled them with other components into watches for exports to all over the world. As the watch components outside of the movements are easier to manufacture, industrialists such as Ernest Wong of Danemann (see article) emerged to become leading suppliers of components such as watch cases and Poon Yuen-sang of Yuen Sang Hardware became a leading manufacturer of metal watchbands and bracelets.

A native of Nanhai prefecture in Guangdong province, Poon Yuen-sang was born in 1922 and started Yuen Sang Hardware Factory in 1947 (although the firm was not incorporated until 1964) at the age of 25 to make watch bands for the US and European markets. The original plant for Yuen Sang was located at 36 Kam Wa Street in Shau Kei Wan. Poon also formed Wonderful Light Hardware Co Ltd (奇光金屬製品, incorporated in 1964, dissolved in 1984) to manufacture watch cases.

The Kong Of Watchbands Image 2 York Lo

Mr&Mrs Poon Yuen-sang (first and fourth from left) and their children with Mr&Mrs Nathan Goodman (third and second from left) from Baldwin Bracelet in HK in 1962 (KSDN, 1962-7-18)

Yue Sang entered the US market in the 1960s primarily in partnership with Baldwin Bracelet Corporation of New York which was run by Nathan Goodman. A lawsuit between Baldwin Bracelet and the US Federal Trade Commission in 1963 described a setup where Baldwin purchased the necessary metal in the US, shipped them to Hong Kong where they were fabricated into bracelet linkages (presumably by Yuen Sang) and substantial part of the manufacturing took place. The linkages and other parts were then sent to the US Virgin Islands where a Baldwin affiliate Janaco Manufacturing affixed tube ends to the finished bands, degreased and polished them and shipped back to Baldwin in the US for distribution. The FTC complaint charged Baldwin for mislabeling the watchbands as made in the US when they were substantially manufactured in HK.

Aside from low cost, Yuen Sang also differentiated from the competition through innovation. According to Google Patents, there are three patents awarded to Poon Yuen-sang in the 1960s related to expansible bracelets, interchangeable variable width end attachments for watch bands and improvements related to end attachments for bracelets which were filed in 1961, 1964 and 1969 respectively and assigned to Baldwin Bracelet or Yuen Sang Hardware.

The Kong Of Watchbands Image 3 York Lo

Poon Yuen-sang and other leaders of the HK & Kowloon Watch Merchants Association with movie stars at the 2nd Watch fair in 1961. Left to right (watch industry veterans are underlined): Lun Tin-lok (倫天樂), Samson Sun (孫秉樞), Mui Lan (梅蘭), Leung Po-chu (梁寶珠), Nam Hung (南紅), Mr. Ho (何先生), Tse Chu-cheung (謝柱祥), Leung Sing-bor (梁醒波), Wu Fung(胡楓), Lau Kam-fat(劉錦發), Poon Yuen-sang, Luk Ying-tai (陸應泰) (WKYP)

As a leading manufacturer of watchbands, Poon Yuen-sang was elected chairman of the HK & Kowloon Watch and Clock Trade Merchants Association (precursor of the Federation of HK Watch Trades and Industries) in 1961 and presided over its second Watch and Clock Exhibition, which was attended by over 100,000 individuals. Outside of the watch industry, Poon was active in community affairs in the 1960s, having served as a director of the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals in 1962 and 1966 and a director of the Pok Oi Hospital in 1963. He was also chairman of the HK Poon Clan Association (潘氏宗親會) when it was formed in the early 1960s and was involved with the Boy Scouts troop in Fei Ngo Shan.

The Kong Of Watchbands Image 4 York Lo

Left: Poon Yuen-sang (right) receiving the certificate of appointment as chairman of the HK Poon Clan Association from Li Chik-nung MBE, Assistant Secretary of Chinese Affairs in 1961 (WKYP, 1961-4-17) Right: bio of Poon Yuen-sang as a director of the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals (WKYP, 1966-3-30)

The Kong Of Watchbands Image 5 York Lo

Opening of Yuen Sang Hardware’s wholesale office in Central in 1970. Left to right: Poon Kwok-ming, Poon Yuen-sang, Samson Sun, Mrs. Poon Yuen-sang, Shum Wai-kin; Yuen Sang also donated $5500 to the Community Chest for the occasion as Sun was its fundraising committee chair (WKYP, 1970-9-24)

In September 1970, Yuen Sang Hardware opened its first wholesale office at the Prosperous Building (裕昌大廈) at 48-52 Des Voeux Road Central.

In March 1973, Yuen Sang Hardware went public on the Kowloon Stock Exchange, issuing 3.6 million shares at HK$1 each, with projected income that year of HK$1.8 million which valued the company at HK$11.7 million or a 6.5 times forward PE multiple. At the IPO, the firm’s chairman was Poon Yuen-sang while its vice chairman was Lo Kwok-kai (盧國楷), who had served as a director of Po Leung Kuk in 1967 and vice chairman of the Watch Merchants Association. Other directors included Poon’s eldest son Poon Kwok-ming (潘國明), who joined the family business after studies in the UK in the mid-1960s and had served as director of the South China Athletic Association; Peter Chan Po-fun, the accountant and chairman of the Kowloon Stock Exchange and Shum Wai-kin, a manager of the watchband factory. Using the proceeds of the IPO, Yuen Sang moved into 18000 sq ft new factory at the Zung Fu Industrial Building on King’s Road in Quarry Bay the same year and Lo Kwok-kai and Poon Kwok-ming were sent to Europe to procure latest equipment from Switzerland and other countries.

Despite being a publicly listed company, Yuen Sang maintained a relatively low profile for the decade after its listing and maintained its focus on watchbands and watch cases. in August 1987, Peter Chan who was still a director of the firm confirmed rumors of merger talk with the digital watch maker Tele-Art (科苑) controlled by Robert and Elmer Yuen as prospective buyer. In an interesting twist however, Chuang’s Consortium (controlled by cutlery magnate Chuang Chung-wen, see article) ended up acquiring over 65% of Yuen Sang in October 1987. At the time, Chuang’s controlled another subsidiary Lambda Electronics (能達電子) which had been involved in digital watch production since 1975. In December 1987, Yuen Sang acquired Lambda from Chuang’s from HK$24 million. This was followed by Yuen Sang buying an industrial building at 49-51 Hung To Road in Kwun Tong from Chuang’s for $97 million in 1988 and acquiring 4 properties from Chuang’s for $200 million in 1991. The firm’s focus shifted to real estate over time and was renamed Yuen Sang Enterprises in 1988 andChuang’s China (莊士中國) in 1999 although its subsidiary Yuen Sang Watch Industries continued to make watch cases and bracelets out of Huizhou in the mainland.

The Kong Of Watchbands Image 6 York Lo

Lo Kwok-kai at the 23rdanniversary of the Watch Association. Right to left: Lo, Samson Sun, chairman Yip Wan-chuen (葉雲泉) andvice chairman Chow Pui-wong (周培煌). Source: KSEN, 1970-7-4

Sources (other than those quoted above):

Kung Sheung Evening News, 1973-7-4

Ta Kung Pao, 1987-10-31, 1988-6-25, 1987-12-18

WahKiuYatPo, 1965-9-7

https://www.hkmemory.hk/collections/postwar_industries/manufacturing_industries/clocks_and_watches/industry_focus/index.html

https://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E9%81%A0%E7%94%9F%E9%87%91%E5%B1%AC%E8%A3%BD%E5%93%81

http://www.chuangs-china.com/en/industrial/

This article was first posted on 14th January 2019.

Related Indhhk articles:

  1. Lam Yuen Fong (林源豐) – King of Watches
  2. Watch Case Pioneer: Ernest C. Wong (王澤流) and Danemann Watch Case Factory (德明錶壳廠)
  3. G Falconer & Company, Watchmakers & Jewellers – HK agent for Ross Optical Ltd, Clapham, London and Kelvin & Hughes, marine instruments, London
  4. Gaupp & Company, Hong Kong watchmaker
  5. Chas J. Gaupp & Company – Chronometer, Watch and Clock makers
  6. The Stelux Group, founded HK 1963, manufacturer of watch components
  7. Three Generations and Three Industries: From Budson Watch to Casey Diamonds to Ingrid Millet
  8. Yu Yat Kee Watch Co (余日記)

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