Three Generations and Three Industries: From Budson Watch to Casey Diamonds to Ingrid Millet
York Lo: Three Generations and Three Industries: From Budson Watch to Casey Diamonds to Ingrid Millet
The Liu family in 1949. Budson Liu (second row, second from right), his sons Pak-fei, Wan-fei, Casey and Ping-cheong (back row left to right) and their spouses and children.
For close to a century, three generations of the Budson Liu family have been at the forefront of the luxury goods and services industry in HK, starting with the family patriarch Budson Liu who founded his namesake luxury watch store in Central in 1920, to his eldest son Pak-feiLiu who started a watch factory in Japan and distributed Seiko watches in HK; his second son Wan-fei Liuwho ran Budson and his third son Casey Liu who was known as the “King of Diamonds” for starting one of the world’s largest diamond cutting factories and being the only DeBeers sightholder in Southeast Asia in the 1960s and 1970s to his grandson Raymond Liu who transitioned the family business from distributor to owner of luxury brands in the 1990s and 2000s through the acquisition of the Ingrid Millet skincare brand and others.
Budson Liu (廖弼臣), and Budson Watch (弼臣表行)
Budson ad in 1955 (HK Pun U District Association)
The century old Liu family saga began with Budson Liu, a native of Panyu in Guangdong province who came to Hong Kong at an early age and established Budson Company in 1920 to sell watches in Central. At the time, the watch business in HK was dominated by Western firms such as Lane Crawford, G. Falconer and J. Ullman and Budson alongside firms like Lee Jim Kee (李占記) from Canton and Lam Yuen Fong from Swatow (see article) were amongst the first Chinese retailers of imported luxury watches.
The original Budson Co store was located at 104 Queen’s Road Central.
Article about the death of Budson Liu and picture of funeral procession in 1950 (WKYP, 1950-5-3)
Outside of work, Budson Liu was involved with the Liu Family Revival Association as chairman. In April 1950, Budson Liu died in HK at the age of 64 and was buried at the Tsuen Wan Cemetery. He was survived by four sons (in the order of age) – Liu Yiu-cheong (廖耀昌, aka Pak-fei), Liu Hon-cheong (廖漢昌,aka Wan-Fei), Liu Kwai-cheong (Casey) and Liu Ping-cheong (廖炳昌).
Pak-Fei Liu (廖伯飛, 1914-1984) and Wing Globe and Thong Sia Watch (通城鐘錶)
Liu Pak-fei (second from right) welcoming his eldest son Liu King-chung and new American daughter in law Martha at the Kai Tak Airport in 1964 (WKYP, 1964-7-19)
While Budson Liu’s eldest son Pak-Fei Liu (P.F.) was also involved with Budson Co, he spent most of his career outside of the family business. In 1948-49, he served as vice chairman of the HK & Kowloon Watch and Clock Trade Merchants Association (renamed Federation of HK Watch Trades and Industries in 1979). In the late 1940s, P.F. Liu founded Wing Globe Clock Manufacturing in Iseyama-cho in Nagoya, Japan. Wing Globe was allegedly the first Chinese-owned watch and clock manufacturer in Japan and was one of 15 watch and clock manufacturers in Nagoya in the 1950s. By 1952, the factory was producing over 10000 clocks per month which were exported to Europe, the US and Southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam and Thailand. Wing Globe was mentioned in a 1956 Japan Watches & Clocks Association directory and in the September 1957 issue of Timely Topics, a publication for expats in Japan but no further info about the firm was available after that.
By the 1960s, P.F. Liu had relocated back to Hong Kong where he served as Hong Kong manager of Thong Sia Watch, the Far East distributor of the popular Japanese watch brand Seiko. Thong Sia was founded in Bangkok by Wong Chue-meng (Mongkol Kanjanapas, 1919-2003), who also started the watch manufacturer Stelux Group (see article) which acquired famous brands in the US and Switzerland such as Bulova and Titus in addition to Thong Sia. Under the management of P.F., Thong Sia opened its first Seiko Service Station in HK in December 1963 to provide after-sales service to HK and Southeast Asian clients. In 1964, P.F.’s eldest son Liu King-chung (廖敬忠) returned to HK after graduation from University of Missouri with MBA. P.F. Liu died in 1984 and was buried in Honolulu.
Wan-Fei Liu (廖雲飛, 1918-2010) and Budson Watch & Jewelry (弼臣鐘表珠寶)
Left: Wan-Fei Liu the photographer and his Lindhof camera; Right: Hollywood actor Benson Fong (left) greeted by Wan-fei Liu at Budson Watch in 1963. (WKYP, 1963-5-11)
As P.F. was running his clock factory in Japan in the 1940s and 50s, the management of Budsonin HK fell to his second brother Wan-Fei after their father’s death in 1950. In 1954, Budson renovated its store at 104 Queen’s Road Central and the new and improved store was opened by community leader Tse Yu-chuen (謝雨川). The same year, Wan-fei served as chairman of the HK & Kowloon Watch and Clock Trade Merchants’ Association (鐘表商會) for one term (succeeded by Ernest Wong of Danemann Watch Case, see article) and was appointed lifetime advisor afterwards. Under Wan-Fei, Budson was a leading watch retailer in HK in the 1950s and 1960s with agencies to sell the top Swiss brands such as Rolex, Omega, Longines, Movado, Lido, Eterna, Cyma, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Vacheron-Constantin which as explained in the Lam Yuen Fong article were highly selective in picking their retailers.
In 1961, Budson Co Ltd was incorporated and in 1962, Budson moved from 104 Queen’s Road Central (which was being re-developed into Chiao Shang Building, redeveloped again in 2004 into 100 Queen’s Road Central) to the ground floor of Regent House (now Wah Kwong Regent Centre) at nearby 86 Queen’s Road Central. For the new store, Rolex custom built a revolving clock sign which was the only one in the Far East, highlighting the close partnership between Rolex and Budson. The opening ceremony in May 1962 with Sir Sik-nin Chau as guest of honor and Liu family relative Samson Sun as MC was attended by over 1000 guests. In addition to local clients, Budson also benefited from visiting tourists including movie stars such as Jimmy Stewart and Benson Fong.
Article about the opening of Budson’snew store at the Regent House in 1962 with sketching of the new store featuring the Rolex clock sign (Kung Sheung Evening News, 1962-5-11)
Opening ceremony of the new Budson store in 1962 with Sik-nin Chau delivering a speech while the Liu brothers look on.
Outside of the watch industry, Wan-Fei Liu had many talents and interests: he was Grand Master of the Shao Lin “Mai Chung” style of martial arts and head of the martial arts division for the South China Athletic Association; an accomplished marksman who represented HK in international competitions; the first violinist accompanying a leading Chinese opera singer (he could play all the instruments in the Chinese orchestra); an accomplished calligrapher; an expert photographer and floral arranger (Ikebana); a gourmet Chinese chef; a hunter and a fisherman. He had also served as the chairman of the worldwide Liu’s Clan General Association.
Wan-Fei Liu (first from right) and Samson Sun (second from left) at the press conference for the South China Athletic Association judo competition sponsored by Citizen Watch in 1967. Samson is the brother in law of Wan-Fei’s brother Casey and distributor of Citizen (Kung Sheung Evening News, 1967-7-13)
In 1967, Wan-fei and his family moved to Vancouver, Canada where he conducted retail business. He relocated to Montreal in 1973 and the same year Budson under the management of his younger brother Casey Liu opened a branch at the newly opened Furama Hotel in Central. He remained in Montreal until his retirement in 1987 after which he moved back to Vancouver where he died in 2010 at the age of 92. He and his wife Rosita Palomique (1927-2010) were married in 1944 and together they had 10 children – one of their sons Victor Liu (廖敬仁) graduated from the Faculty of Medicine at McGill University and is a plastic surgeon in the San Francisco Bay Area. As for Budson Co Ltd, it was renamed Budson Watch & Jewelry Co Ltd in 1980 and was dissolved in 1997.
Opening of Budson Watch at the new Furama Hotel in 1973 with the Liu brothers and staff (WKYP, 1973-10-26)
Casey Liu (廖桂昌, 1920-2007) – King of Diamonds and Distributor of Luxury Goods
Left: Casey Liu in the 1950s(WKYP, 1959-3-26); Right: Casey and Lena Liu
According to his entry in the HK Who’s Who in 1984, Casey Liu went to primary school at the HK Government Primary School in Wanchai from 1925 to 1934 and studied marine engineering at the HK Government Technical School from 1934 to 1938.
Casey married Lena Sun (孫蓮娜, a longtime director of the HK YWCA), one of the 6 children of Sun Shau-hong (孫壽康, 1900-1965), the comprador of S.S. Fat Shan and publisher. Through his wife Lena, Casey was connected to two other important figures in the HK watch industry as Lena’s sister Sheila (孫絲娜) who ran her own stock brokerage married Poon Kam-kai (潘錦溪, 1920-1997), the proprietor of leading watch retailers Artland Watch (藝林表行) and Precision Watch (金輪錶行) and her brother Samson Sun (孫秉樞) is a leader in the HK watch industry who introduced GP and Citizens watches to Hong Kong. The remaining Sun siblings – sister Ella Sun married famous HK architect Ng Chun-man (伍振民) while Mona Sun (孫慕娜) lived in New York with her husband Chen-Ya Huang and brother Stanley Sun (孫秉輝) is a doctor in HK.
Casey Liu with representative of Vulcain watches at Kai Tak in 1957 (WKYP, 1957-3-2)
Casey Liu started his career at the family business Budson Co but saw greater opportunities in distributing luxury goods rather than just selling them. In 1955, he formed Casey Co Ltd (啟時有限公司) with HK$600,000 in capital to engage in watch imports and garment exports. (His address at the time was listed as 78 Jardines Lookout). By 1957, the firm was the South China distributor of Vulcain watches, a Swiss brand which was the first to manufacture alarm watches.In 1959, Casey became the sole distributor of the French luxury brand S.T. Dupont (best known for its lighters and pens) in the Asia ex-Japan region and the successful partnership lasted for decades. In 1987, Casey and Lena Liu’s nephew Dickson Poon acquired S.T. Dupont through Dickson Concepts. As Casey became more of a regional distributor, branches were established in locations such as Japan and Macau.
Article about ST Dupont CEO’s HK visit in 1974. Left to right: Casey Liu, wife of ST Dupont CEO, ST Dupont CEO, ST Dupont export manager, Casey Co marketing manager (WKYP, 1974-11-23)
From watches and luxury goods, Casey made the logical move into the jewelry business – specifically the diamond business. Traditionally, gold, silver and jade were what Chinese customers were buying in terms of jewelry, but as the Hong Kong society became more affluent and Westernized, the demand for diamonds increased and Casey Liu established Casey Diamonds in the 1960s to deal in the gem. Before the 2000s, the global supply of rough diamonds was controlled by London-based De Beers as a monopoly and only sold to a select group of sightholders (authorized purchasers) across the globe and Casey managed to secure the only sightholder license in Southeast Asia, despite having no prior experience in the jewelry business. To learn about the jewelry business, Casey Liu who was in his forties, went to the US to take a course on gems.
In 1969, Casey began to plan for a diamond cutting and polishing factory in HK and production began at its own Casey Industrial Building (啟時工業大廈) at 20 Wong Chuk Hang Road in Aberdeen in 1973 with experts hired from Europe and state of art equipment. The outputs were sold to jewelers in HK and exported to Southeast Asia, Europe and the US. By 1979, Casey Diamonds was processing 40,000 carats a year and the fully automated factory employed over 100 workers.
In 1980, Casey Diamonds became the distributor of the French high-end jewelry brand Mauboussin (founded in 1827) in HK and opened a retail store in The Landmark in Central. To get around Casey’s monopoly, jewelers such as Cheng Yu-tung of Chow Tai Fook acquired a diamond factory in South Africa which was a DeBeers sightholder and ended up controlling a third of HK’s diamond supply. Over time, other jewelers such as Chow Sang Sang and Wing Hang also became sightholders and Casey eventually exited the business. As a firm, Casey Diamonds Ltd (啟時鑽石) was incorporated in 1971 and dissolved in 1993.
The opening of the Casey Diamonds store at Landmark in Central in 1980 featuring three popular TV actresses at the time. Left to right: Susanna Au-yeung (歐陽珮珊), Cecilia Wong (黃杏秀), Louise Li (李司棋), Lena Liu, representative of Mauboussin, Casey Liu.Legco Councilor W.C.L. Brown of Standard Chartered was in the back next to Lena (WKYP, 1980-12-3)
Article in 1983 about sale at Casey Diamonds with items as low as HK$350 and lucky draw (WKYP, 1983-12-6)
Aside from diamonds and luxury goods, Casey Liu was also involved in properties and stocks. In 1971, he incorporated Casey Agencies Ltd (啟時商業), which became Casey Securities in 1994 and Casey Asset Management in 2004. Amongst the properties developed by the Casey group are Casey Aberdeen House (啟時深灣大廈) at 38 Heung Yip Road in Wong Chuk Hang and Tai Tam Crescent at 18 Tai Tam Road in Stanley but the most visible landmark is the 23 story Casey Building at the heart of Cat Street (known for its antique shops)which was opened in March 1983 by Hilton Cheong-leen, the chairman of Urban Council and the president of the HK Tourist Association. The building had entrances in Upper Lascar Row and Lower Lascar Row (now known as Lok Ku Road) featuring stone lions and nine dragons wall that were custom made in Beijing for HK$2 million and include a shopping mall known as “Cat Street Galleries” (摩囉街中心) in the first 5 floors featuring 3 floors of antique shops and Chinese arts and craft stores, a Chinese restaurant and 2 floors of exhibition halls which featured an antique lighter exhibition co-sponsored by Casey and S.T. Dupont at its opening. The building also includes 15 floors of office space, of which the Casey Group took up 5 floors and the rest are leased out to other firms.
Article about the opening of Casey Building in 1983 and its different sections (WKYP, 1983-2-20)
In the 1990s, Casey Liu like his older brother also immigrated to Canada where he took up horse riding. In 2007, he died in Vancouver at the age of 87.
Third Generation – from distributor of luxury goods to maker of beauty products
Casey and Lena Liu and their sons Raymond and Kingsley in 1966 (WKYP, 1966-7-13)
Casey Liu was succeeded in business by his two sons – Raymond Liu (廖敬邦) and Kingsley Liu (廖敬威), who graduated from Cambridge and Oxford respectively.Raymond joined the family business in 1980 and became chairman of Casey International in 1988.A collector of Chinese ink painting, Kingsley is married to Gloria Kuo (郭瀛芷), daughter of Stanley Kuo of Woodard Textile and Gunzetal (to be covered) and sister in law of former Chief Secretary Henry Tang.
In 1989, the Casey group became the exclusive distributor of Christian Dior watches in Greater China and Crabtree & Evelyn products in HK, opening its first local store in Pacific Place. In the 1990s, the group became more involved in the cosmetic business under the leadership of Raymond Liu and his then wife Helene Wajnblum and began a series of international acquisitions – French women shoe brand Maud Frizon in 1998, French caviar-based skincare brand Ingrid Millet (founded by cosmetologist of the same name in 1959) in 1999, American makeup brand Shimmer New York and French dermo-cosmetic brand Bioscreen in 2000. In the 2000s, Ingrid Millet and Bioscreen aesthetic clinics were launched in Greater China and the holding company The Beauty Group Holdings (標緻集團) acquiredChinese menswear brands Dean andJosfondEspana and French women’s fashion brand Cocomenthe and bought the distributor of Versace and CARAN d’ACHE.
南洋商报, 5 May 1952, Page 5
This article was first posted on 21st December 2018.
Related Indhhk articles:
- Lam Yuen Fong (林源豐) – King of Watches
- Watch Case Pioneer: Ernest C. Wong (王澤流) and Danemann Watch Case Factory (德明錶壳廠)
- G Falconer & Company, Watchmakers & Jewellers – HK agent for Ross Optical Ltd, Clapham, London and Kelvin & Hughes, marine instruments, London
- Gaupp & Company, Hong Kong watchmaker
- Chas J. Gaupp & Company – Chronometer, Watch and Clock makers
- The Stelux Group, founded HK 1963, manufacturer of watch components
- Kwong Sang Hong Ltd – first HK cosmetics brand – vision of angels in Central?