Watch Case Pioneer: Ernest C. Wong (王澤流) and Danemann Watch Case Factory (德明錶壳廠)
York Lo: Watch Case Pioneer: Ernest C. Wong (王澤流) and Danemann Watch Case Factory (德明錶壳廠)
Left: Ernest C. Wong (HK Album, 1967); Right: Ernest Wong receiving the chairman of the Swiss Watch Manufacturers Association in front of the Danemann factory in 1958 (WKYP, 1958-12-23)
Founded in 1952, Danemann Watch Case Factory was one of the first and largest manufacturers of watch cases in Hong Kong and its founder Ernest Charles Wong (1921-2003) was a well-known figure in the 1950s and 1960s as he had served as the chairman of Tung Wah and was elected as a member of the Urban Council.
Born in Surabaya, Indonesia in December 14, 1921, Ernest Wong grew up in Canton and was educated at the Munsang College in Kowloon and Northcote Training College (which opened in 1941) in HK. He started Danemann while he was the manager of the watch department at Shriro and only quit his position at Shriro to devote his attention to full time to Danemann in January 1957. (WKYP, 1957-1-10) The first watch case factory in HK was Sun Kee (新記表殼廠) which opened in the 1930s. At the time, watch cases were primarily made out of metal and there was little competition in HK so Wong decided to enter the business. The original Danemann factory operated out of 1069 Tung Chau Street in Sham Shui Po in a 1500 sq ft space with 45 workers.
By 1954, Danemann had added two more factories – one in Castle Peak Road and another one in Ngau Tau Kok with combined daily production of 5000 watch cases per day and combined workforce of 350 workers. The same year, Ernest Wong embarked on a 11 countries 37 cities tour of the watch industry and personally hired three engineers from Switzerland and Germany. Its water-resistant watch case won the honorable mention at the HK Products Expo that year for being able to withstand over 350 pounds per square inch (psi) of water pressure.
In 1955, Wong began serving three terms as the chairman of the Hong Kong and Kowloon Watch and Clock Trade Merchants’ Association (other directors included Chong Ching-um of Chung Nam Watch, the father in law of Li Ka-shing and the Liu brothers of Budson Watch) and in 1957, he organised the first Watch and Clock Exhibition in HK, which evolved into the HK Watch & Clock Fair and became the world’s largest timepiece event.
By 1956, Danemann was producing 4000 cases per day, mostly chrome, stainless steel or gold plated and extending to gold filled and solid gold cases with plans to double its production capacity. (“Watch case production: an industry with a future” Commerce and Industry Department, May 1956)
Danemann ad in 1959 (HK Panyu Association)
In 1959, HK exported over 700,000 watch cases and Danemann remained the leader in the industry with large watch manufacturer clients from the US and Switzerland such as Timex and Benrus. To support the phenomenal growth, Danemann built a new factory building in Lot 331 in Tsuen Wan complete with 20 new high speed automatic precision lathes which replaced the HK made semi-automatic machinery previously used in the other factories. By the 1960s, Danemann also had branches in London and Geneva to be closer to its customers.
In 1968, HK exported over 1 million watchcases to the US and half of the volume was imported into the US by WMR Watch Case (which stands for Water & Moisture Resistant), a New York-based firm led by Sheldon Parker which was a strategic partner of Danemann.
The manager of Benrus watch visiting the Danemann plant in Tung Chau Street accompanied by Victor Zirinsky (Kung Sheung Daily News, 1957-5-29)
Ernest Wong with family and friends including John Tung of I-Feng Enameling and Chang Shun-yen of Maui-Kong V-Pein at Kai Tak airport before his trip to the US with his wife (WKYP, 1963-8-21)
By 1972 when Jack Cater visited Danemann as the Director of Industry and Commerce, there were 300 watch case factories in HK although Danemann remained the market leader with 25% market share, monthly sales of over HK$10 million (mostly exporting to the US and Europe) and employing over 500 workers. The firm was studying the plastic and fiberglass watchcases and working on digital watch case. As a firm, Danemann was incorporated in 1955 and dissolved in 1975.
Outside of the watch business, Ernest Wong was known for his community involvement. In 1959, he was elected chairman of the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals during which the first reconstruction of the Kwong Wah Hospital in Kowloon took place. The same year, he was nominated by the HK Civic Association to run for Urban Council and won. He served for one term and stepped down in 1963. He was also elected vice chairman of the Chinese Manufacturers Association in 1958 and advisor to the Shamshuipo Kaifong Welfare Association.
Left: the Danemann float in a HK island parade in 1958 (Kung Sheung Evening News, 1958-10-29); Right: Danemann director Lee Ming-tong (HK Album, 1967)
Ernest’s wife Lee Ming-tong (李明棠1925-) went to HKU and received her B.A. from New Asia College. She was a director of Danemann and served as vice chair of the Kowloon Women Welfare Club (1957-58) and director of Po Leung Kuk (1959-60). Together they had 2 sons – barrister Wong Ching-yue S.C. (王正宇also known for composing Leslie Cheung’s popular song For Your Hearts Only; his wife Rina Wong is a niece of China Motor Bus founder Ngan Shing-kwan) and Wong Lap-yue (王立宇whose wife is the second daughter of Kan Yuet-hing of Bank of East Asia and granddaughter of Lee Hysan) – and 1 daughter. In August 16, 2003, Ernest Wong died in HK at the age of 82 and he was buried in the Catholic Cemetery in Bangkok.
Article about young reporters from the Radio HK program visiting Danemann factory to learn about the watch case industry (WKYP, 1968-6-1)
- Kung Sheung Evening News, 1954-12-23
- WKYP, 1972-7-27
- Far Eastern Economic Review
- Obituary of Ernest C Wong, August 2003
This article was first posted on 16th July 2018.
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