With three decades as a visionary businesswoman and creative director behind her, Cindy Yeung reflects on a magical childhood and the next big step for Emperor Watch & Jewellery

Cindy Yeung’s childhood sounds like something imagined by Enid Blyton or Roald Dahl. “I was essentially born and raised in a watch shop,” she says with a laugh. “When I was growing up in the 1960s, we had a three-storey building on Shanghai Street in Kowloon. On the ground floor we had the shop, the second floor was my grandfather’s office, and on the third was our kitchen, living room and bedrooms.

We didn’t really have a lot of toys then so we would play with the watch trays. My siblings and I would help carry the heavy trays to the storage, not really knowing the value of the watches they held—then we sold mainly watches—and I remember to this day how heavy they felt on my small arms.”

In 1942, after many years of selling and repairing timepieces on the streets out of a worn-out suitcase, Cindy’s grandfather, Yeung Shing, opened the family’s first watch shop in Kowloon. Over the next half century, the modest watch business grew to become Emperor Watch & Jewellery, one of Hong Kong’s most prestigious retailers.

Childhood memories

Cindy looks back on her childhood with immense fondness. “I remember being so fascinated, watching them dashing around working very hard,” she says. “As well as my grandparents and father, all my other relatives worked there—aunties, uncles, my father’s aunties.

And it was pretty amazing as a child, seeing them shuffle about all day. I recall being incredibly impressed at the kind of teamwork they had then. That really made a lasting impression on me. Another fond memory is that my father then had an abacus—there were no such things as calculators. So at the end of the day I would watch my father and my uncles calculate their earnings on it.”

As Cindy grew up, she inevitably learned the tricks of the trade, the family business shaping her mind and stimulating her commercial and creative skills. Still, even with this background, it was a few years before she began forging her own path in the world of watches and, in particular, jewellery. “I wasn’t really very interested when I was 17 or 18,” she says. “I suppose at that age you don’t really think of such things.

But when I was 21, I remember going to the shop and one of the sales people took out a big shiny diamond ring from the counter. Its sparkle really hit my eye. I’d say that was the start of my fascination with jewellery. Back then, Boucheron and Bulgari were very popular so I would go to their shops to admire their jewellery.”

A prestigious education

Cindy knew that to enter the jewellery business and be successful, she would need to be well prepared. So it was off to university to gain a business degree, then to the prestigious Gemmology Institute of America for an extensive course. “I will always treasure the time I had studying,” she says. “Then, I was unburdened by the business side of things and was more focused on learning and growing my appreciation for jewellery and gemstones, and I savoured every second.

Though Emperor Group has since tapped into various areas, Emperor Watch & Jewellery remains its founding business, so I knew it was something I had to do, and well. But equally, I have always loved and appreciated art—and jewellery is, in its own way, an art form.”

“Through Nuò, we want to reinvent the way people see high jewellery. We want to create high jewellery you can wear every day, thanks to designs that are contemporary and even edgy.”


Corporate and creative

Cindy’s path led her to become both a businesswoman and a creative director, straddling the corporate and the creative. With her background and experience, she was the ideal person, when the time came, to take the reins of Emperor Watch & Jewellery, where she is now the chairperson and CEO. It was Cindy who saw that in order for the company to really grow, it couldn’t just sell jewellery; it had to design and produce its own pieces.

“I realised that to have a prestigious brand you need to have your own designs and production, so we started doing our own jewellery.” Today, Emperor Watch & Jewellery is renowned for its beautifully designed and crafted pieces. Many designs feature jade, a gemstone Cindy feels has been misunderstood and misjudged as “too mature or too Asian” for too long.

Since Cindy took over, Emperor Watch & Jewellery has expanded to close to 80 shops in Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore and Malaysia. But Cindy has experienced some setbacks along the way. Like most women, her gender has sometimes proved to be a stumbling block. “Twenty years ago, I would say the biggest challenge I faced was being a woman.

The business world, even in jewellery, was basically run by men. Nowadays, it’s not as big a challenge as it was, but it still is there. Today, many of the big jewellery retailers in Hong Kong are still headed by men. But I feel being a woman, especially in this industry, while tough is also a huge advantage—a man doesn’t understand jewellery nearly as well as a woman.”

The next step

Not one to rest on her laurels, Cindy is about to take her next big step. She has reworked the concept of her high jewellery collection in the past and is rebranding it as Nuò—and it debuts in Hong Kong this month. “Nuò” is the Putonghua pronunciation of a Chinese character in Cindy’s Chinese name, meaning “promise.”

The collection revolves around the concept of modern glamour—dazzling high-end pieces that are designed to be worn in everyday life, so that they won’t spend most of their time languishing in your jewellery box waiting for those annual gala dinners.

“We wanted it to be more modern, and with a name people can easily remember,” she says. “In the past we would create high jewellery collections but didn’t really have a brand for them. Through Nuò, we also want to reinvent the way people see high jewellery. For the longest time, to this day in fact, people think of high jewellery as things you bring out for balls or galas. We want to change that. We want to create high jewellery you can wear every day, thanks to designs that are contemporary and even edgy.”

With its launch in Hong Kong set for early November, and later in the month in Malaysia, Nuò is sure to be a stellar success and help Cindy expand her company further into Southeast Asia. The brand will no doubt carry with it some of the magic dust Cindy picked up during her childhood among all those watches and jewels. 

Discover more at emperorwatchjewellery.com


Photography: Ricky Lo for Hong Kong Tatler | Styling: Rosana Lai | Hair & Makeup: Wendy Lee at Wendy's Workshop

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