Cover From left: Mukesh, Sharan, Datin Champa and Ashvin Valiram, the family behind luxury conglomerate Valiram Group

Luxury watch retailer Swiss Watch by Valiram Group has grown to become one of the leading watch retailers in the region with a presence in four countries

The genesis of Swiss Watch is a tale of time, chance, determination and hard work. More than 20 years ago, the core business of luxury retail specialist Valiram Group revolved around the textile trade and lifestyle retail. But with each passing generation, its business evolved to match the needs and wants of its customers.

Swiss Watch was the result of the group’s attempts to diversify and expand its reach to the luxury watch industry in 2000. Valiram Group’s executive director Ashvin Valiram recalls when tenders were called at the Penang International Airport, he and his brothers, Mukesh and Sharan, decided to take the chance and bid to open a watch store. This is despite them having almost no experience in watch retailing.

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Looking back, Ashvin says it was extremely challenging entering a brand new industry that already has many well-established players. Naturally, there were roadblocks along the way. “Being young and naïve, we had heard that the sales of timepieces were typically quite high,” tells Ashvin. “When the watch retail fraternity heard we wanted to open a new store, they laughed at our attempt. But that disbelief only strengthened our will and ambition.”

THE BEGINNINGS OF GREATNESS

The Valiram siblings’ persistence paid off in April 2001 when Swiss Watch opened its first boutique in Penang. The multi-brand emporium of luxury watches carried 16 carefully selected watch brands that included Rado, Tissot, Cartier and Breitling. “We were very proud to have been able to present such a product repertoire,” Ashvin says.

Subsequently, Swiss Watch opened its second boutique in Kuala Lumpur International Airport in 2002. Further expanding their retail reach they opened a third store in Pavilion KL in 2008. Moving beyond their multi-brand stores, the brand also took over Rolex in KLCC in 2009 and later set its sights on expanding to overseas markets. A year later, they opened their flagship Swiss Watch boutique at Resorts World Sentosa.

Over the past 20 years, the business has grown by leaps and bounds to become one of the leading watch retailers in the region today. There are now nine multi-brand Swiss Watch boutiques and more than 30 specialist watch and jewellery boutiques. Brands include Rolex, Tudor, Panerai, IWC Schaffhausen, Omega, Cartier and Bulgari. The boutique’s portfolio has now grown to 50 brands that span across four countries: Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and Thailand.

Throwback: Art Of Time 2019 Boasts 12 Prestigious Swiss Brands

GOING BEYOND RETAIL, IT’S AN EXPERIENCE

“Our mission at Swiss Watch is to give customers what they want and sometimes surprise them with something they never knew they wanted,” says Ashvin. “We play with a wide variety of price points, with our brands ranging from affordable luxury all the way up to supreme luxury.”

The impact of Covid-19 has brought great uncertainty to the business, but Swiss Watch has adapted to the new norms by launching a new personalised concierge service that allows customers to be attended by a professional client advisor while they browse for watches virtually. The advisor would be able to assist customers in their selection of the perfect timepiece, just like they would at a physical store. In addition, they can even organise for their purchase to be hand-delivered or couriered to the customer’s doorstep.

That being said, with an emotional product like watches, there are some experiences, like inspecting the weight of a timepiece and the feel of iit on your wrist while appreciating the finer details, that cannot be replicated through a screen. Swiss Watch continues to elevate its in-store experience through cutting-edge store designs and creating environments that pay homage to co-related arts and crafts. “As our customers deepen their knowledge and appreciation in the world of horology, we too want to ensure we are right there with them every step of the way,” Ashvin assures

"I, personally, see time as a precious commodity. It is a depleting resource. Once it’s gone, you’ll never get it back, and it cannot be replenished. It’s what you do with it that matters most.”
Ashvin Valiram

TIME MAKES THE MAN

As the saying goes, time waits for no man. Ashvin often stops to think about the concept of time. “I, personally, see time as a precious commodity. It is a depleting resource. Once it’s gone, you’ll never get it back, and it cannot be replenished. It’s what you do with it that matters most,” he says.

Despite being busy managing a successful business, the practice of studying and appreciating horology has made Ashvin appreciate time even more. “I'm someone who likes to live life to the fullest.”

To him, there is a time for everything—whether it is work, family or play. This involves reserving set times in his schedule for enriching activities, be it a run in the morning or spending the evening with his children. “Having something to look forward to gives me extra motivation to manage my time well,” he adds.

See also: IWC Schaffhausen Launches The Pilot's Watches Exhibition With Partner Swiss Watch Gallery

A PIONEER OF SIGNATURE WATCH EVENTS
In 2011, Swiss Watch celebrated its 10th anniversary by launching its signature timepiece event, the Art of Time exhibition. It is a mark of love by the boutique that gives the public a glimpse into the Swiss experience with exclusive watchmaking showcases straight from Basel and Geneva. In fact, Swiss Watch is the only retailer in Malaysia that has consistently organised yearly luxury timepiece exhibitions.

Each exhibition normally consists of dedicated booths featuring some of the world’s most renowned watchmakers such as Cartier, Jaeger-LeCoultre, TAG Heuer, Ulysse Nardin and more. There, each brand debuts their various novelties and showcase their most interesting pieces. It is a truly unique experience akin to a love letter from Swiss Watch to its customers and business partners.

Showing its deep love for the Swiss watchmaking industry, Swiss Watch introduced another exhibition called Time Kulture in 2013 which became the must-attend annual event for watch aficionados in Malaysia. Guests were treated to a preview of over a thousand timepieces, many of which are unveiled for the first time.

In 2015, Swiss Watch recognised five distinguished Ramli Ibrahim, cartoonist Datuk Mohammad Nor Mohammad Khalid who’s better known as Lat, Fugee School co-founder and model Deborah Henry, designer Datuk Jimmy Choo and squash champion Datuk Nicol David. All five represent the pursuit of excellence, creativity and innovation strived for in the world of watchmaking.

In conjunction with Swiss Watch’s 20th anniversary, the brand will select five Malaysian friends of the brand. These icons are selected for their dedication to the pursuit of excellence, spanning across entrepreneurship, art and sports. The names of these icons will be revealed early next year.

A TIME FOR CELEBRATION IN 2022

Swiss Watch looks to mark its first two remarkable decades by holding a nearly year-long celebration starting from October 2021 running until September 2022. Ashvin stresses that the brand aims to strengthen its business based on what has been built up so far.

In addition, all of Swiss Watch’s multi-brand boutiques are set to undergo a transformation as they will be retrofitted in stages. A tease of things to come can be seen at the latest Swiss Watch boutique at Siam Premium Outlet in Bangkok. Horology enthusiasts can also catch a first glimpse of the boutique’s new concept at the soon-to-be-unveiled Gurney Paragon boutique in Penang by early 2022.

“We have plans for more expansions by opening two new specialist boutiques by the end of 2021 and there will be more boutique openings in the pipeline for 2022,” he says.

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