The passing of Dato’ Rolf Schnyder from illness was a shock to those who loved him best. Two years later, the Schnyders share their individual thoughts about love, loss and duty.

Datin Chai in Victoria Beckham; Both Timur and Enzia are in MSGM, at M Store; Watches from Ulysse Nardin

There was a sense of déjà vu when we revisited the Schnyders at their sprawling tropical abode – close to seven years after we last profiled Datin Chai in 2007. The passing time has ripened her exotic beauty even further, if that was possible. As she greeted us, we noted that the sleek and straight hair that fell down to her waist is as jet-black as we last photographed her and her come-hither eyes emit a glow of vitality. While she has always been slender (thanks to careful supervision of her diet and nutrition as well as Qigong), she looks even more willowy than before.

Then there are her three children; although ‘children’ would hardly define the teenagers taking their place next to their mother for our pictures. Gone were the bashful kids who kept their eyes averted from the camera all those years ago; in their place now stand three confident young adults, ready to take on the world. 

Tall and handsome, the only son and eldest of the brood, Ulysse is a towering presence over his mother. He is fiercely protective of the Schnyder women and is polite and charming. Spunky and opinionated middle child Timur is unafraid of trying new things and voicing out her thoughts. The youngest of the three, Enzia is curious and inquisitive in nature; she watches the ongoings about her with alert and curious eyes. 


Timur in a Hale Bop dress from M Store; Datin Chai in Just Cavalli at Aseana; Enzia in her own attire; Watches from Ulysse Nardin

As the four of them – mother and offspring – obliged our photographer’s request to test out a variety of poses, we believe the family’s late patriarch, Dato’ Rolf Schnyder, would have been very proud to see his loved ones in the way we have captured them in our camera: loving, strong and very much united as a family unit.

“The last two and a half years have been an upheaval, personally,” says Datin Chai, moving straight to the point as we chatted over a very delicious three-course lunch that she had supervised and planned for the day of our photo shoot with her. (Upon having such a lovely but healthy meal dominated by vegetables, fruits and fish, we can see why the Schnyders have such health and vigour!) Those in her circle know how highly Datin Chai regarded her husband and how they treasured each other closely. 

The tale of how Dato’ Rolf met his Sarawakian wife sounded like a life re-enactment from a romance novel that has been recounted times over. The gutsy bachelor knew he had met the lady of his dreams when he was introduced to her at a party. Hooked by her beauty, intelligence and personality, Dato’ Rolf pursued her tenaciously. The fact that she was about to leave to Belfast to pursue a master’s in manufacturing engineering did nothing to dissuade him from asking her to stop by Switzerland for a date, where he soon won her over with his devotion and charm. 

Dress by Issa London at Aseana; Watch from Ulysse Nardin

Even long after the fun and thrilling tribal wedding was over and the children came along, many knew how Dato’ Rolf always counted on his wife as a trusted confidant. He regularly sought her advice on every matter, including that on Ulysse Nardin, a centuries-old horology brand that he had brought back to life from obscurity with grit and passion. 

Being a manufacturing engineer by training, Datin Chai’s knowledge on mechanics – aligned with her refined intuition – was of great help to Dato’ Rolf. She was the chief reason that Ulysse Nardin expanded its market to women and her feedback on the creation of timepieces for women certainly gave the manufacture an insight or two! “I asked Rolf to develop a mechanism for ladies so we don’t have to destroy a manicure or break nails when we try to pull out the crowns for adjustments. Time is a precious commodity for a modern woman, so this small matter is definitely important! We eventually settled on a pusher system that is simple and easy to use.”

It also helps that she shared a love for watches, as she explains, “It encompasses so many areas – from design, construction, engineering, quality control, marketing, legal, etc. I really enjoy horology because it is an ultimate combination of art and function,” she asserts.

We touched upon the subject of her loss for a brief moment. Disbelief is the word she uses to describe how she felt in the months after his passing. She shared candidly, “I did not believe he would go so suddenly. Of course, this would be impossible to get over completely but it taught me to expect the unexpected. In relation to that, I think it is very important to do what we can to keep ourselves healthy and fit for as long as possible until God calls us away. Rolf enjoyed tremendous energy and mobility until the week before his passing, and this is because he was diligent and disciplined in maintaining a healthy body and mind.”

This article originally appeared in Malaysia Tatler's January 2014 issue (click here to subscribe to a digital version); Datin Chai Schnyder candidly shares how she copes with overseeing Ulysse Nardin, looking after her children and taking care of herself. 

Photography: Kim Mun from ThreeSixty; Art Direction: Allan Casal; Fashion styling: Azza Arif; Make-up: Zamri Zainol from Lancôme; Hair: Anita Tang from A Cut Above

© 2022 Tatler Asia Limited. All rights reserved.