Gearing up for a mini Baselworld in Malaysia


Tan Sri Francis Yeoh

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has the potential to play host as a ‘mini-Baselworld’ for luxury watches and jewellery, says YTL Corporation Bhd (YTL) managing director Tan Sri Francis Yeoh.

This was on the back of a successful seventh edition of A Journey Through Time (AJTT), an  event hosted by Starhill Gallery to showcase luxury collections from world-renowned watch and  jewellery brands.

In speaking to the media during this event, Yeoh noted that Kuala Lumpur still sees very  attractive rental rates, with malls such as  Starhill Gallery well positioned towards premium brands to come and set up stores here.

To note, YTL Corp owns Starhill Gallery through its Starhill Global Real Estate Investment Trust  (Starhill REIT).

“Starhill Gallery has the biggest number of  standalone watches in the world. Not in Switzerland, not in London, not in Hong Kong – it’s right here,” he said during a private media session.

“The reasons are all here: Because the rent is much cheaper than other cities. When we took over Starhill Gallery in 1999, we told watch principals that we will give them two, three floors of space so that they can open up their own standalone boutiques and display all their collections,” he added.

“From here, they learnt to enhance the retail experience for consumers by allowing them to see so many watches in one place.”

Yeoh understood the wish of many watch principals to open their own boutiques in Asia but faced the problem of competitive retail space. For example, in Hong Kong, Yeoh said the retail space was about 100 times the cost of that in Malaysia.

“Therefore, we saw that demand and decided to do something about it. So far, this strategy has proven successful,” he affirmed.

After this point, Yeoh revealed that concept of A Journey Through Time came after, as a platform to rival that of Baselworld in Switzerland.

“We are trying to educate the world that Kuala Lumpur is a very big market for branded watches and jewellery,” Yeoh said.

“The Europeans also have this bad habit: While their craftsmanship is fantastic, they have this one-month off for summer.

“So if you see soemthing you like during Baselworld, you will not be able to acquire it until after the summer holidays.

“With AJTT – most of the buyers are Asians anyway – so they need not in March and April for Baselworld, and then wait again for another month to receive their pruchases.”

Yeoh also advocated for other watch principals to consider launching their new lines during AJTT priot to Baselworld, as we are closer to the consumer market.

One fine example this year was Maitres du Temp, who launched its exquisite Chapter One Transparence timepieces during AJTT by founder Steven Holtzman and chief executive officer Christophe Viguerie.

“Many independent watch principals are now looking to AJTT to show their watches before they show it during Baselworld,” Yeoh observed.

“This same idea was mooted by the Ruchmond Group who held their SIHH Fair in Hong Kong this year, coming closer to where the customers are rather than the other way around.

“Why are Asian buyers be subjected to the tyranny of European work habits”,” he questioned. “We applaud their craftsmanship, but we do not applaud their efficiency. We want them to be  closer to the market, to work a little bit better.

“If you look at the fashion industry in Europe, the moment they showcase the latest designs, the  clothes are immediately made available to consumers. Why not watches?

“This industry is the only one that has not matched up with the demands of the markets immediately.  I am trying to change that dynamics for all the watch players,” he affirmed.

For the past two years, CNN Travel has voted Kuala Lumpur as the fourth best shopping city in the world, outranking such as Singapore, Paris, Dubai and Hong Kong in the list.

Malaysia is also well-known globally for being a duty-free shopping haven.