Since its establishment in 2001, home-grown premium timepiece retailer Swiss Watch Gallery (SWG) has gone from strength to strength. What started as a small store at Penang International Airport selling 16 brands has now grown to several multi and solo-brand boutiques in Malaysia, Singapore and Australia, representing well over 50 watch brands.
Among the coveted watch partnerships inked in the early years was with luxury Swiss watchmaker IWC Schaffhausen. “We started representing the brand 15 years ago with one point of sale,” says SWG regional general manager Lee Siew Hoong. “Our big expansion came in 2007, when Pavilion Kuala Lumpur opened, and the IWC standalone boutique was conceptualised. We have further expanded our partnership with IWC from one point of sale in a multi-brand store and a boutique to four points of sale and a boutique. The partnership has really grown and strengthened.”
Lee was speaking to me in the elegant lounge of the IWC boutique at Pavilion KL, the first and only in Malaysia and which celebrates turning 10 this year. Lee was joined by managing director of IWC Southeast Asia Stanislas Rambaud, who was in town for IWC’s 150th anniversary soirée. A testament to their fruitful partnership, the boutique is a result of IWC’s keen foresight and positive outlook on the Malaysian market.
Rambaud says, “For us, if I look back, it was a logical choice to partner Valiram [which owns SWG] as it is experienced in the Malaysian market and a pioneer in retail in Malaysia. It definitely has many strengths and knowledge of the retail environment. One of the reasons why we had so much confidence in Valiram is its expertise in luxury and it is not afraid to think outside the box. It is not afraid to take risks. Opening this boutique 10 years ago was a big deal. It was the early age of watch retail, especially in this part of the world. Opening a boutique in the newly opened Pavilion KL was definitely taking a risk, but it paid off. Thanks to this partnership, we are where we are today in Malaysia. We are a very strong brand, thanks to the effort that we put together in developing the brand here.”
Lee chimes in, “IWC is a very important partner of ours. It was the first brand that really saw the potential in us. It is the very first standalone boutique that SWG opened. Ten years ago, when a lot of brands were still looking at being represented in a multi-brand store, this whole partnership and boutique became a reality. From then on, there was no looking back.”
The partnership’s strength lies in the two companies’ shared values. “We have a passion for what we do,” says Rambaud. “We both strive for excellence, and we both want to offer the best customer experience to IWC customers in Malaysia. These values ensure a strong partnership.”
Lee describes their relationship as “a marriage that has strengthened year on year”.
“Our common values and objectives are very much aligned. We are always looking to create unique experiences for our customers.” A recent example is the private event —“Discover How Masterpieces Are Engineered” — SWG and IWC hosted, which afforded guests the chance to sit down at a watchmaker’s workbench and peer into the world of fine watchmaking.
Lee and Rambaud are also “very much aligned” when it comes to their timepiece of choice from IWC’s Jubilee Collection this year, the Portugieser Perpetual Calendar.
“The Perpetual Calendar is a unique watch and with the double moon,” says Lee, referring to the perpetual moon phase for the northern and southern hemisphere feature. “I don’t see other brands being able to do that. Another thing is legibility. In a lot of a perpetual calendar watches, because of too many functions, they become very cluttered and it is difficult to read the time. For IWC, it’s so easy to read the time, and the dates are also very legible … There’s also the size. It’s a very masculine size and it gives you very strong character.”
“I love the Perpetual Calendar; I wear one every day,” smiles Rambaud. “I’m a very big fan of this movement and also the history behind it, being invented by [master watchmaker] Kurt Klaus, and the beauty of the mechanism.”
He continues, “This year, I’m also fascinated by the IWC Tribute to Pallweber watch, which is also quite unique — the jumping hours and minutes is such a different way to display time and it has such nice proportions as well.”
Indeed, the Jubilee Collection of 27 limited edition novelties is a testament to 150 years of IWC’s watchmaking savoir faire, a fact that is appreciated by a dedicated group of loyal IWC customers in Malaysia. More than a decade of building the brand’s presence here means there is now a strong local customer base, a key strength of the Malaysian market when “compared with some other markets in Southeast Asia, which are very driven by Chinese tourists”, says Rambaud.
Nevertheless, the tourist market is one to tap further, especially now that the Goods and Services Tax has been zero rated. “Tourists from China and also from our Asean neighbours — these are areas that I think we will see a lot more growth in, with the removal of GST and more tourist-friendly policies being implemented,” says Lee. “I believe Genting will be another game changer with all the transformation happening there, such as the opening of 20th Century Fox World Malaysia. I’m sure it will pull in a lot more customers. We will also be opening our new flagship store in Genting Highlands at Sky Avenue — a multi-brand store that’s over 3,000 sq ft. I believe these are all developments that will help grow the business in a qualitative manner.”
Says Rambaud, “We are very much aligned on what is to be achieved in the coming months: striving for customer satisfaction, building brand awareness, offering the best environment for our customers and looking at every opportunity where it makes sense for the brand. At the new store in Genting, we will target strong customer growth for IWC. I’m very confident that this partnership will grow even stronger in time.”
It looks like the only way to go from here is up.
This article first appeared on July 30, 2018 in The Edge Malaysia.