The Shifting Sands of Time
In 1950, the Borneo Company Ltd, an English company with their headquarters in London was selected for Rolex for British Malaya and acted on behalf of the Swiss brand to appoint local watch retailers in Singapore, Malaya and Borneo, to represent the brand. Of this original selection of Rolex retailers, only the legacy of Mr Tay Thuan Khee lives on. Mr Tay, a Chinese immigrant who had arrived on Singapore shores from Shantou, Guangdong, founded Lee Chay & Co in 1946. This was the beginning of a seven-decade long family legacy that, with the founding of The Hour Glass in 1979, his son, Dr Henry Tay, and grandson, Michael Tay, continue to uphold.
A year after this inaugural group of retailers was appointed, Hans Wilsdorf, founder of Rolex made his maiden trip to the Far East, which included a two-week stopover in Singapore to meet with his new partners. This seminal visit in 1951 confirmed his long-held suspicions that the region was a seedbed for watch collecting. “Nowadays, people (in Asia) want the best — the waterproof, self-winding watch that varies only a second or two a day in any sort of climate,” Mr Wilsdorf, almost 70 at that time, told The Straits Times of Singapore.
“There were only a handful of Rolex retailers then, hence the owners and their families together with members of staff were invited to have dinner with him at the Capitol Blue room”, said Dr Tay. “I remember Mr Wilsdorf as an outstanding man. He was warm and gentle and smiled a lot. Despite my young age, Mr Wilsdorf made sure that he made my presence comfortable that evening. I was only six years old, but it was an experience I will never forget.”
The Hour Glass and Rolex: Partnership Built on Shared Values
Mr Wilsdorf’s eventful visit marked the beginning of regular trips to Singapore by Rolex senior executives, including Mr André Heiniger, former CEO of Rolex, who first visited in 1953 and who would eventually assume leadership of Rolex a decade later. “After André Heiniger took over, he would travel to Singapore with his wife Odette every year,” Dr Tay recalled. “He seemed to like horses and so on one occasion, I had organised with Eddie Barker, Singapore’s first Law Minister and then Chairman of the Singapore Turf Club, for us to occupy the Chairman’s box at the Turf Club. None of the horses we backed won, but all of us had a grand time that night”.
Dr Tay remained in close contact with Mr Heiniger and would pay frequent visits to the Rolex manufacture in Geneva. It was through these regular exchanges that friendship and trust was forged between The Hour Glass and Rolex, one which continues till this day. All these years later, Dr Tay remains the sole individual in Singapore and the region to have engaged with every head of Rolex.
The Hour Glass: Expansion Throughout Asia-Pacific
From the moment The Hour Glass was established in 1979, Rolex was a foundational partner at its new boutique in Lucky Plaza Shopping Centre on Orchard Road — a mall then deemed the pinnacle of luxury shopping in Singapore. Other authorised Rolex points-of-sale in Singapore with The Hour Glass followed in quick succession with the Rolex boutique at ION Orchard in 2009 anchoring the partnership in the Orchard Road precinct.
Buoyed by an enthusiastic regional watch collecting community, The Hour Glass looked abroad, opening in Plaza Imbi in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 1980, Marina Mirage in the Gold Coast, Australia in 1988 and the Promenade in Bangkok, Thailand in 1994.
More recently, in 2020, The Hour Glass was appointed as an Official Rolex Retailer and partner for the Rolex Service Centre in Auckland, New Zealand.
The recent opening of the Rolex prestige boutique in Sydney, Australia, marked the latest chapter of strategic partnerships for The Hour Glass and Rolex. Sited in a heritage building at the crossroads of Sydney’s busiest shopping intersection, the 450 sqm Rolex boutique at 192 Pitt Street is arguably the jewel in The Hour Glass’ crown. It is a testament to the robust and enduring partnership the two companies have built over 70 years of watchmaking and watch retailing expertise, and a mark of deeper ties to come.
Michael Tay, Group Managing Director of The Hour Glass adds, “The Hour Glass and Rolex share many similar values and beliefs. Our joint commitment to pursue a culture of excellence in our respective companies form the core foundation for the partnership we have developed together. As we have progressed through the decades, we are humbled by how this relationship continues to strongly, and positively, evolve. This only serves to reinforce our shared mission to uphold the unrivalled reputation a Rolex watch has for quality.”
Visit The Hour Glass website to find out more.