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5 Things You Should Know About The Hour Glass

Hourglass logoIf you’re a fan of stylish timepieces you’re sure to know the name The Hour Glass Ltd (THG) (SGX: E5P).

Singapore’s best-known luxury watch retailer has 24 stores throughout Asia Pacific, including the flagship Malmaison in upmarket Knightsbridge on Orchard Road, selling timepiece brands such as Rolex, Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet.

Born in Ipoh, Malaysia, Jannie Chan (also known as Dato’ Dr Jannie Tay) was the oldest of six children. She was studying at university in Australia when at age 18, her father suddenly died. Jannie decided to bring her whole family to Australia while she finished her Masters degree and graduated with a BSc in Physiology in 1968, followed by her Masters in 1970. In the meantime she had met and married medical student Henry Tay.

The couple moved back to Singapore, where Jannie taught at the Singapore University. However, when Henry returned to his studies, she became the breadwinner. She took on the role of Sales Assistant at her in-law’s firm, the Lee Chay Watch Company and was soon running its Colombo Court branch.

However, Jannie had bigger dreams having realised there was a steadily growing demand for extravagant timepieces by an increasingly affluent Asian market.

The Hour Glass 

In 1979, Jannie and Henry Tay opened their own luxury watch boutique with Metro Holdings (SGX: M01)The Hour Glass in Lucky Plaza, specialising in Swiss watches.

The large, 1,200 sq. ft. space had over $200m spent on its furnishing alone, giving the plush air-conditioned boutique an air of sophistication. Such a thing had never been seen before in Singapore and the luxurious store was soon pulling in well-heeled customers.


Jannie had soon expanded The Hour Glass to nine outlets in Singapore, and opened boutiques in Hong Kong, Taipei, Australia, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand.

By 2009, the company had boutiques in nine Asia Pacific cities selling luxury brands such as Rolex, Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, A. Lange & Sohne, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Hublot, Ulysse Nardin, Panerai, IWC as well as smaller, independent names. Jannie also ventured into property investment, jewellery and even a restaurant.

But did you know…

  1. In 1997, Jannie Tay was voted one of the Top 50 Women Entrepreneurs in the World and was the first female president of the Singapore Retailers Association as well as the ASEAN Business Forum.
  2. She was conferred the Darjah Sultan Ahmad Shah Pahang (DSAP) which carries the title Dato’.
  3. Jannie Chan’s father and grandfather were Chinese Traditional Medicine Practitioners – and four of her siblings are doctors.
  4. While the first Hour Glass boutique may have amazed Singapore with its sophistication it may not have seemed welcoming to everyone, as Jannie admits some friends confided, “Jannie, I wouldn’t dare step in”.
  5. Malmaison got its name from Chateau de Malmaison – the home of Josephine and Napoleon Bonaparte. The interior of the store has been designed to evoke the sumptuous luxury of its namesake with many real 17th century adornments. What’s more, the shirts sold by Malmaison are made by Parisian gentlemen’s favourite Charvet (its founder, Cristofle Charvet’s cousin, Louise, made shirts for Napoleon himself).

The company generates 80% of its revenues from Southeast Asia and Australia (with the rest from Northeast Asia) producing $9 of bottom line profit from every $100 of shareholder equity.

It also has a decent Return On Equity (ROE) (it generates $19 for every $100 of shareholder equity – the market average is around 11%).

However, despite a growth in revenue, the company has seen a decrease in net profit due to increased operating costs and weak Asian economies.

Today, The Glass House name is arguably the most high profile luxury watch retailer in the region, with many willing to spend their weekends admiring the beautiful new and vintage models on display in their boutiques.

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The information provided is for general information purposes only and is not intended to be personalised investment or financial advice. Motley Fool Singapore contributor Alison Hunt doesn’t own shares in any companies mentioned.