A Crown Jewel

By Charmian Leong
Photography by Zulfadli bin Rahman
12 Jul 2023

Cindy Yeung of Emperor Watch and Jewellery went from deliberate anonymity to the radiant face of her family business’ luxury retail arm — and she insisted on doing it the hard way.

When Cindy Yeung’s father asked her to quit her entry level job at a jewellery wholesaler to join the thriving family business that is Emperor Watch and Jewellery, her immediate reaction was to decline.

“He even told me he would give me a managerial position, but I didn’t want it,” she recalls. It wasn’t for lack of passion for the industry or love for the family — she just wanted to learn things the hard way for just a little bit longer.

After graduating with a degree in Business Administration from the University of San Francisco, Yeung asked that she continue her education at the Gemological Institute of America, knowing that she would have to take over the reins from her father, Dr Albert Yeung, one day.

Once she became a certified gemologist though, she insisted on working for an outsider first. “It was with a US jewellery wholesale company based in Hong Kong, so no one there knew who I was. I even gave them a fake address,” she says. “I wanted people to tell me when I made a mistake, which wouldn’t happen if I was the boss’s daughter. When I was scolded, I was happy.”

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But after a year, it was time to return to her father’s side, but on the condition that she started at the bottom, working the sales counter so she could continue learning things first-hand. “I wanted to know what customers liked and didn’t like, and I also wanted to learn what my staff wanted from me and the company.” 

For a 23-year-old, Yeung was remarkably forward-thinking, and unafraid of grinding work despite being born into a life of privilege, as she happily carried briefcases full of watches and knocked on doors to sell them. But very quickly, she realized the need for Emperor Watch & Jewellery to have its own production arm and designs (something she picked up at her first job), and by 1999, she took the lead.

“When I took over, I wanted to change the management style,” she shares. “I wanted more teamwork, and to give younger staff more opportunities. I didn’t want them to work for 10 years just to get promoted to manager. I also wanted our designs to be less traditional, and insisted we renovated our flagship boutique.”

Now, as the CEO and chairperson of the company, Yeung’s vision has long since paid off, with boutiques, multi-brand retail stores, and her own high jewellery brand, Nuo by Cindy Yeung, having a presence in Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, and Malaysia.

Her only regret was not spending more time working independently before joining the family business. “But our family comes from the Chiuchow [Chaozhou] province of China, where it’s all about obeying the family, and as the eldest, I felt a lot of pressure,” she says. “My father was already very successful so for the first five years I was only introduced and known as his daughter, and I hated it. But I knew it had to be done until I could make a name for myself and the things I’ve done on my own.”

“I wanted people to tell me when I made a mistake, which wouldn’t happen if I was the boss’s daughter. When I was scolded, I was happy.”

These things will soon include expanding their fine jewellery stores into China and Southeast Asia, while continuing to travel the world presenting her original high jewellery creations to private clients. “I was in two minds about joining the business at first, but once I put my mind to it, I grew to love it.”

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