Cindy Yeung Embraces Her Role in Family Jewelry Empire

Cindy Yeung, chairperson of Emperor Watch and Jewellery, oversees the family business begun by her grandfather. Photos by GIA
Cindy Yeung remembers the exact moment she embraced her destiny.

It was a summer day in her father’s shop in Kowloon, China. At 21, she was not paying much attention to the jewelry, even though her father had been encouraging her to take an interest in it since she was a young girl. She just couldn’t relate – until the moment she paused to look back into the shop on her way out and saw a “very bright diamond.”

That sparkling gem grabbed her attention and sparked her passion.

Yeung’s grandfather, Yeung Shing, opened the family’s first watch shop in Kowloon in 1942. Her father, Dr. Albert Yeung, opened his first store in 1964 and, for more than 50 years, grew the business into the one of the world’s most prestigious watch and jewelry retailers: Emperor Watch and Jewellery.  

He trained his daughter on the ins-and-outs of running a jewelry store from the time she was 12. "Oh, you'll be the one who will pick up the business later on," he told her. Yeung says it didn’t mean anything to her; she didn’t think it had anything to do with her life.

“At that time, I didn't pay any attention because I was so young,” she said. “I told him ‘Oh, OK,’ but I didn't really pay attention.”

Her father, who owned three or four stores then, persisted and asked her to collect the total sales every day.

Yeung’s father, Dr. Albert Yeung, left, trained his daughter from a very young age to run the family business.
“I had to remember the telephone number of each shop and remember all the sales of each shop,” she said. “Then I had to present it back to him. So, from that time, he trained me.”

But it wasn’t until that summer day when that diamond caught her eye and made her “feel happy” that she felt the allure of gems and knew she was ready to fully immerse herself in the family business.

She graduated from the University of San Francisco with a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a major in management and an emphasis in international business. She learned about GIA from a friend in the industry and quickly recognized that she needed the education about diamonds and gems offered at GIA’s Santa Monica, California campus.

“I gained both technical expertise and the practical skills to evaluate gemstones,” she said. “GIA gave me the comprehensive knowledge of diamonds and colored stones I need to succeed in the jewelry business. It opened up a world of opportunity for me.”

Yeung wanted to get outside experience, so she joined the sales department of Anju Jewelry Ltd., a U.S. company based in Hong Kong that trades jewelry products, before she joined the family business in 1990.

From the beginning of her career she learned the importance of building trust to establish long-term relationships with her customers. She really cares about helping her customers make the best choices for them and is careful not to present pieces she doesn’t think are suitable for their age, lifestyle or income. She learned to listen to what they were looking for and watch their reactions to pieces as she showed them.

“Maybe with their eyes they tell me they would love to have [a piece that was] a bit more expensive or a little bit less. From their gesture or expression, I can feel them,” she said. “I have a sense of what they like, what they want, and then how much they can afford. I don't want to ask them to come in and show them [pieces] they cannot afford.”

She sees her customers as her friends and often looks forward to sharing her passion for jewelry and showing them something she has found she thinks they will love.

“I love sharing delicate, wonderful things with my customers and friends. I know what they want. I know their style,” she said. “That is the most satisfaction I have, because they will say, ‘Oh, how do you know I like this? How do you know I want this?’ I feel especially contented when my customers are celebrating their special occasions with my jewelry.”

Yeung is also very passionate about jewelry design. She created the group’s design and production team, a milestone for the company. She is inspired by the natural world; leaves, animals, waterfalls and fireworks stimulate her design aesthetic. Yeung attends jewelry and fashion shows, reads the magazines for each industry and shares her insights and perspective with her staff to help the design team stay on top of trends in the market.

She says the most special design she has worked on was the necklace she wore on her wedding day.

“I think pearl is the most suitable for the wedding gown, but I didn't want it to be only pearl. I wanted to have something a bit different, so I put yellow diamonds with a pearl … a very elegant and with a simple sense of the design. I showed it to my husband and he liked it very much, too. So, he presented it to me on the day of the wedding.”

Yeung and the family’s business have grown together. She is chairperson of Emperor Watch and Jewellery, which has 24 shops in Hong Kong, 55 in China, six in Macau and four in Singapore. She has learned that every part of the business is vital for management and works closely with her staff to ensure that the family tradition of quality and service continue to define their luxury brand.

“To run a family business is never an easy task,” she says. “I have to keep an impressive track record of it and in the meantime implement innovative policies. There is a lot of pressure, but I’ve learned how to use it to motivate myself and my staff.”

Yeung has more than realized the importance and allure of gems and jewelry in her life.

Cindy Yeung Shares Insights to Her Family Business

Want to hear more from Cindy Yeung? In these interview excerpts, this busy, attentive entrepreneur speaks from the heart about her role in the family jewelry empire.

Tell us your favorite part of this business.
I enjoy meeting people and building relationships with them. We get to work in partnership with our customers at some of the biggest moments in their lives. Imagine my excitement when they celebrate their special occasions with my jewelry. It’s immensely rewarding to get to know my customers, and then call them my friends.

How do you build those great customer relationships?
My job is more than management, strategy and a lot of decision-making. I like to visit our shops to ask a lot of questions of my staff and talk to customers directly. You can learn so much from your customers. By carefully listening and observing, you learn about their tastes and preferences, and how to guide them through their jewelry purchases. For example, I always tell my staff not to present the full tray, but to present two or three pieces, maximum. Make sure the design is suitable and let the customer pick up and handle the jewelry. When a customer says, “How did you know I wanted this?” that’s when I am really happy. I know we are building a relationship of trust and making our brand stronger.

What role does gemological knowledge play?
Our customers are sophisticated and they have plenty of questions. We use GIA grading reports to demonstrate the facts about a diamond’s 4Cs, which in turn leads to conversations about quality and value. We make sure new staff is trained about product sense, design, and know how to communicate features and benefits to customers. We also make sure one out of five of our staff is a trained gemologist, and use their technical expertise to evaluate gemstones.

How do you develop your staff?
Experience is very precious. Our qualified gemologists and new staff members do role play exercises and participate in morning briefings. We also bring staff to the Basel Fair and the Hong Kong Fairs to make sure they see the trends at the shows. This is how we encourage our staff to develop a passion for jewelry and become more professional.

What’s the most challenging aspect of your business?
To run a family business is never easy. There’s a lot of pressure on me to continue our amazing track record while constantly implementing innovative practices. I believe that my personal involvement in every part of the business is vital for success, which is why I work so closely with my staff each and every day.

Give us your take on the future of the jewelry business.
It seems the average customer range is expanding, along with their incomes. I think there is now and will continue to be a growing demand in the affordable luxury market. We’re planning to open 20 new shops in China because we see how much potential there is and we’re always working towards growth. Our passion for this business won’t be slowing down anytime soon.

How will changing consumer trends impact your business?
Our customers have certainly become more sophisticated and so have their demands. In their aspirational quest, they seek branded items with genuine value. So along with our new shops, we are optimizing our portfolio of brands, to capture this dynamic market.

Can you let us in on any specific plans for growth?
We'll be launching a series of innovative marketing campaigns and introducing our signature collections, which are designed for a more refined consumer with a focus on quality and craftsmanship.

What new markets are you exploring as you expand the Emperor Jewellery brand?
We believe that Southeast Asia is a growing force in the luxury market, with great potential as a source for revenue. With our goal to further establish ourselves as a global brand, we are always optimistically looking beyond where we currently are.

Amanda J. Luke is a senior communications manager at GIA. She is the editor of the GIA Insider and Alum Connect and was the editor of The Loupe magazine.

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