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Prestigious Pursuits

   
Tan Sri Dr Francis Yeoh: Most Asians see timepieces as investment but want to be spoilt for choice. Well, this is one event where for 10 days, you will be spoilt rotten if you're a watch aficionado.

World of Watches Magazine, December 2007 issue

Writes:?William Kee
Portrait: Vincent Paul Yong

By the time you read this, Starhill Gallery in Kuala Lumpur would've turned into a hive of activity as moneyed collectors from around the region zoom in to peruse the best in haute horlogerie. And the man to thank for this BaselWorld-modelled fair is Tan Sri Dato' Francis Yeoh, Group Managing Director of YTL Corporation Berhad, which owns Starhill Gallery.

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"We have invited millionaires and billionaires from around Asia to come to the event. Thus far, we have confirmation that four private jets will arrive -two from the Middle East, one from Macau and one from Hong Kong. There are indications that there will be a total of 27 private jets flying in exclusively for the event," says Francis.

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He stressed that the fair, held from Dec 3 to 12, hopes to be an annual affair like BaselWorld: "It is an event to attend and enjoy, and is strategically held around Christmas when people buy gifts for their loved ones.

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This event aims to boost tourism by attracting a more prestigious set of visitors." "To make this work, we are bringing in exclusive timepieces and jewellery that would only be available during the 10 days. Industry leaders from Swatch Group chairman Nicholas Hayek to independent firebrand Richard Mille are bringing in very rare timepieces.

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Let's not forget that as a jewellery centerpiece, we also have the world's biggest 88-carat Black Diamond from Korloff Noir. This will be indeed watch and jewellery connoisseur's festival." As to how the brainwave came about, Francis explains: "I was privileged to be invited as a mall owner to attend the Basel watch fair last year. As a watch collector, I drooled over the many beautiful timepieces, but was unable to satiate my appetite immediately. I had to first place an order and then wait six months for it to be delivered.

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That set me thinking that there should be a watch fair with exquisite timepieces that you can buy on the spot. "Most Asians see timepieces as investments but want to be spoilt for choice. Well, this is one event where for 10 days, you will be spoilt rotten if you're a watch aficionado." Although A Journey Through Time is modelled after BaselWorld, Francis reiterates that the? difference is that BaselWorld is a trade fair whereas A Journey Through Time is a retail-focused showcase.

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Purchases aside, the super wealthy will also be spoilt with an elaborate banquet on the first night, hosted by YTL Corporation in collaboration with financial publication Forbes. The second night has been set aside for a gala dinner hosted by Tourism Malaysia, which has endorsed the event as part of the Visit Malaysia Year 2007 campaign.


   
Top: The world's largest black diamond, the Korloff Noir that will be shown for a historic 9th time in the world at ' A Journey Through Time', below: Richard Mille RM005 Titanium.

RISING STAR

In 2005, when the YTL Corporation-owned Starhill shopping centre was relaunched as Starhill Gallery after an extensive makeover, Francis' passion and interest in horology was evident. As the landlord, he dedicated an entire floor (called Adorn) with over 30, 000-sq ft of space to high-end watch retail. Today, Adorn houses more than 100 brands, including the world's first-ever BLU boutique, Armand Nicolet's first standalone boutique and the biggest Korloff boutique.

 

"Have you ever wondered," he enquires aloud, "why a watch exhibition is never held in a shopping centre? It's always been in convention halls because there has never been a shopping mall large enough to house all the brands. That's the difference with Starhill Gallery. It will be the first shopping mall to be able to do this."

 

Francis recalls in jest that in Basel, he was a 'mini hero'. " A lot of watch people wanted to meet me. They had heard about Starhill Gallery, about the buzz that we've been creating and they all wanted to be part of it. I had one-to-one meetings back-to-back with many brands. So, you can expect to see more brands at Starhill." An advantage for shoppers is the fact that Malaysia offers duty-free shopping for some of the best luxury goods. "There is no reason why a citizen from a country with high duty taxes would not want to fly here to shop," says Francis.

 

"Previously, Hong Kong attracted a lot of people because of its duty-free status. But now that luxury timepieces are duty free here, plus the added attraction of our reasonably-priced hotels and our hospitable service, we have an advantage over Hong Kong and Singapore."

 

WRIST WANTS

Curious about his criteria for fine timepieces, this scribe promptly puts the question to him and he cites craftsmanship as the most important factor. I think the amount of time spent creating precise beauty and power in such a small space is awesome.

 

On his wrist during the interview was a timepiece from Jaeger LeCoultre. "I am constantly travelling and this comes in useful as it features two-time zones and a perpetual calendar," he explains. Francis is also happy to note that the watch industry is reinventing itself, much like luxury fashion houses.

 

"These days, watch pieces have become fashion statements. They come with a message and accompanying jewels. Wearing a Richard Mille, for instance, is like brandishing a Ferrari on your wrist. Even if a guy is dressed down but is wearing a Richard Mille, you'd think 'Wow, this guy is awesome'." Luxury timepieces, adds Francis, can stand the test of time. "It's like investing in a work of art; the value is likely to go up." Naturally piqued, one cannot help but ask Francis what his dream watch is. With a sly smile, he replies: "I aim to get it at A Journey Through Time."


   
Asia's most beautiful Shopping Mall as voted by Forbes Traveler Magazine, Starhill Gallery is the perfect backdrop for the A Journey Through Time watch fair.

Luxe Trip
 

If you are a devout disciple of haute horlogerie who has lusted after the Holy Grail of the BaselWorld watch fair from afar, Starhill Gallery's' A Journey Through Time' watch fair is your chance to indulge yourself silly. Spanning 10 days, the exhibition features mechanical complications galore, exclusive Asian debuts of limited edition timepieces as well as the razzle-dazzle of exquisite jewellery collections.

 

Endorsed by the Ministry of Tourism Malaysia as part of the Visit Malaysia Year campaign, this watch showcase held from Dec 3-12 is modelled after the annual BaselWorld watch fair. But unlike the trade-driven Switzerland expo, immediate gratification is key at the retail based A Journey Through Time, where you can pick up any watch and bauble that catches your fancy.

 

Recently voted Asia's Most Beautiful Shopping Mall by Forbes Traveler Magazine, the 280,000- sq ft Starhill Gallery is already one of Asia's top luxury watch havens, boasting over 100 brands of the watch world's most prestigious names like Jaeger-LeCoultre, Patek Philippe, Richard Mille and Audemars Piguet, including the world's first BLU and Armand Nicolet's standalone boutiques, and the biggest Korloff boutique in the world.

 

For the event, the who's who of the watch world will descend on Starhill Gallery, each clamouring to catch the attention of collectors with deep pockets. We sift through the ticking maze of timepieces to bring you the highlights of the fair.

 

VILLEMONT

Limited edition launches will be the flavour of the fair and Villemont will showcase its artfully crafted Esprit de Artisans No.1 collection alongside its Asian debut of the Arctic Explorer Limited Edition Lewis Pugh. All 50 pieces of this sporty, masculine chronograph accompanied the famed explorer Lewis Pugh to the North Pole and a testament of its hardy stature.

 

Created also to support WWF's fight against global warming, Lewis Pugh himself will launch the timepiece with Ruth Yeoh, co-author of corporate eco-guide Cut Carbon, Grow Profit, with part of the proceeds donated to The WWF.

 

AUDEMARS PIGUET

Audemars Piguet's iconic Royal Oak Offshore Chronograph gets a Malaysian makeover. Its special commemoration Jalan Bukit Bintang timepiece will join the ranks of the Boutique Collection featuring timepieces dedicated to its Montenapoleone, Rodeo Drive and Rue du Rhone boutiques in Italy, Los Angeles and Switzerland, respectively.

 

In tribute to its first South-east Asian flagship boutique in Starhill Gallery, Jalan Bukit Bintang is engraved on the back case of this black and yellow titanium beauty, and is limited to only 100 pieces.


   
(from top clockwise): Romain Jerome's limited edition Titanic DNA, Armand Nicolet Tramelan edition, Audemars Piguet's iconic Royal Oak Offshore Chronograph and Villemont - The Arctic Explorer limited edition Lewis Pugh.

ROMAIN JEROME

Of the 20 pieces of Romain Jerome's Titanic DNA collection brought to Malaysia, only five are left and they are only available at the Khronos boutique in Starhill Gallery throughout Asia this year. The highly sought-after heritage pieces have bezels crafted from the hulls of the legendary Titanic itself and will make their Asian debut at A Journey Through Time where we are sure they will disappear into private collections faster than the Titanic sank into the old deep.

 

KORLOFF NOIR
Also creating history is a rare view of the world’s largest black diamond, the legendary Korloff Noir that is surfacing in public for only the 8th time ever. Bling babies should make a beeline to catch its South-east Asian appearance because good fortune, joy and happiness are said to follow all those who touch and see this black beauty.

 

ROGER DUBIUS MOVEMENT EXHIBITION

Presented during the 2007 edition of the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) in Geneva, the Roger Dubuis Movement Exhibition will showcase all the 28 movements conceived, developed and produced by manufacture Roger Dubuis since its inception in 1980. Technical buffs will be thrilled to discover the craftsmanship that goes into each Roger Dubuis timepiece.

 

WATCH OF THE YEAR AWARD

Arguably the climax of A Journey Through Time, five categories of prized distinctions will be up for grabs at the gala night. They include the Starhill Gallery Best Technical Innovation Watch 2007 Award, Starhill Gallery Best Grand Complication Watch 2007 Award, Starhill Gallery Best Creative Design Watch 2007, Best' Active Lifestyle Watch 2007 and Best Eco-Friendly Watch 2007, a nod to the climate change campaign by famed activist Gordon Lewis. Winners of each category will then vie for prestige and bragging rights to bag the Grand Award of the Malaysia Ministry of Tourism Watch Of The Year 2007.


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