Ong Chin Huat traces the progress of the Malaysian pewter brand from its humble beginnings in 1885 to its status as a global brand today.
alaysian home-grown luxury brand, Royal Selangor has had an illustrious history beginning in 1885 when a young pewter smith called Yong Koon sailed from the port of Shantou to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
The discovery of tin in Malaya had lured him and thousands of other Chinese to the fledgling tin-mining town, where he joined his brothers who had established themselves as tinsmiths.
Yong Koon (shown below) enjoyed brisk business making simple household items of tin, operating from his shop at No. 23 Cross Street. He later made pewter incense burners, joss stick holders and candle stands for the altars of Chinese temples. Employing a few other craftsmen, he was among the first pewter smiths in Kuala Lumpur. Just as silver products are hallmarked, Yong Koon stamped each of his products with the mark “Yu He Zu Xi”, where “Yu He” or Jade Peace was the name of the shop, and “Zu Xi” or pure tin reflected the high quality of the material used.
In the 1930s, when demand for traditional ceremonial pewter ware was on a decline, Yong Koon and his sons started making European-style products for the British and other expatriates. This was an important turning point for the business.
The 70s was an exciting period for the company as it started exporting to Singapore, Hong Kong, Germany, Denmark,Japan, Australia and the UK. It also diversified its business to the design, manufacture and marketing of precious jewellery under the Selberan brand name. Later in 1993, the company acquired Comyns, one of the oldest and most prestigious silversmiths in the world. Both companies continue to be a part of the Royal Selangor group.
In 1979, the company received a royal warrant from the Sultan of Selangor and in 1992, changed its name to Royal Selangor. Today, the third and fourth generations of the Yong family work with a passionate team of managers to build Royal Selangor into a truly global brand.
With a workforce of more than 250 craftspeople, the pewter factory based in Setapak is now part of an award-winning Visitor Centre, which attracts over 200,000 visitors a year from all over the world. It is here that today’s generation of consumers learn about Royal Selangor’s humble beginnings and how pewter continues to be very much a handcrafted industry.
The Royal Selangor Visitor Centre celebrates its 10th birthday this year with a makeover of its gallery and the factory’s demo area. Since its inauguration in March 2004, it has won the Malaysia Tourism Best Tourist Attraction Award in the category of attraction with national identity or heritage, as well as the ASEAN Tourism Association Awards for Excellence as Best ASEAN New Tourist Attraction. Until today, it aims to be an educational source for the history of tin mining in Malaysia, receiving hundreds of domestic and international visitors daily.
Read Part Two of the Royal Selangor feature tomorrow.