3 Sept 2008
Daringly Different(HKTDC Watch & Clock, Vol 03,2008)
The striking mosaic of tiny brightly coloured stones artfully arranged on the surface of a bevelled disc and set to catch the light looks more like fashion jewellery than a watch.
Attached to an expensive Italian leather watchstrap, it springs to life when Designer C.K. Tam presses a button on the rim of the case and red numerals immediately become visible through the stones.
A digital model with an LED readout, the eye-catching timepiece is typical of the models produced by Limark Co Ltd, which has long been something of an oddity within the Hong Kong watch industry. "We started in 1984, so it's a very long history," Managing Director William Ng recalls.
The company started out making fashion watches, but from the beginning worked towards quality manufacturing and was producing its own designs as early as 1985. "But we've never tried to be a brand name," Mr Ng admits. "I've studied marketing and it's an absolutely different skill."
The company has a factory about an hour's drive from Shenzhen on the Chinese mainland, but also handles some of its manufacturing processes in Hong Kong.
Mr Ng admits the move to the mainland about eight or nine years ago was also unusually late by industry standards. "We were very much behind the others, but we are very concerned with quality," he recalls, claiming Limark was "about the 23rd" watch company in Hong Kong to get ISO 9000 certification.
"Production is about half here in Hong Kong and half in China, and we concentrate now on jewellery watches."
The company offers one-stop OEM/ODM shopping, with an in-house design service, comprehensive in-house CAD CAM facilities, a dial sample manufacturing division, and highly experienced production and operation teams.
Limark focuses on high-end production and FOB prices can vary considerably from US$30 to more than US$3,000; a factor which doesn't seem to faze clients in major markets such as the Middle East, China, Japan, Spain, Russia and Eastern Europe.
"At the moment a lot of the business that suits us is from the Middle East," Mr Ng reveals. "They want the best of the best."
He admits that C.K.Tam's creative input is the foundation on which Limark's current business is built. "He is the whole creative force," Mr Ng says. "He has been working in the watch field for some years but always hidden away."
Although photographs of some of his designs have now been published with his credit for the work, Mr Tam remains mostly anonymous because of Limark's commitment to working only for customer brands.
Currently the company has 50-60 designs in production, and the speed at which new ones are developed depends on when and how inspiration strikes Mr Tam. "He can create 30 or 40 models in three weeks, and sometimes for six months he'll do nothing," Mr Ng observes.
The designs are elegant but modern and playful, in step with the current trend towards taking inspiration from animals with some dials based on the pattern of a leopard's coat while others use animal faces - including an iconic panda.
Limark sources diamonds and other stones from a variety of gem suppliers in Hong Kong, Thailand and further afield, although sometimes clients supply stones themselves.
"Our leather bracelets are sourced in Italy," Mr Ng adds, "and our cases are exclusively stainless steel."
In addition to its LED jewellery watches, Limark makes a range of analogue sports watches that are more masculine in style as well as some ladies' fashion watches.
Limark is willing to undertake manufacturing contracts based on customer designs, but Mr Ng points out that most regular customers trust the firm's creativity and a lot of repeat business is based on this principle. "We're open to customer designs, but we don't do copies," Mr Ng insists.
He maintains Limark's watches require a lot of experience and manufacturing skill to produce. "We don't do knock-offs," Mr Ng says. "Our watches are different - you won't see anything like them anywhere else."
Limark also manufactures parts which are assembled in Switzerland for use later in "Swiss-made" watches, but the 39-year industry veteran insists the secret of survival is to insist on quality and to make something different. "After so many years, we are still very unique," Mr Ng concludes.
TEXT BY ROBERT PIERCE