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Dazzling Designs(HKTDC Watch & Clock, Vol 01,2008)

Upmarket Watches

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Artalie Co Ltd produces upmarket watches from a variety of materials including stainless steel, gold and diamonds

When Artalie Co Ltd Director Neddy Ho receives enquiries from an overseas customer to create a watch of a really unique design, he never hesitates to reply: "Sure - can do."

And after getting details of the concept, within two or three days he usually emails the first draft design that meets all the customer's specifications, leaving his rivals wondering how that is possible.

The answer is simple: Ho is a qualified designer. As a teenager living in Canada he spent years at design school, then in 1984 capped his studies by spending a year at the Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles.

"Tough design problems don't faze me," he proclaims proudly. "I find all the solutions in my brain - not my fingers."

Born with a silver "watch" in his mouth to a father who was once a noted watchcase maker, Mr Ho returned to Hong Kong after his academic pursuits to join the elder's factory.

Four years later, he set up Artalie to make low-end alloy watches on an OEM basis. While the firm began as a one-man operation, it leveraged on Mr Ho's plentiful overseas contacts and blossomed.

"After the usual ups and downs the business built up quite nicely over the years, and we got a good foothold in the US where our customers included some of the biggest chain stores," he recalls. "But problems started developing in the late 1990s and just got worse early into the new century."

Artalie wasn't big enough to have its own factory in Shenzhen but sub-contracted to the most experienced and reliable manufacturers there. "But inspectors from the big importers in the US began turning up in contractors' factories to make a whole lot of checks that were quite disruptive," Mr Ho claims.

Then came the "killer blow" when these customers wanted classy packaging done in Hong Kong. "It wasn't in the contracts but they argued that it was a given," Mr Ho explains.

"Contracts had been signed, the production line was humming and we were in the wringer, so we had to produce attractive boxes and mount the watches inside."

Next they demanded that little security fixtures be added to the clips used to close the boxes, says Mr Ho. "In the end, we were taking twice as long to package the watches as we were to manufacture them. With all these extra costs included, they wanted a US$3 watch for US$2."

By 2003, Artalie was struggling to survive. "Every watch we made and packaged was costing us money," Mr Ho maintains. "I realised that either we had to get into a new line or close down."

So the company switched to stainless steel watches and went into top-end watchmaking. It was also a leap of faith in his ability to design elegant, eye-catching stainless steel watches with shiny steel covers and bracelets.

"A German customer encouraged me to 'think big, go big'," says Mr Ho. "I put together some very bold and original designs, and then we were off in the stainless steel market."

But it meant virtually starting over again, as Artalie was trying to break into a choosy new field where fashion and style dictated buyer demand. Again, his creative talents led to a range of exciting designs, and gradually Mr Ho started refilling the order books.

"The customers tell me what's the latest in the market, and I work up a new design based on it," he explains. "My design, my style, their brand - simple."

The top-of-the-line watches Artalie now produces sparkle with more than highly-polished steel - real diamonds have become an optional design feature for international buyers with deep pockets and the firm has entered the high-end market for metal jewellery items such as rings and bangles.

That's why Artalie has expanded from its buyer base in the US and Europe to build up a lucrative market in the Middle East.

"That will likely be our biggest market in the future," Mr Ho believes. "Dubai, Kuwait - all those oil-producing countries are just dripping with dollars."

With the design flair and business acumen of its proprietor, Artalie looks certain to continue to tick over nicely for years to come.

TEXT BY GEOFFREY SOMERS

FAST FACTS

Artalie Co Ltd
Rm 1201
Elite Ind Centre
883 Cheung Sha Wan, Kowloon
Hong Kong
Tel: 852-2789-8693
Fax: 852-2789-1655
Email:
artalie@netvigator.com.hk
Web: www.trademix.com.hk
Year Established: 1988
Major Product Categories: fashion watches, stainless steel watches, 18K gold watches, diamond watches
Brands & Certificates: -
Minimum Order: 300 pieces
Monthly Production Capacity: -
Delivery Time: 65 days
Factory Size & Location: 2,500 square feet
Workforce: 10