Hong Kong Economic Journal - K.S. Sze & Sons

Hong Kong Economic Journal - K.S. Sze & Sons


Hong Kong Economic Journal, 2021 January 27

Jewelry demands bold innovation!

The century-old establishment, K.S.Sze & Sons, is undergoing a transformation. Dr. Nien-dak Sze proclaims, “Jewelry is not a sunset industry - it demands bold innovation!”

【Hong Kong Economic Jornal Monthly】Jewelry was once one of Hong Kong’s leading export industries, but in recent years, it has lost some of its shine. The younger generations seem to have less interest in bespoke jewelry. Dr. Nien-dak Sze, a scientist by training and the second-generation leader of the venerable Hong Kong jewelry brand K.S. Sze & Sons, is still full of ambition, ready to tell the world a different jewelry story.

Witnessing History Through Store Openings in Shanghai and Hong Kong

Famous figures such as Charlie Chaplin, Princess Diana, the Fung family of Li & Fung, and the first chairman of the Airport Authority, Wong Po-yan, have all been, or still are, esteemed patrons of K.S. Sze & Sons. As the brand approaches its centennial, it can truly claim to have witnessed the history of modern jewelry in China and Hong Kong.

Sze Kong-shun, the founder of K.S. Sze & Sons, opened his first store in 1923 in Shanghai, then known as the “Paris of the East”. Following the change in the political climate on the mainland, Sze moved his family to Hong Kong and continued to grow his jewelry empire, bringing with him the capital and sophisticated tastes that characterized many Shanghainese merchants who moved south.

In 1963, when the British Jardine Matheson Group established the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Hong Kong, it became an instant sensation. In the colonial era of Hong Kong, it was exceedingly difficult for the Chinese to break into “gweilo (foreign devil)”-managed domains such as the Mandarin Oriental. Ultimately, the hotel chose seven brands to be housed within its walls. K.S. Sze & Sons, after enduring many challenges, became the only local brand to secure a spot in the Mandarin Oriental and the sole jeweler.

The brand’s presence at the Mandarin Oriental is not only credited to the founder Sze Kong-shun’s expertise but also to the distinctive philosophy of K.S. Sze & Sons

In the 60s and 70s, the global jewelry, fashion, and luxury goods markets were dominated by Western culture. Hong Kong’s jewelers, catering primarily to Western customers, produced designs that appealed to their tastes. Sze Kong-shun was a pioneer who integrated Eastern elements into contemporary jewelry design, making extensive use of traditional Chinese materials like pearls, jade, and jadeite. He successfully carved a niche for K.S. Sze & Sons in the competitive market. At the time, K.S. Sze & Sons became a must-visit destination for visitors to Hong Kong, and its jewelry, steeped in Eastern culture, achieved renown in Europe, America, Japan, and other countries, truly representing the first generation of Hong Kong’s cultural “soft power”.

Those were Hong Kong’s most glorious days, with the Mandarin Oriental, K.S. Sze & Sons, and Victoria Harbor combining to create the city’s reputation as the “Pearl of the Orient.”

Is the Jewelry Industry Heading Toward a Sunset?


Hong Kong, once a place of splendor, has been on the decline in recent years. With it, many long-established stores have bid farewell to their glory days. Faced with an aging customer base and shifting consumption patterns, numerous traditional industries, including jewelry, encounter unprecedented challenges.

Dr. Nien-dak Sze, the second-generation head of K.S. Sze & Sons, openly admits that the golden era of traditional jewelry has passed. He says, “We primarily rely on repeat business. Many of our customers have been with us for decades, spanning several generations... After shopping with us for so many years, these families own enough jewelry to open their own shops. This group of loyal customers has extremely high standards and an extensive collection at home, diminishing their interest in purchasing new pieces.”

Moreover, the rise of the mobile internet is reshaping the consumption habits of the new generation. Young people interact frequently on social media every day, fostering an “Instagram culture” for various products. This has prompted many jewelry brands that have never before engaged in marketing to re-evaluate their promotional strategies.

“The previous generation prioritized craftsmanship and unique designs in jewelry, with tai-tais fearing wearing the same piece as someone else at a party. The new generation, however, seeks brand recognition and social media likes. Consequently, luxury brands now focus more on storytelling and creating memorable experiences to leave a lasting impression on the new generation,” analyzes Dr. Nien-dak Sze regarding evolving consumer behavior.

In fact, in response to the shift in consumer habits, many international luxury brands have undergone significant innovations in recent years. Burberry, Balenciaga, Yves Saint Laurent, and Balmain, among other major names, have abandoned their original logos and brand image, even introducing products that cater to the tastes of younger demographics.

Dr. Sze further points out that prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, many Hong Kong jewelry brands remained complacent, relying on the aging local customer base and the influx of tourists to sustain the industry despite facing challenges. However, since the outbreak and the resulting disappearance of tourists, many industries that once “fed on tourists” now have to rethink how to innovate their brands and re-attract the younger generation.

Thus, the current economic “winter” is a mirror that reflects the true strength of Hong Kong’s businesses.

Opening New Markets in Men’s Jewelry

Originally engaged in Earth and Planetary Science studies at Harvard University and a passionate racing enthusiast who has continuously sponsored various formula racing events over the years, Dr. Nien-dak Sze has a Western cosmopolitan style that differs greatly from that of his father. About a decade ago, he took over K.S. Sze & Sons from his father and is now determined to infuse this century-old business with distinct new elements.

“Every young person wears AirPods and Apple Watches nowadays, so why not add a splash of color with jewelry? Adding a pendant to AirPods or some jewels to glasses is not only unobtrusive but instantly enhances one’s unique charm.”

“The previous generation believed that buying jewelry was exclusively for women and that men would only wear watches. But now, as jewelry design becomes more gender-neutral, why shouldn’t men wear jewelry? The market potential for men’s jewelry is immensely vast.”

Dr. Nien-dak Sze explains that although jewelry is a traditional industry, it still offers many opportunities for innovation and reform. Moreover, K.S. Sze & Sons has a rich history and stories that are worth sharing with the new generation to help them appreciate its unique charm.

“Wear the stars!”

“No matter how much technology changes, some human interests remain constant, such as stargazing. Looking up at the night sky can instantly sweep away the trivia and anxieties of everyday life. Appreciating jewelry serves a similar aesthetic function. The name K.S. Sze & Sons suggests that stars, too, can be worn.”

“Some people joke that once you leave Central, no one knows about K.S. Sze & Sons, and in truth, that’s the case. Even though we have a century-long history and are located in a prime area, we have never been proficient in storytelling, marketing, and promotion, which have traditionally been weak points for established jewelers like K.S. Sze & Sons. We definitely need to step up our game.”

With the upcoming centennial celebrations, Dr. Nien-dak Sze discusses K.S. Sze & Sons’ brand strategies during the interview, including launching collaborative products with other brands and enhancing social media promotions, aiming to carry forward K.S. Sze & Sons’  spirit of innovation and win over the younger generation anew.

The Challenge of Succession is Considerable

Transforming from the inside out, legacy brands must revitalize themselves to regain vitality. The management team also needs to inject youthful energy. However, according to a recent “Global Family Business Survey Report” released by PricewaterhouseCoopers, a universal trend among the world’s “rich second-generation” scions shows a reluctance to take over the traditional family businesses. Instead, there’s a preference to venture into the finance or high-tech sectors. This phenomenon poses a succession challenge for many of Hong Kong’s established family businesses, including K.S. Sze & Sons.

“The English name of the brand is K.S. Sze & Sons, where ‘K.S. Sze’ is the transliteration of my father’s name, and ‘Sons’ represents all his descendants, embodying his wish for the K.S. Sze & Sons brand to be passed down through generations,” says Dr. Nien-dak Sze.

Despite retaining his titles at Harvard University, including that of a senior researcher and faculty member, Dr. Nien-dak Sze believes he has transitioned from a full-time scientist to a jeweler. “I am not the type who enjoys socializing and networking;  I prefer to quietly conduct my research. But with a family business, there has to be a family member to take the reins. Ten years ago, I gave up my teaching position at Harvard and returned to Hong Kong to take over K.S. Sze & Sons - purely to help my father preserve this brand.”

Addressing the issue of the succession, Dr. Nien-dak Sze candidly admits that his children and grandchildren now reside in the U.S. and have little interest in returning to Hong Kong to take over the family business. Moreover, the jewelry industry, though outwardly glamorous, is inwardly grueling. He has no intention of forcing his children to abandon their careers to take on this hot potato.

Dr. Nien-dak Sze believes that family businesses need to learn to separate management rights from ownership rights. The business should be managed by professionals, while the family is responsible only for holding shares and oversight. This can ensure the brand’s intergenerational continuity without being “snuffed out” by individual family members’ personal factors.

“Starting a business is hard, but keeping it is even harder. Especially this year, I have seen many friends’ established companies falling into difficulties, which has deeply affected me. When the tide goes out, you will see who’s been swimming naked. Many of Hong Kong’s time-honored brands have been coasting along comfortably, overlooking many issues like the new consumption model or future succession planning that I just mentioned. The pandemic this year has provided a good opportunity for everyone to pause, reflect deeply on strategies for their future development strategies and improve their core strengths.”

“The market in the past two years has been as bad as it could possibly be, but I believe Hong Kong’s worst days are behind us. Companies that have weathered this storm and even taken the opportunity to overhaul their brand strategies will undoubtedly stand out when the market recovers.”

信報財經新聞, 2021127

百年「金星珠寶」謀轉型 施念德:珠寶行業需要大膽創新!


滬港開店 見證歷史


金星珠寶的創始人施剛巽 1923年在當時被稱為「東方巴黎」的上海開設了第一間門店。後來隨着大陸變天,施剛巽舉家遷移香港,並在這裏延續其珠寶王國,猶如當年一眾南來的滬商,為香港帶來資金與前沿的生活品味。










事實上,面對新一代的消費模式轉變,許多國際奢侈品品牌都在近年大肆革新。Burberry、 Balenciaga、Yves Saint Laurent、 Balmain等國際大牌紛紛摒棄原來的標誌和品牌形象,甚至大量推出迎合年輕人口味的單品。



男性珠寶 開新市場

原本在哈佛大學從事地球與星球科學研究(Earth and Planetary Science)、對賽車充滿熱情、多年來持續贊助各類方程式賽車的施念德,有着與其父親迥異的洋派作風。約在十年前從父親手上接下金星珠寶,施念德現在決定為這所百年老店注入了不一樣的元素。

「每個年輕人都戴AirPods、蘋果手錶,現在每個人都戴口罩,為什麼不能用珠寶為這些必要的配件增添色彩呢?AirPods 掛上吊墜,或者在眼鏡上增加一點珠寶元素,既不累贅,也能瞬間增加個人的獨特魅力。」









「金星珠寶的英文名是K.S.Sze &Sons,K.S.Sze 是父親的名字譯音,Sons代表他所有的子孫,寄寓他希望家族可以世世代代將金星珠寶傳承下去的願望。」施念德說。