How Royal Selangor became the largest pewter maker in the world
Royal Selangor's journey started 130 years ago in a small mining village in Kuala Lumpur; we find out how it grew to be a global name exporting to over 20 countries worldwide.
Royal Selangor is a brand recognised the world over.
The maker of fine pewter was not only among the first to introduce the metal alloy to the world, today it stands as the biggest producer worldwide. It has stores spanning the globe from Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong, to London and Toronto.
As the brand turns 130 years old this month, we explore its roots, heritage and history to find out how this wholly Malaysian brand moulded such a name for itself on the world stage.
1885 -- The humble beginnings of a young pewtersmith from China
Royal Selangor's story started in 1885 by a young pewtersmith named Yong Koon from Shantou, China, who, along with thousands of other Chinese, came to Kuala Lumpur following the discovery of tin. At the time, Yong Koon enjoyed a small but brisk business by making simple household items made of tin from a shop at No 23 Cross Street.
His experimental nature led him to start producing home ware made of pewter – a tin compound hardened with copper and antimony – making him one of the first pewtersmiths in Kuala Lumpur.
All his works such as incense burners, joss stick holders, and candlestands, were stamped with the mark ‘Yu He Zu Xi’. ‘Yu He’, which means Jade Peace, was the name of his shop while ‘Zu Xi’, which means pure tin, reflected the high quality of the material used.
Kian San, a master craftsman from China, polishing a cigarette box, 1965
1930 – Beating World War I and The Great Depression
Business took a blow in the 1930's, due to approaching war and economic downfall. Yong Koon turned his business’s focus to the British and other expatriates instead, beginning a new phase for his business.
He started making European-style products like teapots and candelabras, which quickly made him enough money to move into his own shoplot at No 219 Pudu Road, where the business’s name was changed to Malayan Pewter Works.
Yong Koon was survived by 4 sons. Given his business-savviness, his second son, Peng Kai, inherited his father’s business, which he consequently moved to the busiest shopping street in the day – Batu Road – and changed the name to Selangor Pewter.
Selangor Pewter factory in Setapak, 1962
1960 – Going international
The company started exporting products, which now include pewter vases, pitchers, ashtrays and cigarette boxes from a full-fledged factory, in the late 60’s. Singapore was the first on the list, followed by Hong Kong, Germany, Denmark, Japan, Australia and the UK.
The Imperial Collection, done in collaboration with the National Palace Museum, Taiwan
1970 – Acquiring Selberan, Comyns, and the royal warrant from the Sultan of Selangor
The 70s saw the company branching out into jewellery and sterling silver with the acquisition of several different companies, including Selberan and Comyns. Both companies continue to be under the Royal Selangor group today, with Selberan being the jewellery arm and Comyns, the hallmarked silver sterling arm.
In 1979, the company received a royal warrant from the Sultan of Selangor. To reflect the royal endorsement and the new diverse nature of the company, it duly changed its name to Royal Selangor in 1992.
Present day – Reigning as the world’s biggest manufacturer of pewter
Today, the company continues to be kept in steadfast motion by third and fourth generations of the Yong family, with the help of over 250 craftsmen and a 40-strong in-house design team.
Royal Selangor has been commissioned by luxury companies the likes of LVMH to produce champagne accessories for its brands like Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin, Dom Perignon and Krug. The trophies and plaques for Formula One Races as well as Sime Darby LGPA Malaysia Golf Tournaments, among others, are also crafted by Royal Selangor.
Through it all, it still operates from its main factory based in Setapak. The factory is also home to an award-winning Visitor’s Centre, which attracts over 200,000 visitors a year from all over the world.
Royal Selangor exports to more than 20 countries through its official website, where shoppers can browse its full collection and place orders from anywhere in the world, and has stores in Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, China and Australia, cementing Royal Selangor's position as the largest pewter maker in the world.
(Photos and video: Royal Selangor)