HONG KONG—Luxury watchmaker TW Steel just celebrated its new store here as it plots its expansion in China.

“Hong Kong is the number one watch market in the world so it’s a huge opportunity,” said Jordy Cobelens, chief executive of TW Steel. Cobelens, along with Kelly Rowland, came to town for a splashy event Thursday night at the Armani Aqua.

“The crisis is still being felt among the jewelers, but in Asia the whole middle class is growing so fast,” he added.
The Dutch watchmaker opened up its first Hong Kong store in June at the Harbour City mall in Hong Kong’s Tsim Sha Tsui district. It was the first in greater China but not the first in the region. TW Steel also has stores in Manila, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok.
“We wanted to test things first. Hong Kong is such an important market that if you do it, you need to do it right. You can’t make any mistakes,” he explained.
Hong Kong is only a first step into China. The watchmaker is gearing up for a big debut in mainland China next year. It plans to open 39 stores and shop-in-shops in first tier cities, said Cobelens. Another 30 to 35 openings are planned for 2014.

Opening shops is a new strategy for TW Steel, which distributes its watches mostly through jewelry stores or shop in shops in Europe and the U.S.
“Stores are definitely the right strategy for us in Asia. You have the full range you can offer. You can really have people experience the brand the way we want them to,” Cobelens said.
TW Steel is planning to roll out standalone stores in other parts of the world eventually but wanted to try it out in Asia first as operational costs are lower in Asia than in other parts of the world, Cobelens explained.

Rowland, who has been a brand ambassador for TW Steel since last year, said she was excited to be in Hong Kong again and was hoping to have some time to breeze around Hong Kong. Rowland, dressed in a slim-fitting black and white dress, was sporting one of the two rose gold watches she designed for TW Steel.

“I have a lot of friends who’ve been here have nothing but great stories. They’re always inspired by Hong Kong and I want to be inspired too!” she said.
Rowland is getting ready to release a new album in the first quarter next year, “Year of the Woman,” which she said was inspired by old school R&B.
“I remember listening to a specific radio station growing up in Atlanta that had the best playlist. I remember thinking to myself I would love for that moment to exist on this album,” she said.

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