An elegant jewellery shop glistening in gold and gemstones stood on Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling (formerly known as Pitt Street) in Georgetown, Penang. 111 Pitt Street, within the infamous Indian Muslim Jeweller’s Street, the first HABIB Jewels establishment stood the test of time, a testament to its late founder, Datuk Haji Habib Mohamed Abdul Latif’s visionary spirit and hardwork.
The Man Behind The Brand
The post-World War II world is riddled with food insecurity and tough living conditions. Habib sets out to earn a better income for his family.
Habib Mohamed Abdul Latif started off as a canteen staff at the post office in Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling.
Habib experimented with different business ideas. None however achieved as much success as his brainchild, HABIB Jewel.
His (Habib) was a rags to riches story. He encountered failed business ventures before finally succeeding with Habib Jewels. He was a very wise man and when we were young he always advised us to do well in our education. – Muhammad Shakir, the late Dato Habib’s nephew 
Habib who also worked in a jewellery store during his youth saw the joy jewellery can bring and sees it as a method to improve his family’s livelihood.
My father’s original purpose of exploring the gold business at that time was simply because he wanted to earn a living to support his family, because he thought that the field was more stable than other businesses. – Datuk Seri Meer Sadik, son and HABIB Jewels’ 
Habib started his jewellery business small.
My involvement in the jewellery business started small. I chose the gold business because it was unnecessary to toil in the heat, and besides, gold itself never drops in price. – Datuk Haji Habib Mohamed Abdul Latif, late founder of HABIB Jewels 
With a business capital of RM 3,800, Habib established Kedai Emas MA Habib Mohamed, in 1958, a year after Malaya gained independence. At the beginning, Habib was sourcing jewellery from pawn shops and cleaning them up before reselling them to other jewellery stores. Slowly, it gained traction.
At that time I didn’t really have any role models. I only thought of opening a jewellery business at a reasonable price according to the business method I set for myself. After all, business was just about making a living. I didn’t think it would increase sales. – Datuk Haji Habib Mohamed Abdul Latif, late founder of HABIB Jewels 
Additionally, to sustain his business, Habib worked a number of small jobs.
I tried to cover the cost by doing various jobs such as opening a flower shop, a shop selling pillows made of kekabu [kapok tree] and coffee powder. I really try hard and believe that no matter who you are or what field you are involved in, if you work hard, you will certainly get rewarded. – Datuk Haji Habib Mohamed Abdul Latif, late founder of HABIB Jewels 
Soldering A Golden Legacy
With the booming business, Habib opened two more branches at a hotel on Burma Road. He hopes to capture the tourist market that includes American soldiers who came for leisure during the Vietnam War. However, the decision was short-sighted and the two existing stores were closed.
With over 10 years in the jewellery industry at the time, Habib saw the gap in the industry. At that time, the market offered limited options for the Malay community for diamond-encrusted items.
Habib started creating jewellery from purchased raw materials and using diamonds and gemstones for products such as long necklaces, kerongsang (traditional pin) and buttons for baju Melayu.
Most of his creations take inspiration from flowers, and the exquisite designs are a sight to behold.
Starting a jewellery business at a time when money was hard to come by and growing it from the ground up took a lot of discipline, diligence and passion. It has taken hard work to carefully nurture that jewellery shop in Penang into a chain with 23 showrooms across the country. – Datuk Haji Habib Mohamed Abdul Latif, late founder of HABIB Jewels 
Setting Gemstones For A Crowning Glory
Growing from strength to strength, Habib Jewels legacy remains strong to this day, especially with a fresh take by Habib’s only son, Datuk Seri Meer Sadik. Meer grew up helping out at the Pitt Street shop after school, and soon was determined to follow in his father’s footsteps.
When I was very young I remember, my parents were very hardworking. There was a time when we used to stay above our shop, which was a Jawi Peranakan shop house. We’ve restored it, and it’s more than 100 years old today. – Datuk Seri Meer Sadik, son and HABIB Jewels’ Group Managing Director 
With Meer in the picture as a Managing Director in 1986 soon after graduating university, he brought ideas and innovations to the table. One of them is the establishment of a showroom at Semua House in Malaysia’s capital.
The branch offers a more personal touch to customers, removing the commonly placed metal grille that inhibits interaction between sellers and clienteles. This was one of the keys to the jewellery house’s longevity.
I learned (from observing him) how success is built on good work ethics. One of the key factors of Habib’s success, besides cutting edge designs, is their customer service which makes customers feel appreciated. It’s all about the customer experience and they discovered that early on. – Zairil Khir Johari, a family friend to Habib’s family 
Meer was also at the forefront of implementing marketing strategies to push for better brand recognition.
Meer at that time was also interested in advertising. He strongly believes in investing in marketing and advertising activities through the mass media and aggressively markets Habib through radio and television. – Datuk Haji Habib Mohamed Abdul Latif, late founder of HABIB Jewels 
At the time, Habib Jewels became the first jewellery store in Malaysia to advertise on mass media and billboards.
Since then, I have noticed that more and more customers visit Habib’s showroom. He (Meer) encouraged advertising, which I had never done before. I think a combination of modern education and traditional methods of building a business can be a unique and rewarding combination.– Datuk Haji Habib Mohamed Abdul Latif, late founder of HABIB Jewels 
In 1998, Habib Jewels achieved another milestone, being the first publicly listed jeweller in the nation. It transitioned to the Second Board before graduating to the Main Board in 2001 .
In 1998, we became the first publicly listed jeweller – at the most difficult time ever. There was a currency crisis in 1997 and that was when we got our approval, in the midst of it all. – Datuk Seri Meer Sadik, son and HABIB Jewels’ Group Managing Director 
However, in 2005, it returned to private arms.
An Everlasting Glow
Now a household name, Habib continues to expand with over 30 branches nationwide. The expansion also includes the visionary and forward-thinking plans of its founder to always be apart from their competitors.
HABIB became the first local jeweller to bring the Oro Italia 916® collection, one of the finest Italian jewellery collections, in 2010. As a brand, it grew in tandem with its clienteles’ demands .
Young people do buy from us. This is because, if you really look into Malaysia, we are still quite traditional, even among the younger generation.
For example, if a young couple was to get married, they would still have their tea ceremony or akad nikah’ (solemnization) traditions. Similarly, they will also get engagement and wedding rings because it is in our tradition.– Datuk Seri Meer Sadik, son and HABIB Jewels’ Group Managing Director 
To attract younger shoppers, HABIB distributed Pandora, the Danish jewellery company known for its charm bracelets in 2011. This was followed by bringing French jewellery brand Les Georgettes by Altesse to Malaysian shores in 2018 .
A New Era
With Dato Habib’s passing in 2018, the baton has been fully passed on to Meer and his wife, Datin Zarida Noordin. Even as time passes, HABIB’s core value remains.
My father always says never sell for the sake of making a quick profit. He firmly believes that we are responsible for advising and guiding a purchase by getting to know the customer and by sharing our knowledge.
By understanding every facet of the business, we can be true consultants whose expert views will always be sought after. – Datuk Seri Meer Sadik, son and HABIB Jewels’ 
As of 2019, HABIB Jewels intends to expand in Malaysia and become a brand the nation can be proud of.
We are very passionate about building a strong Malaysian brand that we can be proud of. – Datuk Seri Meer Sadik, son and HABIB Jewels’ Group Managing Director 
Standing tall for over 60 years, the brand has undertaken various charitable projects such as supporting causes related to education, healthcare and community development. The brand also runs HABIB Learning, based in Ampang, providing training in jewellery knowledge, retail and customer service, and leadership skills.
In 2022, HABIB Jewels is building a mosque in Pulau Pinang, a long-time dream of its founder.
Our hope is to see Habib Mosque not only as a centre of worship but also as a community centre uniting the local community. Since long ago, my late father had set his mind to build a mosque on Penang island where he grew up. – Datuk Seri Meer Sadik, son and HABIB Jewels’ Group Managing Director 
For now, succession at HABIB is secure with Meer’s own children, Mirzan, Marissa and Mirsham, who are both equally involved in the family business. The long-lasting legacy of HABIB Jewels is rooted in its careful consideration of culture and continually evolving with its clienteles.
Cover image: The Vocket
Explore our sources:
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