Dubai Watch Week was first held by Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons in 2015, and its return next week will be by far the largest of the four times it has been organized by the Middle East’s largest luxury watch retail group. In the early years it was little more than the sort of watch fair that many large showrooms hold for their customers in the run-up to the holiday season, but it has evolved into an event of international importance as a summit where business, creative and horological ideas are shared and brands reveal fresh seasonal collections to an international audience of press, retailers and collectors as Rob Corder discovered in conversation with Dubai Watch Week’s director general, Hind Seddiqi.
When it comes to spending time at major watch shows, Switzerland sucks. Geneva has peerless horological history and beautiful architecture on the banks of the lake, but is a cold and windswept city in early Spring. The less said about Basel in March, at least to the East of the River Rhine, the better.
Dubai in November could not be more different. The weather will be a balmy 30 degrees Celsius, the hotels are plentiful, luxurious and affordable, the airport is one of the best in the world and the local Emiratee and expat population will be keen to attend to your every need. If you have not been to Dubai before, I could not recommend it more highly for a business trip at the end of November.
I should know, because I lived in Dubai for ten years between 1993 and 2003, and spend many weeks per year there even now because our head office is located in the city. If you need restaurant recommendations and advice on the local culture, I am your man.
Dubai Watch Week, which runs this year from November 20 to 24 at the Dubai International Financial Centre, has the city as one of its greatest draws, but the event’s organizer, Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons, has a great deal more up its sleeve besides. An exhibition will showcase the latest collections from over 20 brands. In addition, Rolex will be participating, the first ever time it has appeared at a watch fair in the Middle East. It will have a dedicated exhibition exploring the universe of the Oyster Perpetual Submariner.
Global auctioneer Christie’s has a room room presenting rare and historic timepieces. Visitors will be able to meet with historians and collectors to learn more about the origins of the brands we know today. There will be masterclasses, evaluators for anybody wanting to see what their own watches are worth, and a workshop on how to bid at auctions.
There is a creative hub that will be used for new watch launches and to share thoughts on where the industry is heading, a horology forum where you can meet big name guests including LVMH Watch & Jewellery legend Jean-Claude Biver, and masterclasses where watchmakers will demonstrate some of their incredible skills and teach how to make your very own movement.
“Since its inception in 2015, Dubai Watch Week has always been committed to maintaining horological integrity and creativity in not only the Middle East & North Africa region, but also across the globe. It has always been steadfast in its non-commercial approach and seeks to provide both established and emerging collectors, as well as watch enthusiasts with the opportunity to enhance their understanding of the horology industry, while having the chance to network with industry experts and examine the latest innovations in watchmaking,” says Dubai Watch Week’s director general, Hind Seddiqi.
One of the reasons for Dubai’s incredible growth as a city over the past 30 years is that it dares to dream on a massive scale. An oasis of stability in a troubled region, the emirate has become one of the world’s great tourism destinations where visitors can scale the highest skyscraper on the planet, ski on real snow when the outside temperature is over 40 degrees centigrade, and luxuriate in the turquoise waters of the Arabian Gulf. Oh, and it has the biggest Rolex showroom in the world, run by Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons in Dubai Mall, the biggest shopping center on the planet.
It is also a city of fearless entrepreneurs where tradition is celebrated and innovation is respected. The appearance of Danny Govberg, founder and chief executive of WatchBox, at the horology forum is notable because the business is thriving in the market for second hand watches. You are not likely to see him welcomed so warmly at the Swiss shows, where flogging brand new watches through traditional bricks and mortar stores is the name of the game.
Dubai embraces the fact that the pre-owned e-commerce specialist is a vibrant player in the luxury watch ecosystem. “WatchBox fosters the educational misson of Dubai Watch Week, and also emphasizes the significance of investing in timepieces and the way in which this space is being digitally transformed,” says Ms Seddiqi.
Venerable Christie’s, a long term partner of Dubai Watch Week, will be on hand to show how the historic and modern co-exist and contribute equally to the health of the overall watch industry.
Dubai Watch Week wants industry executives from across the world to attend the free event, but it is arguably focused mainly on delighting watch customers. The collector community in the Middle East are a particular target, and they will be treated to a number of limited edition watches created and launched by brands in association with Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons.
Major Swiss watchmakers are not participating simply because Ahmed Seddiqi and Sons is a massive customer for them, they recognize the importance of Dubai and the wider UAE as a regional hub for the retail of luxury goods. The UAE was one of the top ten markets in the world for Swiss watch exports in 2018, with goods valued at over $1 billion making their way into the country, according to Federation of Swiss Watch Industry export figures.
Total exports were worth $1.1 billion in the year. To put that in context, the UAE is a bigger market than Italy, neck-and-neck with Germany, and only slightly behind the UK, which accounted for Swiss watch exports worth $1.2 billion in 2018. Customers flock to Dubai from across the Middle East and India, where far fewer of the major marques are represented. “Dubai is a hub for collectors, watch brands, and people looking to learn more about the industry and the number of collectors in the Middle East is steadily grown. In addition, Dubai is one of the key export markets for the swiss watch industry and also hosts the largest Rolex boutique worldwide, all of which are testament to its significance on the global stage,” says Ms Seddiqi.
It is also an incredibly young market, so inspiring a customer in Dubai could be the start of a relationship that lasts 60 years. That is not the case in Europe where the typical first time customer for a posh watch is in their fifties. “Dubai Watch Week is not just limited to experts and connoisseurs from the industry, but it is also a platform to kindle the interest of a new generation of inspiring watchmakers and horology fans,” Ms Seddiqi suggests.
DWW is billed as a non-commercial event, but it will do Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons no commercial harm to bring so many exciting brands to Dubai and to introduce them to a new generation of potential customers. Ms Seddiqi concedes the event’s and the retailer’s interests are aligned.
“As an advocate of horology and a curator of time, Ahmed Seddiqi and Sons’ passion for luxury watches is deeply embedded into the ethos of the group. It commits to servicing the region’s watch collector base whilst doing its utmost to promote the skill, craftsmanship & innovation associated with fine watchmaking, which in turn is also the main objective of Dubai Watch Week which was founded by the group back in 2015,” Ms Seddiqi explains “Dubai Watch Week grew out of a series of activations that Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons already had in place, through clients trips to Switzerland and seeing how much clients enjoyed it. Dubai Watch Week is an alignment of this desire to bring the wonders of watchmaking to a larger audience,” she adds.