Between 2000 and 2016, the value of Swiss watches shipped to the United Arab Emirates (the industry’s tenth-ranking market) soared from CHF 180 million to CHF 923 million. As the organiser of Dubai Watch Week, family-owned retailer Ahmed Seddiqi and Sons is clearly intent on positioning Dubai as a foremost centre for the promotion of watchmaking and its culture. We found out more from Melika Yazdjerdi, director of Dubai Watch Week which is partnered by Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie.
We immediately knew the event had potential, as almost every one of the independent watchmakers, brands and media accepted our invitation. Our ambition was to create the right environment for the interactions that are the heart of Dubai Watch Week. Considering how successful the first two editions were, I think we’ve achieved our goal.
We wanted to make this an even more enjoyable experience, on a much larger scale. Visitors can have their watch expertly appraised thanks to the collaboration with Christie’s, which will also be holding an auction during the week. This year’s Dubai Watch Week is spotlighting innovation and technology, hence there will be a number of panel discussions on those themes. And the Master Classes have been extended to include métiers d’art, whereas previously they focused on mechanisms. It’s going to be an exciting and fascinating week, for sure.
Before embarking on this project, there were a lot of discussions within the company and within the family to decide which format to choose compared with other events, the vast majority of which are sales-oriented. We wanted to introduce a new formula based on the special relations we have built over more than 50 years with the people behind the watches. We wanted to build on this intimacy in order to share our passion and make Dubai a true centre for watchmaking, and so we immediately opted for an open, educational platform with the emphasis on sharing knowledge and experiences. I won’t pretend we didn’t have some heated discussions at times, and some fairly strong opposition. But having brought so many collectors and personalities together at the first two editions, this really is the best return on investment we could have.
It’s a question that intrigues a lot of people. That, and how do we get brands to come without giving them the possibility to sell their products. My experience has been that the lack of sales pressure means they are actually all the more willing to take part. Business isn’t the be-all and end-all. Of course, this doesn’t completely rule out the objective of selling but, as you know, establishing relations is extremely important when conducting business in the Middle East. First you must get to know the other person; the commercial aspect comes later. By sharing our passion, we hope we will inspire visitors sufficiently for them to one day enter one of our stores. This is precisely what happened with one collector we know, for example. He was a huge admirer of a particular watchmaker, and was so thrilled to have actually been able to meet him that he came straight to one of our points of sale and purchased one of his watches. This is why these interactions are such an important part of Dubai Watch Week – its secret ingredient, you could say! We break down the barriers and make it possible to meet people who are otherwise virtually inaccessible. It’s a unique opportunity for visitors. Adding to this is our determination to explain what a beautiful watch is about. Why is it worth so much? How is it designed? Assembled? Why isn’t it possible to produce more of this or that model? What kind of expertise is involved? It’s vital to explain these things to the generations who will be tomorrow’s true watch enthusiasts.
Indeed. The younger generations who grew up with the internet have different purchasing behaviour. We believe in complementarity. I’m convinced a great many customers will continue to value the in-store experience. It’s the same with smartwatches. On the one hand there are those who perceive them as a threat, and on the other hand those who see them as an opportunity: the first watch a young person will wear, and certainly not the last…
Not at all. We originally planned it as a one-off event, but in view of its success and all the encouragement we received, we decided to organise a second on the understanding that there would be a Dubai Watch Week every two years. And here we are preparing for the third consecutive edition! We even organised a one-week trip to Switzerland to better get to know the behind-the-scenes of Fine Watchmaking. Having said that, the next Dubai Watch Week will be in 2020. That’s definite. But we are looking into a different kind of event in 2018 and 2019. That’ll be our surprise for next year!