In the wake of post-Baselworld trade show turmoil in the watch industry and the search for a meaningful alternative, Dubai Watch Week is emerging as a promising model for face-to-face luxury watch launches in the future.
The strength of the event, held last week at the Dubai International Financial Center, is that it is not just a trade show. It is open to consumers, so in addition to attracting the most important retailers in the region, it has become a magnet for some of the world’s most heavyweight collectors. Many of the 51 exhibitors timed new launches to coincide with the event, releasing them in series ranging from one to 100—with many limited to under 10. The collectors in attendance were therefore among the first to see these pieces, and it is surprising there were no brawls in the aisle—and there is only one aisle in the exhibit area—over who gets first dibs.
The show’s real attraction is this dichotomous combination of accessibility and unattainability. Unlike Baselworld, it is deliberately small, and all booths are open. Instead of an army of staff taking appointments in closed meeting rooms, CEOs and other brand principals sit in the open, personally showing collectors and journalists million-dollar watches up close. If you stop by the booths while strolling through the show, you can look over their shoulders. (Not that there aren’t more obtainable brands at the fair: Tudor, Bell & Ross, Reservoir and Oris also showed up to exhibit their new watches.)
Dubai Watch Week’s other main draw, and what really sets it apart from other events, is the horology forum—a series of panel discussions designed to foster discussions about topics ranging from how to build a watch collection to understanding NFTs. In addition to including serious watch collectors on some of the panels, this year’s sessions drew industry heavy hitters like Audemars Piguet CEO, François-Henry Bennahmias, and Breitling CEO, Georges Kern, along with titans of other industries, including mega-investor and Shark Tank star Kevin O’Leary, as well as luxury brand strategist Lisa Rokny of Avenue Fifty Two. The panels were recorded and can be viewed on the Dubai Watch Week website. Some of the panels got a bit off-topic, but that was the point: It was an open discussion—a free-for-all, compared to more structured venues.
The show is also unique in that it is not produced by a trade show company or a group of brands but is instead run by one of the largest retailers in the world, Ahmed Seddiqi and Sons, founded in 1949 and now with over 50 locations in the UAE. It remains a family-run business, and Hind Seddiqi, granddaughter of the founder, and company’s CMO, is the organizer of Dubai Watch Week. Exhibitors said they were extremely happy with the organization of the fair, some referring to it as the best-organized show in the industry, where they were made to feel welcomed, with frequent visits from show staff throughout the fair to attend to any needs. One exhibitor, who requested a slight change in the showcase height on the first day, was shocked and delighted to see that it was done by the following morning. He commented: “This would never have happened at that other big trade fair.”
Hind Seddiqi explains the inspiration behind Dubai Watch Week: “Customers and friends always ask us, ‘Why are you so obsessed with watches, so in love with watches?’ I answer that first of all, it’s in our family. I grew up in the business, so it’s in my blood. But secondly, as retailers we have always had a VIP, back-door access to the industry—the watchmakers, the artisans, the engravers—and they have played a very big role in making us fall in love with their brands and products. So one of the things we started doing in the early 2000s was taking collectors and potential collectors with us to Baselworld and other venues and giving them the same access. We saw how it transformed their perception of watches, and we saw their passion grow from there. That’s one of the things we wanted to achieve with Dubai Watch Week. We also wanted to bring makers together to share their common interests and struggles within the industry, and that’s why we created the forum.”
Retailers and collectors attended from far and wide, including Eastern Europe, India, Singapore, the UK, Belgium and Turkey, in addition to the UAE region. Exhibitors included major players such as Audemars Piguet, Rolex, Bulgari, and Chopard, and top smaller brands like Bovet, F.P. Journe, De Bethune, Greubel Forsey, Louis Moinet and Purnell. Some of their introductions, pictured here, will be covered in-depth in upcoming posts. In addition to the exhibiting brands, there was also an exhibit of prize-winning timepieces from this year’s Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève.