Dubai Watch Week: brands dial into Middle East market with local special editions
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Collectors visiting the biennial Dubai Watch Week, the sixth edition of which is on now, have come to anticipate not just another horological get-together, but also the release of special limited edition watches that reflect the culture of the region.
Establishing a fresh market for contemporary watches with dials featuring Hindi numerals has primarily been the achievement of Mohammed Seddiqi, chief commercial officer of Dubai-based Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons, the largest watch retailer in the United Arab Emirates and the wider region.
Today, the UAE is one of the most dynamic markets for watches. According to figures from the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry, Swiss exports to the UAE for January to September are up 11.5 per cent year on year, and up 29.4 per cent when compared with the same period in 2021.
There has long been an active collector market for vintage watches with what Christie’s Geneva head Remi Guillemin calls “Arabic dials” — in particular, those with the Khanjar national symbol of Oman and the UAE national crest with the signature of HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai.
“What’s interesting is that these collectors are not necessarily from the region,” says Guillemin. “We have interest in [these watches] from clients from Australia to the US. Their continued appeal lies in the fact that they are extremely rare and represent a certain moment in the history of this region.”
Seddiqi’s efforts to kick-start a market for modern regional edition watches started over a decade ago. “My father had a white gold day-date with Hindi numerals and, in 2012, we started using the Hindi numerals with Hublot when we did the Vision in titanium and rose gold,” he says.
Sales of the initial limited edition of 100 pieces with Hublot were so swift that they inspired others. “It was an inspiration for a lot of the watch industry to come back with the Indian numerals. Many brands have implemented Hindi numerals specifically for the Middle East market and we see that demand worldwide has increased.”
As for the special editions launched at this year’s Dubai Watch Week, Seddiqi says everything was pre-sold before the event started.
Frédéric Arnault, chief executive of Tag Heuer — which has just presented a limited-edition Dubai tourbillon — feels that “showing respect to local culture” stimulates interest and yields new customers. On the secondary market, Arnault has noticed those particular special edition watches attracting a minimum 30 per cent premium over their retail price.
Tag Heuer’s Carrera 02T tourbillon
... with a Dubai skyline
One of the most sought-after Hindi or eastern Arabic numeral-dial watches is the platinum Rolex Daytona. According to Remy Julia, head of watches for auction house Christie’s in Dubai, the secondary market price of a regular platinum Daytona is $80,000-$90,000, whereas the Hindi-numeral version is $140,000-$150,000. “This has dropped from about $250,000, but I think it is going to go back up,” he predicts.
Big brands are not the only ones benefiting from this regional specificity. Last month, a Moritz Grossmann in steel with eastern Arabic numerals sold via Christie’s for $37,800 against a presale estimate of $10,000-$20,000. This sale, says Julia, “educated us on the brand and its level of watchmaking, its attractiveness, and the level of interest with multiple clients”. He adds that, for small brands, these local editions provide “a platform with resonance that they would never usually be able to afford”.
For Seddiqi, the popularity of UAE special editions has encouraged him to explore fresh creative avenues with watch brands. One of his favourites was produced by Bovet. “It was a combination of Arabic and Hindi, with the upper numerals in Arabic and the lower numerals in Hindi,” he says. “It was
following the trend of what Panerai did with the California dial, but we twisted it a bit to cater to our market. This kind of dial is something close to my heart, something totally new.”
Hublot’s version with Arabic calligraphy dial
Bretiling’s Chronomat GMT 40 Dubai Edition
Seddiqi has further broadened the concept this year, with 16 limited UAE edition watches being launched during Dubai Watch Week. Not all have Hindi numerals. “We have two Hublots that do not use the numerals but have Arabic calligraphy on the dial,” he says. “We commissioned a calligrapher in Dubai and talked to Hublot about having his artwork in the dial. The calligraphy is in different colours and is also Super-Luminova, so it glows in the dark.
“Then, with the Hindi numerals, we’re doing a Breitling GMT. It will feature Hindi numerals on a nice electric-blue dial. And we changed the name from GMT to DMT — Dubai Mean Time. Today, [with] Dubai being an important city and considered the centre of the world, we thought that we have to highlight Dubai. Maybe the people at Greenwich might be upset,” he says with a laugh.
“But we just thought it would be nice for the people who are visiting Dubai Watch Week to have something that is made specifically for the market.”