he third Dubai Watch Week was held this past November. The fair goes beyond exhibiting luxury brands to possess another kind of luxury: time. The time to discover and discuss in a serene atmosphere. The event is more of a cultural convention than a trade fair. That’s natural, since it is coordinated by the most prestigious watch retailer in the Middle East, Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons, founded in the late 1940s and today employing more than 800 people in a dense network of more than 70 boutiques throughout the United Arab Emirates, representing nearly as many prestigious brands.
The event is therefore not a rat race to find a new representative... which means you can take your time! This watchmaking campus also features two characteristics that are cruelly lacking in the other events of this type across the world: a rich programme of lectures and workshops and the integration of the vintage watch sector, which is quickly growing, including in the Gulf countries. Christie’s had its own pavilion during the fair. “We launched auctions in Dubai in 2006,” explains watch sales manager Stéphane Von Bueren. “It was not a foregone conclusion that we would be able to sell second-hand watches here... It has taken some time. We started with modern watches, but bit by bit, vintage models are also becoming important.”
“When I attended the first auctions here in Dubai, I was surprised to see how many people in the audience were discouraged by the fact that the watches were ‘used’,” notes Ali Khadra of Canvas Magazine. “But that is just what makes them captivating. A watch is not like an old dress; you are not just purchasing a gemstone or a mechanism, but a little piece of history.”
The concept of watch ‘maturity’ is catching on in Dubai, observes Melika Yazdjerdi, Senior Marketing and Communications Director, Seddiqi Holding, and Director of Dubai Watch Week. Historically, the royal families of the Middle East have commissioned a great number of pieces from Swiss watchmakers, and a substantial number are still on display at the Patek Philippe Museum of Geneva. “Collectors are not just interested in the most expensive watches, but also more specific models and movements. Our role and raison d’être have always been to contribute to helping educate local inhabitants in the art of watchmaking.”
And most of all, when the brands and their representatives become concentrated and takeovers abound, the retailer still manages its business in the image of a big family, both literally and figuratively... Who better, then, to speak of the state of the market in the United Arab Emirates than a member of the family? We interviewed Mohammed Abdulmagied Seddiqi, a third-generation representative and the Chief Commercial Officer of Seddiqi Holding.
- Mohammed Abdulmagied Seddiqi, a third-generation representative and the Chief Commercial Officer of Seddiqi Holding.
How do you view the watchmaking market of the United Arab Emirates in 2017? Swiss watch exports were down for the second consecutive year...
2017 was a complicated year, considering the persistent geopolitical instability in the Middle East. I hope that the situation will improve. But faced with this context, we will continue our investments to pursue our development. Whatever may come, Dubai will remain the regional hub. This reputation was not built overnight, even if the development was very rapid. Today, Dubai has become an internationally recognised destination and brand. We benefit from that.
In retrospect, what can you say about the evolution of the market in the United Arab Emirates over the last decade? The density of watch brands present there today is striking.
The watch market has made leaps and bounds over the last decade, principally because the country has developed through the initiative of the regent family. They have encouraged investment in Dubai and greatly developed the infrastructures – including roads and the airport – to encourage business and tourism, making Dubai a hub for the entire Middle East. It is a ‘complete package’ that attracts a great deal of people and capital, including in watchmaking. We are accompanying this growth.
Precisely where are your clients from?
Our clientele is 50% local and 50% foreign, since Dubai a racts tourists from Europe, Russia and the Far East. It’s a good mix.
One of your principal competitors in the region is the distributor Rivoli, today managed by the Swatch Group. How have you compensated for the end of your collaboration with the Swiss corporation?
Our portfolio is still rich and varied. Today we represent more than 60 brands, for every budget and every taste. After all, our choice begins with fashion watches from brands like Guess or Armani; we carry connected watches, and TAG Heuer has even released a limited Dubai edition of its Connected watch through our 1915 by Seddiqi & Sons stores; and we have been representing prestigious brands – including Rolex, Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet and Chopard – for over six decades through Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons, the longest-standing and largest business unit of Seddiqi Holding. They are independent, and often very family-oriented, which naturally brings us closer to them. Moreover, the ‘new’ brand that has best emerged in the last fifteen years is incontestably Richard Mille. We continue to regularly add new brands to our portfolio. The latest to date is Bell & Ross.
Today, Dubai is home to the largest mall in the world; and it will be surpassed by a new one by 2020, also in the same city, for the Expo 2020. The new mall will include more than 4,750 stores! Has the single-brand boutique model – shop-in-shop – definitively prevailed over the multi-brand store model in the region?
It would be too radical to assert such a thing. It is true that single-brand boutiques currently represent 70% of our distribution. We started with a multi-brand concept in the 1950s, but we opened single-brand boutiques in the 1970s, beginning with Chopard. Most of them are located within malls. Indeed, this is one of the principal reasons why there are more single-brand boutiques here than in Europe: there are a great deal more malls in Dubai, and therefore more shop-in-shops.
What about online sales?
In the United Arab Emirates, we are not witnessing strong growth in online sales of luxury watches, unlike what is perhaps the case in the United States. However, we are considering e-commerce for the smaller brands in our portfolio. We are going to launch initiatives along these lines; but for the other brands, ‘touch and feel’ remains an important factor in the region, like the personal relations that we have been developing with our clients for generations.
And vintage watches?
We ourselves are not yet present in the sales of vintage models, but we are planning on opening a specialised vintage boutique in the long term. It must be said that people are increasingly conscious of the auction opportunities available for watches. Emeratis are already participating in sales in Geneva, New York City and Hong Kong, as well as in Dubai. Moreover, one of the best-known models in the history of watch sales is the Daytona, featuring the emblem of the United Arab Emirates, commissioned from Rolex by the royal family.
Certain renowned retailers, such as Wempe or Bucherer, have gone beyond their national markets. Do you also plan to extend to other Gulf countries?
For the time being, we are concentrating on our presence in the United Arab Emirates, since there is still a lot of potential to explore. Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons is the most important part of Seddiqi Holding, but we are also active in after-sales service, beauty products, and especially real estate in Dubai. Moreover, considering how we work, branching out would mean finding a member of the family willing to move abroad to manage the subsidiary.
While we’re on the subject, let’s talk about how you work. The Seddiqi family has become so large today that you have established an ‘impartial’ se lection system in-house! How does that work?
Today, the family includes seven third-generation representatives. The family is growing, but not everyone works in watches; members have to be qualified to enter the business. To date, we have introduced a family booklet in an attempt to perpetuate the company over the upcoming generations. Any member of the family wishing to join the company must have at least five years of experience – although not necessarily exclusive to the watch business – and have a passion for watches. And the family is prohibited from getting involved in recruiting members of the family. We sometimes criticise each other, but only for the good of the company! We also include people who are not members of the family in order to benefit from a diversity of ideas.
How did you get the idea to create Dubai Watch Week? And what are you aiming to achieve with this event?
Eleven years ago, I attended a watch event in Singapore, and it inspired me to launch a purely educative conference. Dubai Watch Week is more a cultural event than it is a trade fair. The more we educate people in premium watchmaking, the more we benefit from it, since we are at the heart of the watch ecosystem in the Middle East, and this is fertile ground for the watch business.