A Whole New World: Dubai Watch Week is the Horological Experience We Never Knew We Needed Until Now

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I travel. A lot. It’s part and parcel of my career as a watch and jewelry writer and speaker, and my family and I have accepted this as our new reality. But because I travel so much, dinners at home are all the more special. I make sure our family of four sits down to a home cooked meal every night that I’m not on the road; something that – while having grown up in a rough environment – my parents made sure we did no matter the circumstances surrounding us.

Last year around Christmastime, I came across these dinner table cards called “Table Topics.” Their purpose is to get families who sit down together at mealtime to talk about different things. Some of the cards will ask questions like, “Who was the worst teacher you ever had?” Or, “What are the next three countries you’d like to visit?” In our home, each family member takes turns as to who gets to pick a card and ask the question each night, and about three months ago, my son chose a card asking each of us the following question:

“What invitation would you love to receive?”

When it was my turn to answer, I pondered whether I should go with my extreme option (an invite to attend the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle when they eventually tie the knot), or one that – while still far-fetched in my mind – seemed a bit more reachable.

“I’d like to be invited to Dubai Watch Week.”

And on October 19th of this year, thanks to Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons (and a few watch folks who believe in the work I put forth), that invitation came in the form of an email, and that once seemingly far-fetched wish became my reality.

****************

I left my home for the airport on November 14th with what I believed were the essentials for a trip to the UAE: two large suitcases (weighing over one-hundred pounds total) carrying eighteen (18!!!!!!) pairs of high heels, five floor-length gowns, and a sixteen-page dossier on UAE laws, dress code recommendations, cultural etiquette, and acceptable behavior, created by my rarely nervous yet heartwarmingly protective husband.

“You promised me you’d read the entire thing before you left. Did you?”

“Todd, I read it all. Front to back. I promise. I didn’t pack any of my mini-dresses or midriffs and I’ll watch my language. You have my word.”

At the opening gala

To give you a little context, my better half sends me off on overseas trips about as regularly as he gets a haircut these days, and never has he blinked an eye when it comes to my safety, but he and I have not yet visited the Middle East, or Dubai, or even Asia together for that matter, and since he knows I’m from Philly and that I occasionally (full disclosure: regularly) like a good four-letter word alongside my single-malt scotch, he feared I might get myself in trouble for, well, basically just being myself.

“Babe, I’ll behave. These are watch people, remember. I’d worry more if I were heading to a jewelry convention there.”

“Fair point.”

Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons did the most wonderful job of hosting the journalists who were invited to attend this year’s fair. I was flown to Dallas in order to catch the direct flight from Dallas to Dubai via business class on Emirates Airlines. Once landed, a chauffeur-driven Emirates car picked me up from Dubai International Airport to take me to the Ritz Carlton at the DIFC – The Dubai International Finance Center – where I would enjoy a six-night stay. The fair was a five-minute walk (eight minutes in five-inch heels) from the hotel, which was located in The Gate Village. The daily brisk stroll made for a perfect way to burn off a few of that morning’s breakfast calories before a day of sitting down in classes, sessions, or seminars.

The important thing for everyone to realize about this fair is that three years ago, Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons founded Dubai Watch Week with the purpose of providing an intimate environment for collectors, brands, watchmakers, and members of the press to interact with one another and share the knowledge bestowed upon them throughout their personal watch journeys. This is not a money-maker for the company. They are not an exhibition group that was formed with the sole purpose of creating and managing trade shows. This is a multi-generational family business that started in the 1940’s with a single watch shop in Dubai’s Souk Bur, which has grown into a Swiss watch conglomerate that now operates close to two dozen watch boutiques. Dubai Watch Week is – in a way – a form of giving back to the community of watch collectors and enthusiasts who have been patrons of their business, while also allowing the watchmakers and brand representatives to speak directly to those most interested, usually through some form of education. The concept is both brilliant and refreshing, and I realized those facts before ever having stepped foot in the country.

CANIM!

November 16th was a day set aside for opening ceremonies and press previews, while the days of the 17th through the 20th were meticulously planned out, with the program being curated with an extreme amount of thought and care. Attendees were treated to watchmaking master classes taught by the likes of David Candaux, Vanessa Cellier, Adriano Toninelli, Issa Sulaiman, Antoine Preziuso, Florian Preziuso, and the legendary Kurt Klaus. Tiago Aires Sergio was on hand to teach engraving master classes and Jiyoun Han-Parrat with the Vanessa Lecci Atelier taught miniature painting as well as enameling master classes.

Regarding the layout of the fair itself, there were eleven numbered “halls” set up around the DIFC gate that included two watch halls (titled “Classic & Contemporary 1 & 2), the FHH exhibition, the GPHG exhibition, the Master Classes center, the Creative Hub (where brands often held their press conferences), the Horology Forum (where the seminars and panels took place), the Auction & Evaluation Room, the Virtual Reality exhibit, Citizen Kafe (an eatery), and Lounge 1010 (also, an eatery).

The “Watch Etiquette” Panel

Two of the things that stood out for me personally at the fair were firstly, the presence of watch women in both physical form and as topics during the forums, and secondly, the presence of children and the importance placed on getting children involved and interested in horology at an early age; especially if we’re to raise the next generation of watchmakers. A few of my close friends know that I’m currently working on watch projects that directly relate to these points (which will be revealed at Baselworld), so to see this happening in a place like Dubai brought sheer joy to my heart.

I could spend the next one thousand words of this article rolling off the highlights of Dubai Watch Week or what I learned or took away from it all (because believe me, I learned and took away so much), but it’s getting pretty lengthy as it is, so I’ll simply mention some of my favorite personal moments below:

  • Visiting Max’s M.A.D. Gallery in the city in which he and his family live (and meeting his wife and daughter, finally!).
  • Watching Alexander Friedman and Suzanne Wong go toe-to-toe on women’s issues during a Horology Forum panel while still maintaining their friendship.
  • Intermission shots even when there wasn’t an intermission.
  • CHARRIS. ‘Nuff said.
  • Getting to use two of the five floor-length gowns I packed.
  • Learning how to properly pronounce Kristian Haagen’s name while simultaneously letting him know that his socks didn’t match. Again.
  • Frequenting cigar bars alongside watch-wearing Italians, Arabs, Turks, the Swiss, and the French, and thinking that the whole world should be this happy.
  • Breakfasts with my Watchonista squad.
  • Finally picking up the badge with my name on it after using a blank one for the first three days of the fair. (D’oh!)
  • Listening to Kurt Klaus make the most sensible statements out of everyone during the millennial forum
  • Meeting a few of my journalist colleagues for the first time after having been connected on social media for quite a while (special shouts out to Robert-Jan and Jason).
  • “Watch your step.”
  • The ink-infused moments in the corner of the VC cocktail party with Christian, Kristian, and Marc André.
  • Interviewing everyone I was able to for my “Classic or Contemporary” post on Watchonista.
  • Hanging with Carlos Torres (because that will always make my list for any fair, anywhere).
  • Getting a media badge for François-Paul only to have him attach it to his head.
  • Did I mention Charris?

A very special thank you to Melika, Jihane, Shruti, Wasen, Hind, and everyone at Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons who made my first visit to Dubai and Dubai Watch Week one I’ll never forget. I know that the fair won’t be held again until 2020, but I implore you, never let the energy of this magnificent event fade away. It is needed. It is wanted. It is unlike anything else in the world. And you all should be very, very proud of your hard work.

Two of the most respectable, distinguished men the watch industry has ever known.

 

Kurt Klaus schooling the audience while Suzanne Wong looks on

 

Listening intently as Christian Selmoni of Vacheron Constantin talk about platinum’s characteristics

 

This image was included simply to prove that it happened.

 

(Images provided by Dubai Watch Week.)

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