“Before you get on that plane, Barbara, I want you to read this in its entirety. Promise me you’ll read it all.”
The above statement was made by my husband in 2017 as he handed me a stack of papers he’d just printed out from a government website. I’d never visited the Middle-East, nor had he, but we both understood that, well, I am who I am (a strong-minded woman who grew up in inner-city Philly who can sometimes stand her ground a little too strongly), so he wanted to make sure that I didn’t get myself into trouble.
“What is this?” I said.
“It’s the UAE laws and guidelines.” He replied. “Read it, because I know you, and regardless of your toughness, you’re a rule follower at the end of the day. So here… here are the rules. I know you’ll do what’s right.”
It’s true. I may frequently use several four-letter words (often in the same sentence) and sure, I’m fond of a drink or two (I CAN HEAR YOU ROLLING YOUR EYES) but as someone who came from a long line of military members and policemen (on my mother’s side), I happen to be a law-abiding citizen, probably to the point of ridiculousness sometimes. Rarely have I had a parking ticket. I’ve never touched an illegal drug. And, likely to the dismay of some of the publications for which I’ve written in the past, I refuse to put my name on advertorial pieces that aren’t disclosed as such. Will I wear clothing and shoes that are probably meant for women younger than I? Sure, but there’s no law in the U.S. saying I can’t. At least, not for now. So I did what my husband suggested, and I read the whole packet, cover to cover, in order to make sure I was on the up and up.
While packing my suitcases for the trip, I kept in mind what I’d read, because even aside from the rules, what was more important to me was that I respected the culture of those who invited me as their guest. Here I was, only a couple of years into covering watches, and I’d been invited to attend this prestigious event with watch journalists from all across the globe; many whom I had not yet met. I knew just how lucky I was, so it was important to me not to mess up. The problem was, in 2017, I was so focused on not offending anyone that I forgot that it was okay to actually have a little fun. Because, as the hotel concierge reminded me after I asked her if my outfit was culturally appropriate (for the 3rd day in a row), “Miss, seriously, this is Dubai. You really need to lighten up.”
Flash-forward to 2019…
Two years later, and a whole lot wiser, I was anxious to get back to the city of Dubai. No packets of rules to read. No nervousness about whom I might offend (okay, well, that’s not entirely true. I can always offend *someone*… I mean, you’ve met me, right?), and two years into knowing the Emirati people and several expats who happen to live there. You see, I made friends while in Dubai the first time, both through Dubai Watch Week as well as just out and about. And these friendships taught me a lot about what Dubai is really like, what their citizens are like, and what is expected from those who visit the city, so this time around, my nervousness was replaced by sheer excitement, and I truly looked forward – with a different set of eyes – to my second ever Dubai Watch Week.
A Whole New World
From the impeccable service on the Emirates flight over to the interestingly wonderful conversation had with the driver who brought me to the Waldorf Astoria for my stay, the trip started off in exactly the way I needed it to. I landed in the evening on Tuesday the 19th of November which meant I got to see the city at night from the sky, and the view was as majestic as one might think.
Once landed and connected to Wi-Fi, the various WhatsApp messages from colleagues started rolling in. “Are you here yet?” “Did you get in safely?” “Have you eaten, because I’m starving?!” “I’M LOOKING AT THE BURJ FROM THE ROOFTOP POOL! GET DOWN HERE!” No, I hadn’t eaten, and getting down there was exactly what I did.
A big part of the reason I’d been invited to Dubai Watch Week in the first place was because there were people in the watch community – highly respected people – who recommended me to the organizers back in 2017. This year, it was my turn to pay that favor forward, so when I was first told the theme of the 2019 edition, (“Innovation and Technology”) there was one person I knew I had to recommend as a speaker: Quantum Physicist, Michael Biercuk.
I first met Mike back in January at the (then) SIHH when he was at A. Lange & Söhne as a guest of the brand. With so many things in common (for example, he’s an Ivy League educated professor and I once contracted poison ivy while at my son’s little league game), we became fast friends, even meeting up in D.C. for dinner one time while both there on different business trips. What pulled me in most about Mike was how comfortable he is speaking to an audience and how relatable he is able to make quantum technology to them (and, to me). The guy comes off as a season professional, even with how young he is, and he’s brilliant on paper yet super approachable in person, and after watching his TED talk on YouTube, it was obvious he knew what to do with a crowd. The tie-in, though, is that Mike is also a watch collector, and he’ll often use the example of the Tourbillon when he speaks to or teaches his students about quantum tech, so after sending off some information about him to the future poet laureate that is Dominique Mahoney – the woman largely responsible for making the “Horology Forum” aspect of DWW a success – and hearing that he’d been invited, I was looking forward to a celebratory libation once on solid ground.
We headed to an empty section of the pool patio overlooking the magnificent Burj Khalifa before eventually being joined by watch personalities Richard Stenning, DOCTOR Andrew Hildreth, Adam Craniotes, and ¾ of the Hodge family (Aldis, Yolie, and Briana). And after some watch talk, quick bites, laughs, and sips, we adjourned to our rooms to get a good night’s sleep before the festivities began the following morning.
Let’s Get it Started in Here
Wednesday the 20th was designated as the official press day for Dubai Watch Week, with events scheduled that were to include the opening day press conference and a tour of the grounds at the DIFC (including the Rolex and Chopard pop-ups as well as the Christie’s and Watchbox spaces, and the grand hall which would house the showcasing watch brands). The day was to conclude with visits to iconic tourism spots around Dubai, which frankly, I’d been quite looking forward to. What the organizers had not counted on, however, was rain – a LOT of rain – and since “Murphy’s Law” is something familiar to us all at one time or another (for those who grew up under a rock, that’s the adage that “anything that can go wrong will go wrong”), a plan B was quickly concocted and eventually the international press squad found themselves dry and back at the Waldorf for a three course lunch and some time to relax (or do work) before the opening ceremony that evening. I, of course, opted for a change of clothing which resulted in a bright red Karl Lagerfeld dress, D&G by Dolce & Gabbana black wool shrug, patent leather strappy Coach heels, and my two-tone Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso.
After the opening cocktail and dancing at the Cipriani pop-up, a crew of us – including Justin Mastine-Frost, Professor Mike, and Miguel Seabra – were beckoned by our colleagues to join them at the Luna Sky Bar at the Four Seasons in the DIFC for one last libation before turning in, that is, once we figured out how to get there (lost, much?).
Day two for members of the press started off with a beautiful breakfast at the hotel, courtesy of our hosts, before we headed off to whichever event was on our individual schedules. Thanks to this year’s Dubai Watch Week app, attendees no longer had to wear cheesy name tags or cumbersome show badges, as our “badge” was an easily accessible QR code in the app, itself (which is brilliant because let’s face it, who doesn’t go anywhere without their mobile device in their hand?) The app not only provided an easy way to remember what was next on my schedule, but as someone who takes care when it comes to selecting my daily attire, I was happy not to have some oddly colored paper badge hanging from my neck.
First on my schedule was the Horology Forum panel titled, “Making the Waitlist” which featured Mohammed Seddiqi, Adam Craniotes, and Hamden Al Hudaidi as panelists, and journalist Robin Swithinbank as the moderator. This was one of the panel discussions to which I was most looking forward because of how foreign it is to me as someone who has never been on a wait list – for anything – in her life. (I’m not kidding. I’m an Aries and we’re ridiculously impatient so waiting isn’t exactly part of our routine.) This was an eye-opening discussion and I feel that Robin was one of the best moderators of the entire event. I followed up this panel with a visit to the Creative Hub to listen to Bulgari’s creative director Fabrizio Buonamassa wax poetic about the brand while educating attendees on the timeline of Bulgari’s now infamous Serpenti collection.
I closed out the day by attending the “What Brings You Here?” panel which also included Mr. Buonamassa as well as Pascal Raffy of Bovet, Actor and watch designer Aldis Hodge, and the aformentioned Professor Biercuk (FYI – it’s pronounced “BEER – SICK” should you not want to be corrected by the professor, himself). This panel was particularly interesting because it focused on those of us who didn’t start out in the watch industry, but who found ourselves drawn to it for one reason or another.
Aldis – for those who are unaware – is an anomaly in this industry for a variety of reasons. Reason number one is because frankly, anyone can see that he doesn’t *have* to continue on his quest to start a watch brand. He’s a successful and talented actor who has appeared in numerous films and other projects alongside some of the world’s most respected artists, but Aldis is hell-bent on seeing this project of his through, because as he tells it, “I started this. This is what I started for me, and so I have to finish it.”
Day two (which I think was Thursday but it’s all a bit of a blur if I’m being totally honest) ended with three (THREE!!!!) brand events: The Grand Seiko cocktail hour at the Cipriani pop-up, the HYT international launch of their new H5 series watch (which, by the way, is MAGNIFICENT! Well done, Grégory and team), and Chopard’s Alpine Eagle launch celebration. And yes, I managed to go to all three and survive, but not before Robin Swithinbank and I unofficially adopted Melika Yazdjerdi as our daughter, which, happened to be right after the entire watch journalism community sang Bohemian Rhapsody at the Chopard party, and right before Philippe Dufour and Marc Andre Deschoux went down to funky town on the dance floor with Instagram’s beloved, @mrgreencertified.
TRUST ME. YOU HAD TO BE THERE.
BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!
I’ll say it again, Dubai Watch Week brings the entire watch world together, which is why we weren’t surprised when, after leaving the Chopard party to head to Luna (again, and not for the last time), we found ourselves in the presence of “The Man” himself, Mr. Jean-Claude Biver, who’d just flown in from Boston after his visit to Harvard Business School (where, if you’re unaware, Mr. Biver is a case study).
If this wasn’t a mic drop on the day, I’m not quite sure what could have been.
The Song Remains the Same
Because this post is already over 2000+ words strong, I’ll spare you a novella in the making and simply say that the rest of the week was similar to the first couple of days in that attendees were treated to extraordinary experiences in the form of education, classes, entertainment, releases, food, fun, and more. Some of the other Horology Forum panels I found most intriguing were, “Apocalypse II” which compared the quartz watch crisis of the 70s to the smart watch dilemma of today, “Control Freak” which delved into how much control brands have (or, “want”) over their retailer partners, and vice versa, and “Les Femmes Sauvages” which shed light on women who’ve come into power in fields largely dominated by men. Oh, and Fiona Krüger’s watch design class was LEGIT.
But of course, I would be a failure of a writer if I didn’t mention the panel I was asked to moderate; a creative take on an audience Q&A called, “Hot Potato” which happened also to be the last panel at Horology Forum. Dominique informed me that this was the only panel she hadn’t written a poetic introduction for, so I asked her if she, Hind, and Melika would be okay with me writing my own. Once I got the green light, I spent an hour in my room on Saturday evening before heading out to the Ulysse Nardin reception and penned what I thought might be a solid introduction (yet nowhere near as well as Dom, herself, could have done) to the panel and its speakers.
For those who asked, here is how it went:
Once upon a time, there was a woman named Dom
Who made poems for panels, which I thought was the bomb.
So imagine my shock when Dear Dom shared a secret
That made her feel anxious; filled with much regret.
“BARB” she addressed me, because that’s my “Dom” name
“I’m so sorry, but your panel, it will not be the same.”
“While the others presented by me were in verse
Yours will, well, please don’t be terse”
“You see, I ran out of time, and I just couldn’t do it.
But it’s you, Barb, so I know, you’ll completely get through it”
Hurt and in shock, I lied through my teeth
“Sure, Dom, I got this, though my rhymes may be brief.
So without hesitation, and without joke or jest,
Please, allow me, to introduce to you, these four fabulous guests.
Watchmaker, Executive, Collector, Retail
These four fine gents are familiar with detail.
Adam Craniotes is Redbar’s voice and its face
And as EIC of Revolution, US, he has found a new space
To share thoughts about watches/write words about time
And since I’m now on his payroll, I’ll say, I think he’s sublime
The next speaker before you, Mr. Christophe Nicaise
Business Development Officer at Seddiqi Holding, well, he just has a nice face.
He is French. He is kind. He is smart. Dresses well.
And if you don’t like his shoes, you can all go to…
the Dubai Mall because there are tons of shoe stores there.
Danny Govberg and I, we are from the same town
I grew up knowing his store was the best store around
CEO and Co-Founder of the WatchBox Brand
I’m sure Dubai is quite happy to have him here in this land.
And last but not least is the man we should all know
Who I’m positive is nervous. Even debating whether to show.
You see last year, in London, at Horology Forum,
I asked Stephen Forsey a question, forgetting my decorum.
But don’t worry Stephen, it’s fine, no need to be on guard,
For I promise, this time, the questions won’t be hard.
I thank you, my hosts, for all that you’ve done
To make Dubai Watch Week not just educational, but fun
For giving me the honor to sit on this stage
So that together, on horology, we can all write a new page.
If you made it through this entire entry, that means you cared enough to find out what Dubai Watch Week was all about, and for that, I’m pretty happy, because it deserves your research and recognition.
Thanks to my friends and colleagues, namely Gary, Adam, Mike, Justin, Sultan, Serdar, Michael, Miguel, Eleonor, Max, Charris, Grégory, Kristian, Jola, Jason, Robin, Stephen, and of course, Carlos, for making this event even better because of your warmth and kindness.
And finally, thank you to Hind, Melika, Dom, Shruti, and the entire Seddiqi team for trusting me, and for creating something that never existed before, will never be able to be replicated, and will only get better…
“The only way to break out is to gamble.” – Jerry Jones
Las Vegas, June 3rd, 2016.
Maybe it’s because I’ve been there for work about four or five billion times (or so I’ve felt). Maybe it’s because “fake” isn’t my thing, so the fake city, fake Eiffel Tower, fake cheekbones, fake sculptures, and fake fun doesn’t really appeal to me. Or, maybe it’s because paying $27 for a mediocre gin martini presented to me by an obsequious “mixologist” seems, oh, I don’t know, like something Dean Martin would be really pissed off about if he were alive today. But man, I REALLY hate Las Vegas. Hate hate it. Like, how my eight-year-old daughter hates green foods, or like how Canadians hate the word “hate” because let’s be honest, in their minds, it could just as easily be replaced by the word “like” in any sentence. But on this night, I found myself in Las Vegas, three months into writing this here watch blog, and two glasses of wine into the COUTURE Show opening party at the Wynn hotel, sponsored by none other than LVMH watch brand, TAG Heuer.
One doesn’t have to be a WIS to know the back story of Jean-Claude Biver; one simply has to be somewhat literate and hopefully have a pulse to be even vaguely aware of the watch world giant. By the time I made the decision to take my writing over to the watch side, I’d read my fair share of articles and heard my fair share of stories of the man who many describe still as “larger than life.”
I remember just having wrapped up a conversation with Scott Saunders of London Jewelers when Mr. Biver was introduced, before he graciously took the microphone as he stepped on to the COUTURE Show stage. His remarks seemed quaint to me at first; simple, and yet substantial. Everyone in the crowd stood still, patiently hanging on to JCB’s words which were becoming more intense by the second.
“ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE!” he finally exclaimed loudly into the mic, giving credit to the Beatles for a line that even the millennials in the room would recognize. Love. He was yelling about love. Here was a man so bold, and so recognized, and so successful, and he was talking to a room full of jewelry and watch people about a universal emotion as simple – and as complicated – as love. About the power of love. About the positivity of love. And about love’s effect on everything we do in our lives and every decision we make. “All you need… is love.”
By the time he left the stage, the room acted as if it had just witnessed a modern-day prophet perform a miracle for the ages. People were cheering so vehemently I wondered if Mr. Biver would actually come back out and sing “Freebird” while we all swayed and raised our cigarette lighters. It was astonishing to witness and awe-inspiring at the same time. I wanted to start hugging strangers in the room and tell them I loved them (but I didn’t because when you do that in Vegas, people get the wrong idea about what you actually do for a living). I was invigorated, and felt kind of… well, lucky… and when you’re feeling lucky in Vegas there’s really only one place to go…
Vegas was built for a reason, and that reason was money, and money alone. Gambling is the fabric used in the tattered quilt that blankets the city, and to go and not gamble even once seems almost sacrilegious, so I decided to head inside to the Wynn’s grand casino and take my chances at the tables.
The sounds of coins falling and bells ringing are synonymous with Vegas. The smell of a casino floor can’t be replicated – nor should it – as the lingering feelings of both hope and despair hang tauntingly in the recycled air. Yet as I strolled through the crowds of thirty-something bachelors and their nightly rent-a-dates toward the blackjack area, I could see a figure walking quickly toward me in the mix of what would appear to be an entourage.
It was The Prophet, himself: Mr. Jean-Claude Biver.
I’d never met him before, nor had I met anyone in the watch world who held a position such as his. I was new still, and green, and honestly, I didn’t know crap about the industry. But he was headed my way, and I knew that if I didn’t at least tell him that I liked his speech, I’d lose an opportunity I might never get again. But what happens if I stop him and he wants to talk watches? I can’t fake it! Vegas or not, I suck at bullshitting.
The more I thought about it, the closer he got, and when he had just walked past me, I idiotically blurted out his name.
He turned toward me, almost startled, and his people turned too.
“I’m Barbara Palumbo. I write a watch blog called WhatsOnHerWrist. It’s sort of focused on women. I’m a fan though, and I saw your speech, and I just wanted to meet you.”
He smiled his wide, toothy smile as he walked back toward me and took my business card from my outstretched and slightly shaking hand, before reaching into his pocket and handing me his in return.
We spoke for a few minutes, once I calmed my nerves, and he told me to email him any time if I had any questions or needed anything. Then he shook my hand, and he and his people walked off into the desert night while I stood there staring at the plain white business card which bore his name.
Upon my return home to Atlanta, I wrote a recap of my experience at COUTUREtime and decided to take Mr. Biver up on his offer, so I emailed it to him, and to my surprise, received a reply within the hour:
“Hello Barbara, thank you for your email and article! I enjoyed reading it and could imagine you enjoying writing it. Hope to catch up with you soon.”
It was, for someone like me, a moment I won’t soon forget.
You see, I guess I’m still green. I like people who are nice to me; who take the time to mentor me, and do right by me, knowing that I’m in this to learn, and that no matter what happens, or what road bumps I hit, I’m not giving up. I like writing about brands who employ good people; positive people. I enjoy sharing their stories because this industry is about more than mere material possessions with a history. Watches ARE their people. Watches wouldn’t exist without their designers or their creators or their marketers or sellers or CEOs or those, like me, who tell their stories. And this simple moment – this gamble that I took in Vegas at the very beginning – put me on the right mental path, because it showed me that someone as important to the watch world as Jean-Claude Biver was willing to take the time and share a kind word of support with someone like me, who was just starting out.
So, to you, Mr. Biver, I say “cheers” today. Cheers on celebrating your 69th birthday, on celebrating forty extraordinary years doing what you seemingly love, and on deciding to take time for you in a different way than you had been recently. We know that you’re still around for those of us who have questions or need anything, but speaking for myself, you already gave me what it was I needed.
Thank you, sir. I guess that’s really all I wanted to say through this story. Merci.