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Dubai Watch Week

Fourth Time’s A Charm: Summing Up Dubai Watch Week 2023

Now that the international cultural event has officially come to a close, we look back on what was unique, what was popular, and what was, well, unexpected (and it’s not what you might think).

By Barbara Palumbo

Warning: this article about Dubai Watch Week is going to get personal. As a four-time attendee of the full event in Dubai, and a SEVEN-time speaker and moderator at the event’s Horology Forum, I’ve watched the fair change drastically and grow exponentially since my first attendance as a writer for Watchonista in 2017.

Some have called it “the greatest cultural watch event in the world,” a billing I find hard to disagree with, and an invite to it as a member of the international media has become the hottest ticket in town.

Dubai Watch Week is not Baselworld. It’s not the old SIHH, and it’s certainly not the new(ish) Watches & Wonders. On one of the fair’s entrance sides was a massive sign that read, “NOT JUST A WATCH SHOW” and that statement couldn’t be any truer.

While yes, many of the world’s most recognizable brands and their respective leaders (i.e., Georges Kern, Edouard Meylan, Ricardo Guadalupe, and Jacob Arabov, just to name a few) were present either in their booths at the Brand Exhibition Hall or in their own stand-alone temporary buildings, nothing, technically, is being “sold.”

There are no orders written at Dubai Watch Week. It isn’t where the world’s timepiece retailers come to stock up for the holiday season or for the following year. In fact, the fair is made possible because one retailer had the idea and the wherewithal to conjure it: Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons. This is part of what makes Dubai Watch Week stand out and stand alone.

Doing What the Others Don’t

The main characteristic that sets Dubai Watch Week apart from any other watch event boils down to this: education is the central focus. The fair speaks to watch enthusiasts directly. It’s free to attend for anyone who registers, so collectors and watch lovers from every corner of the globe are welcomed to rub shoulders with their horological heroes (Max Busser, anyone?) in an environment that is accommodating and inclusive. Did you read what I just typed? INCLUSIVE. Sure, there are six-figure Greubel Forseys and Patek Philippes running amok (I mean, we are in Dubai, kids) but there are just as many microbrands (I spotted a Brew!) and G-Shocks on wrists, as well. Inclusivity is so incredibly important to the team at Dubai Watch Week, led by its Director General, Hind Seddiqi.

Another aspect of the event that sets it apart is that children are not only encouraged to attend with their parents, but there are fun, watch-related activities and classes set up for them to be able to do so. (This is what happens when you have a mother at the helm, gang! The world needs to take note!) This year’s edition saw the return of the Christie’s Kids Auction and there was also a “Crafting Watch Accessories” set up which allowed children to make cool watch swag using beadwork.

And speaking of masterclasses, it is always fun watching the likes of Aldis Hodge as a student crafting a resin clock or witnessing Fiona Kruger teach a class on how to make automata. Classes were set up by Audemars Piguet, Louis Vuitton, and Bovet, but sold out very quickly as the masterclasses have always been one of the most sought-after activities at Dubai Watch Week.

I could continue to wax poetic about what makes Dubai Watch Week so unique, but this article would wind up being 4,000 words, and to quote a social media meme, “ain’t nobody got time for that!” so I’ll go on to what was hot amongst the watch community.

If You Build It, They Will Come

There are two words in the watch community that bring a smile to my face like no words could ever do: Horology Forum. This is a core element of Dubai Watch Week, and it is the place in which you’ll see and hear some of the horological community’s greatest minds either sit down for a polite “fireside chat” or go toe to toe against one another in a debate.

The debate format at Horology Forum – known as “ClickClock” – was only introduced at the New York edition in 2022, but the format was so popular and had received such great reviews that Dubai Watch Week decided to bring in back for the 2023 edition, and I was lucky enough to be asked again to moderate two of this year’s debates, just as I’d done last year.

Fortunately for me, my first set of debaters were George Bamford and Nicholas Foulkes, which made for a super fun, yet extraordinarily polite tête-à-tête (I mean, they are English, after all). The second debate saw Tim Mosso spar with James Dowling which also seemed to be a crowd pleaser, not to mention a room filler, as Tim’s devout followers showed up in support.

Other panel discussions at Horology Forum discussed everything from takeovers of watch brands to family businesses to how retailers can preserve their customer’s loyalty, and so much more.

Nearly every one of these sessions was standing room only, and that’s not even including other Creative Hub talks which included the Dufour family discussing their legacy or the team from Dior giving us a background on Dior’s timepieces and how each is connected historically to the iconic fashion brand.

Have You Ever Seen the Rain?

Dubai Watch Week takes place at The Gate in the DIFC (Dubai International Finance Center), which is an outdoor space, and yet, Horology Forum, the Creative Hub, all the masterclasses, the Brand Exhibition, and all the stand-alone brand boutiques are actual buildings. This is because the Dubai Watch Week team builds them, starting months in advance, and they are temporary yet still sturdy. Unless, that is, something unexpected happens.

Back in 2017, during my first Dubai Watch Week, there was an unexpected light rain that occurred on Press Day (the unofficial opening day). Being a mother and almost always prepared, I was the only member of the press who’d apparently looked at the weather forecast ahead of time, so I’d packed an umbrella.

There is a great picture that exists of two of my colleagues huddled beside me under said umbrella about which Hind and I spoke recently on a podcast. She said, “Barbara, let’s not talk about that!” fearing, I believe, it might be a jinx.

Uh, oops?

At roughly 3:30 in the morning Dubai time on Friday the 17th, I was awakened by sounds of thunder. When I looked out of my window (which had a beautiful view of the Burj Khalifa), I saw the unimaginable: storms. Not rain, but actual thunderstorms. “This isn’t good,” I remembered thinking. And no. It wasn’t.

As mentioned, the structures are temporary, however, the Dubai Watch Week team jumped on the issue immediately, cleaning, rebuilding, and rearranging missed classes and talks, and by 4:00 p.m. that same day, the fair was yet again open to the public like nothing had ever happened. IT. WAS. MINDBLOWING.

One hour later I was back on a stage listening to James Dowling tell the crowd that to be considered a collector, one must have a “theme” to their collection (maybe James and I will be the ones debating about that for the 2025 edition).

In Summary

I could have made this article about all the new watches released at the event, but let’s face it, you will have read about in other articles or you’re going to read about them on Instagram or elsewhere around the horological media universe.

What I wanted to give to you was an insider’s take on what this event is like in real life. There is always something happening, be it dance troops, or live bands, or the smells of eclectic cuisine, or Jean-Claude Biver walking into the restrooms just before you, or side debates not happening on a stage, or brand launch events with world-renowned DJs (thanks, Frederique Constant!), or personal interviews, or impromptu meetups or celebrity sightings. There truly is no event like it.

Dubai Watch Week has managed to stand alone while doing so with its arms wrapped around thousands of people in this community. If that doesn’t sum it up, I’m not sure anything ever will.

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