The overall value of Swiss watch exports into the Middle East in 2021 was over US$2.2 billion (2.1 billion Swiss francs), or about 10 per cent of global exports by value, according to FH, the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry. Close to half of that goes to the UAE, making it the eighth most important single country market. This says a lot about the buying power of the Gulf nation, considering the total population is only eight million people. Other statistics for the Middle East correlate with most other markets in the world: a 50 per cent drop in 2020 thanks to the pandemic followed by a super quick rebound in 2021, up both on 2019, and the previous record year of 2015. Another global phenomenon is that the volume of watches is down, but turnover is up . This is partially attributed to a higher demand for pieces with higher quality and price tags – but also to some brands opportunistically raising prices when demand is at an all-time high. Hind Seddiqi, chief marketing and communications officer of Dubai’s Seddiqi Holding, distributor of 60 watch brands and thus around 50 per cent of the watch retail market in the UAE, attests to the present Klondike-like rush into the global watch market. “There is a waiting list on pretty much everything apart from some entry-level fashion brands’ creations,” she said. Meet French model Thylane Blondeau, ‘the most beautiful girl in the world’ “Dubai is the place to be for the watch industry,” adds Antonio Calce, CEO of watchmakers Greubel Forsey. “Lots of collectors and connoisseurs – this city is an absolute flagship for the region. “Yes, the official numbers are 10 per cent of the export market, but for many brands the amount is much higher.” “The hub for high-end independent watchmaking used to be Singapore – but now it is here in Dubai,” says Max Büsser, founder of 17-year-old independent brand MB&F. Büsser moved to Dubai seven years ago, where his refurbished M. A. D Gallery today sits in Dubai Mall, a showroom for MB&F timepieces and kinetic art in a space where sci-fi meets 1950s Scandinavian chic. He says the region absorbed around 17 per cent of his global distribution of 275 timepieces in 2021. “It used to be a very different watch market – it was very blingy. Now taste is globalised, sophisticated, thanks very much to Instagram. Everyone wants a [Rolex] Daytona, [Patek Philippe] Nautilus, [Audemars Piguet] Royal Oak in steel, Richard Mille – exactly like in the rest of the world,” says Busser. Meet Suzi de Givenchy, Hong Kong-born Parisian model over 50 Fabrizio Buonamassa Stigliani, creative director at Bulgari, which just released the Flying T Allegra in collaboration with MB&F, does spot a few specific local tastes: “Green dials, special editions with Hindi numerals. Semi-precious stones like malachite and jade. There are also collectors into high jewellery watches and high jewellery with very important prestigious stones – something of an investment.” Another speciality is an unquenchable thirst for local editions. For the recent Golden Jubilee of the UAE, on December 2, some 40-plus brands launched limited editions – in all around 1,500 pieces, which are largely sold out. “Dubai is a mature market with a lot of important collectors that collect the best brands that exist,” says Vincent Lapaire, general manager of Chronométrie Ferdinand Berthoud, a niche luxury Swiss watchmaker. “In Dubai, I notice a taste for classy, monochrome timepieces, whereas Qatar and Kuwait like more show-off, flamboyant watches.” A significant driver of positive developments in the region is Dubai Watch Week, last held at the end of November 2021. It is one of the most important events on the global agenda, gathering around 40 brands including Rolex, Chopard, Hublot and the most important independent brands. Its educational panels, masterclasses and presentations also attract the right people – here local and global collectors mingle with top brand execs, global press, experts and influencers in a casual way. What did Conor McGregor drop US$3 million on this time? “In Dubai, a lot of young collectors in their twenties are seeking out the latest, most unique collectible limited editions – for this market you can innovate and be more creative compared with traditional Europe,” says Manuel Emch, delegate board member of Swiss brand Louis Erard, established in 1929. The high level of interest in watches has given birth to collectors’ clubs in Dubai – small groups with important members that even commission special editions. Adel Al Rahmani, who works in real estate and commodities trading, is the founder of the Dubai Watch Club. “For a long time I was alone – I loved watches, but I had no one to share meaningful, technical discussions about timepieces,” he says. Through Instagram he managed to find 10 like-minded enthusiasts in 2014, and this has now grown to over 100 collectors. Its members sport high complication pieces from brands like Richard Mille, Greubel Forsey and F.P. Journe. “Every once in a while the group will focus on a timepiece with the wish of changing the dial or the hands,” he says. The most recent one flaunted by Dubai Watch Club members is an extra-large Cartier Santos-Dumont with a salmon dial and Hindi numerals. It’s not only complications though – materials are important too. “The Middle East is very steel driven. Whatever is steel is sold,” says Edouard Meylan, CEO and owner at manufacturer H. Moser & Cie. Inside Crown Princess Mette-Marit of Norway’s dazzling jewellery collection According to Mohammed Abdulmagied Seddiqi – the chief commercial officer of Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons, who is planning the company’s expansion into Saudi Arabia – there is a waiting list on most watches, even given limited tourism due to the pandemic. “The lack of tourists affected everyone, especially in 2020, and we hope our Chinese friends can come back soon. I would not say the sky is the limit,” he says. “There are no limits now any more.” Want more stories like this? Follow STYLE on Facebook , Instagram , YouTube and Twitter .