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Upping the Game: Why Dubai Watch Week is the Perfect Example of How to Run a Fair

A key factor: There’s no pressure to buy or sell.

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WATCHMAKING CLASSES TAUGHT by Swiss masters. Luxury hotel rooms at the new Waldorf Astoria. Daily gourmet breakfasts. Seven limited-edition timepieces being released. Three-course lunches in a Cipriani pop-up. Thirteen education panels featuring world-renowned speakers. An international press squad representing over 45 media titles. And Jean-Claude Biver dropping knowledge and signing books. Any one of these would be enough to raise the level at most watch-related trade shows or fairs, but when you combine them and place them into a setting like Dubai, the result is almost unfathomable. Unless, of course, you lived it, which is exactly what I was privileged enough to do just over a week ago.

For the third year in a row, I was invited by the team at Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons and Dubai Watch Week to attend a horological event they were organizing. Two years ago, it was to visit the third edition of Dubai Watch Week in Dubai as a member of the press. Last year, it was an event they were holding in London in collaboration with Christie’s Auction House called “Horology Forum.” I was asked to be one of five panel moderators for that event; an honor which I never thought could be matched. That is, until this year when again I was invited by DWW to moderate the final panel, entitled “Hot Potato.” Each of my experiences has been extraordinary.

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The No. 1 characteristic that separates Dubai Watch Week from any other watch fair (or jewelry event, for that matter) is that there is no pressure to buy or sell. In the U.S., the closest we have to that experience is the American Gem Society Conclave, which I’ve often compared to Dubai Watch Week on an education level. But in terms of pulling in a worldwide audience that includes watch brands, retailers, collectors, journalists, scientists, speakers and skilled artisans, there is no other fair that can hold a candle to this one, and the other watch fairs know it.

In 2017, I left Dubai thinking to myself that I had just left the most organized event I’d ever attended. In my mind it was flawless, leaving very little room for improvement, and yet when I stepped onto the impeccably pristine grounds of the DIFC this year I was flabbergasted. It was not just grander from a visual standpoint, but the program itself read like perfection. Panel topics at the “Horology Forum” covered everything from how smart watches are affecting today’s watch sales, to what really happens when you’re put on a waiting list for a watch, to how women come to power in fields largely dominated by men, to how industry outsiders (like award-winning actor Aldis Hodge and quantum physicist Michael Biercuk) are finding their place in the watch community. Attendees were also treated to events held in the “Creative Hub,” where several watch brands discussed their histories and where some even released new limited-edition timepieces in conjunction with Dubai Watch Week. Watchmaking classes were taught in a separate pop-up venue, as well as classes on watch design, dial painting, engraving and more. Christie’s even had its own auction room on premises where one could attend talks on topics such as the restoration of timepieces and why vintage Patek Philippes are so sought after. And, because DWW gets it, there was a children’s program. Yes … an actual children’s program! Because let’s face it, kids will eventually determine the success of the watch industry, both as future buyers and as future artisans, so why not teach them how special watchmaking is now, right?

As the days turned into nights, the festivities didn’t slow down. There were cocktail events by Tudor, Grand Seiko, Ulysse Nardin, HYT, Bell & Ross, Roger Dubuis, Girard Perregaux and others. Oh, and if you tired of any of those, Chopard pretty much had its own nightclub set up, complete with a well-known Dubai D. J. and plenty of industry personalities.

These days, as an almost-47-year-old woman, I feel that the older I get the harder I am to impress. I’ve done a lot in my life, and I’ve seen even more, so when something comes along that is special – truly special – I sit up and take notice, and often will do my best to tell the world about it. This is exactly what Dubai Watch Week makes me want to do. Everyone from their smiling security guards, to their wonderful public relations and press teams, all the way up to Hind Seddiqi – the director general of Dubai Watch Week – went out of their way to make sure that every person in attendance was taken care of, and that everyone had an experience unlike any other. Hind and her entire team succeeded in accomplishing that, yet again, which makes me wonder how the 2021 edition could possibly get any better. Although, seeing what the DWW organizers have been capable of so far, I’m sure it will be otherworldly.

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Barbara Palumbo is a watch and jewelry industry writer, journalist and speaker. She manages the blogging websites Adornmentality.com and Whatsonherwrist.com.

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