Are watch fairs only for the initiated & visiting Dubai Watch Week

Watch fairs, the trade shows for the watch world, offers a chance to see timepieces you’d never get your hands on normally and to talk to the greats within this universe of ours. But are they only for the already initiated into the hallowed halls of watchmaking and fine jewellery?

As with any trade shows, there are different types and styles, there are the ones with closed doors, only open to industry professionals such as watch journalists, watchmakers and retailers. The other type is the one arranged by the fan community in conjunction with the industry, often a sort of fair where visitors not only can look at and try on watches but also buy watches and peripheral goods such as straps etc.

Dubai Watch Week places itself somewhere in-between those two.

It’s open to the public, so anyone who has registered (for free) online can come and enjoy the pieces on display. The setting being in Dubai, in the financial district could be prohibitive for some, and the scope of the fair mostly caters to the high end of horology. But there is no snobbery going on, it’s a welcoming show offering not only displays of beautiful timepieces but also offering classes, discussion panels and even events such as trying your hand at watchmaking. The Dubai Watch Week blends haute horology with fun and games effortlessly and Dubai as a city offers any watch fans more than they can dream of when it comes to fully stocked flagship stores for any high end horology watch brand you could imagine. And being Dubai, all stores are very much welcoming as anyone and everyone is a potential customer.

The watch week did offer many interesting meetings with old friends that we’ve made visiting the ”Watches and Wonders” show in Geneva, Switzerland, an entirely different type of show that I might write about in another post.

The northern entrance to the 2023 Dubai Watch Week

But to answer the initial question asked; are watch fairs only for the initiated? Well, yes and no. There is an aspect to all trade shows, that expect you to be familiar with the subject matter at hand, and that is just a natural state of things. But a fair like Dubai Watch Week really tries to be for anyone who is interested, initiated or not. There was a vibe among the brands that they really wanted to explain their watches, and they did not expect you to be a watchmaker or absolute watch nerd. I really like this approach to watches, yes they are absolutely luxury objects, even on the level where we in Monchard operate.

People don’t need to buy a watch for more than a few hundred dollars, but as with any hobby or industry, there is always going to be extremes. I personally don’t think that watches need to be something ones look at with caution, sure the new MB&F Architect is priced at more than 200-thousand Swiss franc, but the guys showcasing the watch was down to earth, not an ounce of snobbery in them and it was fun just to marvel at the technical aspect of it all. That is what watches can be, and in my opinion, should be, about the pieces themselves, the intricacy, the techniques used and the history behind the vintage pieces.

Forget the money, forget the snobbery and forget having to be initiated, go to a fair, see if it’s your cup of tea, and allow yourself to be immersed in the wonderful world of horology.

With that said, I would like to walk you trough our Dubai visit, both to the show and to some of the many attractions the city has to offer. Come along!

A pair of (unobtainable) MB&F's, admired at the Dubai Watch Week

Oskar’s and my journey started in frigid Sweden (where we both live), taking the train over to Copenhagen airport. Fun fact, the train ride between Malmö and Copenhagen Airport is dubbed one of the most expensive train journeys in the world, considering the distance travelled.

Once at the airport, and trough security (which is always a hassle), we had the good fortune to meet up with none other than Kristian Haagen, watch writer extraordinaire, and a friend of the brand. He and Oskar have known each other for quite some time and he’s always good fun to chat with.

We arrived in Dubai at night, which may have dampened the shock going from arctic cold to Arabian heat somewhat. Once at the hotel we went up to the sky bar to enjoy a well deserved beer and to admire the views of this sprawling city that spread out below us.

The first day of the Dubai Watch Week we got to the exhibition before lunch, being the first day it was still fairly quiet and we got the chance to chat with quite a few brands and brand reps. Always fun to be able to handle unique pieces that are otherwise complete impossible to get your hands on, and to talk to the makers.

On the afternoon of the day we took the opportunity to attend one of the many panel discussions that took place during the week. This one was hosted by Barbara Palumbo, another friend of the brand, and it was nice to meet her in person and to listen to the discussion between George Bamford and Nicholas Foulkes.

The evening was concluded with Oskar and me going to the Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall for dinner and enjoying the awe inspiring sight that the Burj Khalifa is in real life. We also got to see some of the fountain shows that play at night which was neat.

The impressively tall Burj Khalifa, taken from the outside portion of the Dubai Mall

Day two rolled around and after a hearty breakfast we had arranged for a meeting with two clients of ours. One coming from the UAE and one visiting from Kuwait. We made our way to Dubai Mall yet again to meet up at the restaurant where they were having a late breakfast. The meeting was great fun and an interesting one, and it was really great to interact with our customers and to be able to get some ideas and insights into what our fanbase likes in terms of design and specs. We enjoyed a few hours with our new found friends and discussed not only our watches, but collecting in general, the differences in traditional clothing in the middle east and of course the watch market as a whole.

One of the lovely personal Reversos of our new found friends, the strap is a Monchard however

We parted ways with wrist shots and group photos and then Oskar and I headed out into the great shopping maze that is Dubai mall. After looking trough every watch boutique (not really, but it felt like it) and meeting up with our Austrian friend we made from our first visit to Geneva, we had the intent of going up into the Burj Khalifa. The line was however hours long so we decided that heading back to the Watch Week and grabbing a few beers with some other watch fans was a better idea.

Said and done, we ended the day and evening at the ”Bite Me” burger shack just out of the exhibition. There we got the chance to talk to not only other watch fans, but also one other microbrand creator. That was an interesting and worthwhile meeting to be sure, fun and exciting to talk to other makers in the business that are more on the same level as us.

Our customers and new friends, with Oskar (back left) and the author (back right)

Our third day was really exciting for me, as I got to head back to my old hoods again after being away for almost quarter of a century. Yes you read that right. I used to live in Dubai with my family, back in 1998. The city was vastly and radically different back then, and the tourism and extreme luxury commerce of today had yet to form. My family and I moved from Sweden to Dubai when my father took a position at ”Dubai Dry Docks” engineering and designing a new series of tug boats being constructed. The whole family tagged along, and as my mother worked in a physio therapy health centre, me and my siblings, both quite a bit younger than I, went to school. It was an extremely forming experience, for all of us, but for me as a young teenager the stay had lasting impressions and certainly formed me as an individual.

Oskar and I headed out to Deira, to the ”Galleria”, a residence portion of the Hyatt Regency in Dubai. This once gleaming luxury hotel that was built in the late 70’s house not only the hotel section with pools, tennis courts and so on, but also a small mall/galleria with apartments for expats on top. The crowning peice of the galleria is the ice skating rink that was certainly an extravagant feature of it’s day. We wandered around the complex for a little bit, I got to see our old apartment in a huge stroke of luck and after that we said goodbye to the Galleria and the Hyatt and headed for the Souks.

The very same apartment that the author lived in 24 years ago, and today, one of the walls have been knocked down, making a bigger living room

The souks of Deira is the old commerce centre of Dubai and is an experience in itself. There are ways to experience a more polished version out in the Madinat area (more on that in a bit), but my personal view is that the genuine, unfiltered and noisy experience you get from walking in the real thing is the one to go for.

Passing the ”car souk” and trough the ”electronics souk” we arrived at the ”gold souk”, the original. It had changed a little bit in the 24 years I had been away from Dubai, most notably it was now a more touristy experience with ushers trying to sell us fake watches, t-shirts and other nick-nacks. We followed one of these vendors along to his shop to look at some fake ”Rolex watches”, and I was disappointed in the level of fakery that was on display. Having sifted trough the pile of disappointment that lay before me in the shop I said ”Khalas” and we went out onto the street again to continue or window shopping and just be amazed at the vibrance and life in this old part of Dubai.

To be fully honest with you, dear reader, I prefer the hustle and bustle of the old town souks in Deira to the polished and glitzy side of town. To me it feels more home and more adventurous.

Absolutely lovely colours and fragrances at the Deira Souk

After having played a ”uno reverse card” on one of the sellers of fake watches, trying to get him to buy one of our watches instead (all done tongue-in-cheek), we headed for the Abras to take us across Dubai creek and over to the old town of Dubai. The old town is a relic of the Dubai that once was, when it was a pearl diving hub and a hub for fishermen to sell their catch. It has impressive old forts preserved and many small alleyways and streets to traverse as you discover the old town museums and the like.

Oskar (left) and the author (right) about the cross the Dubai Creek

We felt famished after a full day of exploring and haggling with shop ushers, so we headed to a small mall to get a bite to eat. A small miscalculation on our part meant we ended up in a supermarket where we were the only non-locals doing a spot of shopping. Not wanting to go looking for a restaurant we bought some fresh fruit, some flavoured milk and fresh juice and headed back to the hotel after a little bit of a chance for the Uber we’d booked. A quick swim in the hotel pool, a shower and then we were out the doors again, now on our way to the Waldorf Astoria to meet up with our Kuwait retailer.

Oskar admiring the old town in Dubai

The meeting with our friend and retailer Fadhel went well and the three of us decided to head to Dubai mall for some food. After a wonderful meal at an Italian style restaurant we parted ways and Oskar and I went to explore Dubai mall again. Paying a visit to the IWC-store and ogling the F1-car on display before heading outside to marvel yet again at the Burj Khalifa. 

Only in Dubai it feels like an actual F1 car will be on display at a watch boutique

We decided to head out to the Madinat area just to have a look and to possibly take some night photos. The visit was hampered a little by the fact that we were there so late that all the establishments were closing or closed, and much of the area was closed off for the night to non-guests of the many hotels that reside there. We walked around for a while, marvelling at the ”Aladdin feel” and just how beautiful much of this area is, especially at night with all the lights. We eventually headed back to our hotel for much needed sleep after a busy day of exploration and impressions.

The Burj Al Arab as seen from Madinat, at night

On our last full day in this city of wonder, we wanted to head out to not only Madinat during the day (and night again it turned out), but also pay a visit to Dubai Marina, for some photo ops and spelunking.

Arriving at the Dubai marina we started walking along the water and snapped a few photos and videos, all with the impressive backdrop of the marina and skyscrapers. The Marina really offers impressive views of what humans can build, as the landscape is shaped and bent to the will of the arcitects and city planners.

After a few hours in the Marina, it was time to head to Madinat and do some more photo ops. After a and hour or so of photography, we decided it was time to eat. We chose a restaurant with perfect views of the Burj Al Arab, the impressive, 7-star hotel that sits on it’s own little island outside the coast of Jumeriah. When I lived in Dubai 24 years ago, the Burj was being built, and it was fun to see it in person now again.

The father of the author (right) and his colleague testing a new tug outside the Burj Al Arab being built 24 years ago

After our late lunch we took the opportunity to buy some kashmir scarfs for our respective girlfriends. We put up a good haggle (as is customary), but in the end we’re likely the ones that got fleeced. But that is part of the game.

We decided to catch the sunset from Jumeriah Public beach, a beach that offers great views of the Burj Al Arab, the Jumeirah Beach hotel and the ocean.

Oskar (left) and the author (right) enjoying the sunset with the Burj Al Arab majestically in the background

We went back to the hotel, freshened up and then headed to the Dubai Watch Week for one last time. We had a lovely chat with the guys over at MB&F and we also visited Doxa and got some nice freebees.

The exhibition showed itself from its best and there was music and live bands playing. We said goodbye to the Dubai Watch Week and took an Uber out to Madinat for our dinner. It was a great experience at one of the many restaurants that had a boat service. The Madinat is like a mini-Venice, with canals stretching all across. Some hotels and restaurants are easiest to access via the free small ferry boats that criss cross the waterways.

After dinner, we made a quick stop at the Mall of the Emirates, to get some last minute gifts for family back home. After that it was back to the hotel for packing and getting everything ready for our early departure the next morning.

Oskar is wondering where his drinks went, here in Madinat for our last dinner before departing back home

Departure day rolled around and we arrived bright and early at the airport. Desert countries, and countries around and close to the equator have a special kind of light in the mornings, before the heat of day takes over. It’s a special kind of serenity and calm that I very much enjoy and I remember it fondly from my time in Dubai and from my time onboard various vessels around Africa (that is another story, but my past carrer is as a merchant sailor).

Touchdown in Copenhagen was smooth and getting our bags was uneventluf, as it should be. We hopped on the train to take us to Sweden, and back to our waiting families. It’s always great to be away and experience new things, see new sights and meet new people. But I think everyone can agree that home is always where it’s best.

So with that said, thank you Dubai for this time, most likely it will not be another 24 years before I see you again.

A fleet of Emirates jets standing by in the morning light of the Dubai International airport