Interview: Hind Seddiqi, Director General of Dubai Watch Week

Behind a key event in the horological calendar.

Having began as a small-scale and mostly regional event in 2015 – I was there and thought it would become important one dayDubai Watch Week (DWW) has since grown into an expansive horological extravaganza with an international audience.

With some 23,000 visitors, a 42% increase over the 2021 event, this year’s DWW is the biggest to date. Sixty-three brands took part, ranging from giants like Rolex, Audemars Piguet, and Chanel, to independent watchmakers like F.P. Journe, Rexhep Rexhepi, and H. Moser & Cie. Some brands even launched all-new products at DWW. MB&F, for instance, launched its headline creation for the year, the HM11, at the event.

As Director General of DWW, Hind Seddiqi is one of the individuals who makes DWW possible. We discussed with her vision for DWW, ranging from its emphasis on independent watchmaking to the future of horological education in the region, which includes a WOSTEP watchmaking academy in Dubai.

The interview was edited for length and clarity.

The MB&F HM11, one of the watches launched during DWW

SJX: I remember the first Dubai Watch Week was inside the mall. Now it’s a separate setup that’s impressive. And even though it’s grown, I like the fact that you retain all the independents.

Hind Seddiqi (HS): [Indpendents are] extremely important and if you enter into the [fair] in the afternoons you will see they’re the ones who are the busiest with customers wanting to meet the watchmakers.

SJX: How do the independents relate to you personally?

HS: I have big respect for the independents because they function like startups and they have so many more challenges. But they are daring and they come up with the most impressive creations.

I like the fact that they’re not governed by a group, you know, that forces them to create commercial lines and things like that. They are always flexible with ideas for collaborations, so I really love the way they think.

They’re very dear to me because they were the first to support Dubai Watch Week in 2015 when we had Rebels of Time– they got what we wanted to do. And maybe because I come from the same generation, I feel like we relate more as well. I hope that they will dream they will always remain as free birds and not be constrained by too much bureaucracy.

Stephen McDonnell, the constructor best known for his work with MB&F, was one of the speakers at DWW

SJX: How did you curate the selection of the independents?

HS: We have a committee that creates that chooses the brands who are participating; My cousin Mohammed [Seddiqi, chief commercial officer of Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons] is heading the committee.

We always make sure we have new watchmakers and new brands participating. We also meet a lot of them in Geneva or collectors tell us to pay attention to this watchmaker and that’s how it starts.

SJX: I understand not all of them exhibiting here are represented commercially by Seddiqi.

HS: We at Dubai Watch Week offer a few spaces [at no cost to independent watchmakers]. We only offer them to the independent brands who we feel can’t afford to participate or are hesitant to participate.

We extend the invitation to visit and tell them, just come and we host you. Even if you have one watch, just come with that one watch and let people see your work. It’s also for you to know what the market appetite is, and to meet your colleagues from the industry.

The main exhibition area of DWW

SJX: Seddiqi is a tastemaker in watches in the region, especially since you have all the independents.

HS: And we are also a trendsetter on how to communicate when it comes to the watch industry. I think the event showed the watch industry, which was always very closed and serious, that if you want to remain relevant in today’s market, you have to change your ways.

Myself, my team, and my cousins, we’re all relatively young compared to many people in the watch industry, so we have a different perspective on communication. And I think all brands should start thinking about the young and what they want and how they would like to receive content.

I remember it was extremely difficult to convince brands to create digital content. But then the pandemic came. And then you saw brands going on Zoom calls and meeting their collectors.

SJX: Many important brands are taking part in Dubai Watch Week, yet there are a lot of groups or brands that are trying to vertically integrate their distribution. How do you see your organisation with relative to that?

HS: My cousin Mohammed is a better person to answer this question. But we always advise the brands not to do that. Because local retailers have the strength and connection with the clients.

SJX: And nobody else can pull off something like [DWW].

HS: [Exactly], and we’ve had few brands who started to go on their own, but then they come back and say, ‘You know what, we think we should still do things together’. At some point, we will need each other.

SJX: As a multi-brand retailer, you’re the only one that can cultivate the collectors and educate them in a way that individual brands cannot.

HS: Exactly, individual brands can talk about themselves. But when you be in a multi-brand environment, then you get clients to explore other brands and have them make a decision on their own. As a retailer, we want the client to leave the boutique saying: ‘I bought a watch that I liked, and not watch it I was forced to buy.’

That’s why my cousin Mohammed created Vyntage, which is the first brand that we own. We’ve been in the business for 70 years but we’ve never done that. He has a lot of ideas because he’s on the ground with the clients and he’s passionate about watchmaking himself, so he’s always been the person the brands go to when it comes to launching new U.A.E. editions. With ownership [of our brand], he can be as creative as he wants. I think you will see a lot of impressive things coming out of Vyntage.

An example of Vyntage Horology’s offerings, the Purity Inner Circle that has a two-part grand feu enamel dial with applied numerals and blued steel hands

SJX: When I speak to some of the local collectors, all of them talk about how Dubai Watch Week has become an important event in the scene here. How do you see Dubai Watch Week relating to the broader collecting community here?

HS: Everybody waits for the date as it’s become a reunion to meet their friends, whether they’re flying in from abroad or coming from the U.A.E. We always make sure we give them a place for them to meet; that’s why we created the Collectors Lounge.

Watch collectors are very important to us. If you walk around just looking at people’s wrists, you will understand the magnitude of people who are here and the type of taste they have, but also how they influence each other on purchasing or supporting new watchmakers.

SJX: I met people from everywhere here, Canada, Mexico, Africa. Dubai Watch Week has also made Seddiqi famous internationally, beyond your home region. Is this part of your strategy, to grow your presence globally?

HS: We’ve always been respected in the industry, so people in the industry always knew Seddiqi since we were in this business for over 70 years. And events like Dubai Watch Week allow us to let people know who we are and what we’re doing for the industry. To be respected and known by people is something that we really cherish.

In terms of business, we cannot expand beyond our region, because of agreements that we have with the brands. So at the moment, we’re only in Dubai, but we’re looking at other cities and around the region.

One of several freestanding buildings erected at DIFC specifically for DWW

SJX: You mentioned you’re part of the next generation of leaders in the watch business. Besides Dubai Watch Week, how do you plan or what’s your vision for the evolution of Seddiqi and watch retail in the region?

HS: We seek to change things and to remain relevant, to keep this industry going. So our main focus will always be education. In the courtyard, you’ll see that WOSTEP is there. We already have possibly the biggest service centre in the region.

We’re seriously considering recruiting more people to study the art of watchmaking. We are soon going to open a watchmaker school here in Dubai, in collaboration with WOSTEP.

We want to keep our quality of after-sales service, but we also want to recruit more people into the watch industry, but not only as watchmakers. We want to broaden people’s accessibility to this industry. That’s why we always tell schools and universities, let your students come, because even designers can enter watchmaking.

That’s why Dubai Watch Week is no longer just an exhibition, but it’s a platform. So as a platform, we are going to be even more active in 2024, not only with the travelling Horology Forum but also creating pockets events.

SJX: So in 2024, Dubai Watch Week will be overseas again, like it was before [in London and New York]?

HS: The Horology Forum is always travelling. In January we’re going to start exploring cities as venues. We have requests of cities saying come back, but I think it’s worth exploring other cities so it will travel to a different city.

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