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Even members of the royal family can find it difficult to buy Rolex watches in Dubai

The United Arab Emirates represents only about 10 million inhabitants the ninth largest market for Swiss watches in the world.

When a sheikh or a member of the royal family wants a Rolex, you can imagine that they find themselves at the top of the waiting list of 4,000 people in the United Arab Emirates. Right?

Not always, says Mohammed Abdulmagied Seddiqi, commercial director of Seddiqi Holding, owner of a Swiss watch retailer in the UAE. If a member of the royal family wants a watch for their personal use, they will get it. But if they’re looking for watches to give as gifts — to dignitaries, perhaps royalty from other countries — the company can be more selective, Seddiqi says.

“Some people take it really personally,” he says. “We have to be fair to customers and make sure we give it to the right people.”

This is just one of the happy problems currently facing Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons, the only authorized Rolex distributor in the emirate of Dubai and the company that runs the largest Rolex store in the world. The Swiss watch industry has seen an increase in demand over the past two years and is on track for its best year ever, in terms of export value.

According to the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry, through October, the value of Swiss watch exports to the sector’s 30 largest markets was 13.3% higher than the same period last year. Growth in the United Arab Emirates slightly exceeded this figure, at 13.8%. This makes this country of around 10 million inhabitants the ninth largest market for Swiss watches in the world.

“We’ve reached a point where we’ll have a watch available, and we call a customer and tell him we have a watch, and he says, ‘Yeah, I’m coming,'” Seddiqi said. “They don’t even ask what model. Whatever we have, they take it.”

Seddiqi & Sons, which opened its first store in the United Arab Emirates in 1960, now operates more than 50 stores in the country, including four Rolex boutiques. The largest Rolex store in the world has three floors and is one of two Rolex stores in the massive Dubai Mall.

In Rolex boutiques, most of the watches presented are only for display and not for sale. Everything in the store stays in stock for a day or two at most, sellers say.

At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, stores closed. Soon, delivery orders started pouring in from bored customers at home, spending their money on luxuries, unseen. People who didn’t know anything about watches wanted one because everyone was buying them.

“I was with a client a week ago, and he was wearing a Rolex Daytona, and he didn’t know the function of the watch,” Seddiqi says in disbelief. (The Daytona is a chronograph, a type of watch that combines regular timekeeping with a stopwatch; it’s one of the most coveted models among collectors.) “It’s not about functionality. It’s a matter of being hot. That’s the only reason they want it.”

The company maintains lists of customers who get certain watches and lists of those who don’t. The company limits its waiting list for Rolexes to 4,000. The limit for Patek Philippe, which makes a fraction of the Rolex watches produced each year, is around 20 to 30 customers. When watches become available, they are offered to customers in part based on their past buying habits: the company can avoid offering a model similar to one the customer recently purchased.

One thing that’s sure to banish you from the shadows or quietly drop you off the list: watch the flip. The Seddiqi company must sell the watches at the recommended retail price in Switzerland. Seddiqi says he’s seen people – some with more wealth than you know what to do with in a lifetime – turn a watch to earn a few thousand dollars. How does he know? Over the decades in the business, he has acquired contacts that inform about fins, he says.

About three-quarters of the company’s customers are UAE nationals and resident expats, including people from India, China, Germany and the UK.

To turn all these new customers into lifelong watch enthusiasts, Seddiqi takes on an educational mission. He says he plans to transform the second floor of the Rolex store in the Dubai Mall – which once housed many more gold and gemstone watches – into a place where customers can learn about watchmaking. The company could bring in experienced watchmakers to open watches, hold demonstrations and explain things like the technical movement of gears, he says.

The process, Seddiqi says, would help customers understand why it takes so long to get a watch in their hands. Recently, he flew loyal customers to Switzerland to see the watchmakers in action.

“They came back saying, ‘If you can’t give us watches now, we understand why,'” he says.

(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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