In the one and a half days I was in Dubai two things became apparent. No one drives a car older than roughly 3 years and watch shopping in Dubai must be a national sport because wearing a Rolex is like owning a smartphone (at least in the areas I was hanging out).
For a car and watch nut like myself Dubai is a mecca. From the moment we touched down in the airport my eyes were on the wrists of every man in sight, but that’s not abnormal, watch spotting is something that’s become second nature to me. It seems Emirati men prefer the Datejust to the Submariner (which I see a lot in Australia) and turning heads requires far more than the humble Rolex. Pulling into The Atlantis at The Palm we’re greeted by a Saudi Prince’s one of a kind something, I ashamed to say I’m not even sure what it was. Further around the corner in the Valet area is a host of supercars including an Aventador, a 12C, a 458 and a handful of G Wagons. It’s safe to say your surrounded by money in such a resort.
Stroll inside the hotel and it appears that Emirati men, especially those dressed in thawbs, are defined by one common trait, their watch. I realise very quickly that my IWC Pilot might be a little out of its league as I spot a solid gold AP Royal Oak, a carbon AP Royal Oak Offshore and a Patek Nautilus in a matter of minutes.
Luckily for these fellows watch shopping in Dubai grants access to just about every boutique imaginable, all within a 200m walk from each other. With 2 hours to kill following a visit to Burj Khalifa’s record-breaking public lookout I ventured to the watches and jewellery section of the mall and was greeted by boutiques from a number of my favourite brands including A.Lange & Sohne, Blancpain and Glashutte. Adding to the mix but far less surprising was Audemars Piguet, IWC, Rolex, Patek Philippe, Panerai, Breguet, Piaget, Omega, Harry Winston and Richard Mille (set to open in December).
With A.Lange & Sohne topping my grail list I headed straight there giddy with excitement. Walking into watch boutiques can be rather daunting and I was dreading a tired, uninterested look from a salesman who preferred I wasn’t there. Holding Lange in such high regard I was hoping my perception of the brand wouldn’t be tainted by such a salesperson and I’m glad to say it wasn’t. I was welcomed by a smiling salesman named Qing who was interested first and foremost in discussing watches. He asked me about my favourite Lange pieces to which I replied Datograph Perpetual Calendar and Double Split Flyback Chronograph. Having seen neither in the flesh I was delighted when he asked if I’d like to see them.
We sat down and discussed the functionality, size and movements. The Double Split is a fascinating watch, perhaps a little large in the flesh for my taste (and almost three times the price of the Datograph at around $150k). The Datograph was as imagined, truly sublime – the proportions of the dial are perfect and it’s a delight to wear. When I asked about a Zeitwerk Qing ran out the back and produced it, another unique and fascinating timepiece. Later we discussed the Richard Lange Terraluna – he chuckled and told me they didn’t have one however it would arrive in November. I left more in love with Lange than I already was and had a pretty good idea of just how important this market was for the watch industry.
The limited edition pieces didn’t stop at Lange as I walked into Audemars for another great experience with two more friendly sales people. I tried on a skeletonised Royal Oak followed by a platinum Royal Oak off shore, one of ten models in the world (and it was lucky number 8). An Emirati gentleman sat beside me flicking through the catalogue with one hand, and spoke on a Vertu mobile phone with the other, sporting a Royal Oak offshore of course.
I was so impressed with the calibre of watches in Lange and AP I was intrigued as to whether these stores were catering for the entry level consumer, so I popped by head into Panerai and asked for the illusive PAM000. ‘One arrived yesterday’, said the store manager. It was in front of me within minutes for a very reasonable $5500 – for a moment I considered an early Christmas gift but re frained.I stopped by the Patek store but didn’t feel very welcome so left quickly, then onto IWC which was a beautiful boutique – perhaps the nicest I’ve been in. The manager commented on my own watch and we discussed a potential upgrade but I hightailed it to Blancpain to do some research for a friend interested in the Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe.
Rex, the salesman from Blancpain was quick to produce the model I was after. The Bathyscaphe is a simple sports watch with a stunning dial and lovely small indices, most impressively it has a power reserve of 5 days. It looked great on my wrist and the moment after I instagrammed the photo my friend messaged me to ask how it was. Rex concluded our time by asking me if I’d like a free ticket to the mall’s aquarium to view a Blancpain exhibition they had on there. With only 25 mins before I was being picked up I obliged, thanked Rex and ran through the mall to the aquarium leaving Glashutte for another visit.
All in all I was very impressed with the watch shopping in Dubai mall. In most cases the service was very welcoming, boutiques were conveniently located and the range of stock across all boutiques I visited was world class. With the impending opening of Richard Mille I’d have to say the Dubai Mall has almost everything covered. I say almost because I didn’t see any MB&F or Gruebel Forsey pieces, I’m sure you can get them somewhere in the city, perhaps they have retail spaces I missed? I certainly wouldn’t rule it out. Not in Dubai anyway.