Many of the luxury watch and jewellery industry’s biggest names – including Cartier, Graff, Moussaieff, Harry Winston, Boucheron, Baume & Mercier, Patek Philippe, Chanel and Chopard – attended the Doha Jewellery and Watches Exhibition in February, which was held under the patronage of Qatar’s ruling royal family.
The Qatari royals are well known for owning swaths of London real estate, their voracious appetite for art and their commitment to bringing the best of western culture, knowledge and innovation to their doorsteps.
Dozens of world-class universities now have satellite establishments in Doha, from the London Business School to University College London and Carnegie Mellon. Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, the emir’s daughter, who chairs the board of the Qatar Museums Authority, is considered one of the most influential figures in the global art market.
But the royal family is also investing in its jewellery collections and in the future of Qatar’s jewellery and watch trade. Doha’s third big exhibition and convention space is to open this year as part of a programme to ensure foreign investment. The royal family is also spending up to $10bn buying stakes in gold producers through its sovereign wealth fund.
The emir, his family and ministers are regular attendees at the Doha show, which this year drew more than 100,000 visitors. The royals scour, select and reserve precious jewels, often worth millions of dollars apiece. Teams of personal shoppers liaise with brands to organise payment and delivery. The customer, quite literally, is king.
One insider who works for a big name exhibitor admitted staff typically shuffle around nervously all day and CEOs are prone to irritability until the moment the emir arrives, at which point everyone falls silent. They know this means business. Figures are hard to come by, but a significant proportion of deals struck at the show comprise purchases made by the royal family.
This year, a voracious appetite for luxury goods was on display, with items reportedly topping $1bn. The Qatar Tourism Authority hailed it as one of the most successful events ever held at the Doha Exhibition Center.
Swiss watchmaker Yvan Arpa, whose company Artya makes watches, including Son of a Gun, which incorporates an active bullet, and whose clients include Mike Tyson and Phil Collins, recalls one occasion where security was so tight due to the presence of members of the royal family that some luxury brand managers were locked out of the building altogether.
Powerful luxury companies have long had a presence in Qatar, including Baume & Mercier, which for more than 30 years has partnered with family-owned retail conglomerate, Alfardan Group.
“Positioned between the watch industry’s big fairs, SIHH and BaselWorld, Doha is increasingly important for launches in the Gulf and as a meeting point for Middle Eastern retailers, connoisseurs and the public,” says Romain Dezeaux, Baume & Mercier Middle East brand manager.
The Middle Eastern penchant for the new, elaborate and showy, means many of the 300 exhibitors waited for Doha to display their highest priced goods.
Fabergé, a first-time Doha exhibitor, brought a dazzling Romanov collar necklace set with 2,225 gemstones, inspired by an 1885 design and the emerald-adoring Grand Duchess Vladimirovna, aunt of Nicholas II. The emir of Qatar owns a 1913 Fabergé Winter Egg, originally given by Nicholas II to his mother. Last auctioned in 2002 at Christie’s New York, it fetched $9.6m.
Cartier flew in masterpieces from the highest levels of its watchmaking repertoire. A $6.8m watch by Mouawad made its global premiere. Perrelet showed its limited edition Qatar Turbine, and first-time Doha exhibitors Shamballa Jewels extended their established Qatari following to reach a broader Middle East audience.
Clients of Knightsbridge-based jeweller Yoko London already include “royal families around the world”. The company reports increasing sales year-on-year after six years of attendance. In Doha last month, prices for the company’s one-off. naturally coloured pearl jewels ranged from $5,000 to $1m.
“Our collections are always an instant hit with the affluent Qatari high society ladies – many are regular clients. But tastes in the Gulf have changed enormously in the past four years. Everyone asks immediately ‘what is new’? They want nothing but the best and latest designs,” says Michael Hakimian, Yoko’s chief executive.
Such are the staggering levels of Qatari per capita wealth that rumour has it some women give away Cartier diamond necklaces to their cleaners once they become bored with them.
“The Doha jewellery fair is the most important jewellery event in the Middle East, with the highest turnover in sales and the most exclusive pieces,” says Ali Khadra, founder of Canvas, a leading Middle East art and culture magazine.
He adds: “Anything limited edition or bespoke is very sought after here. Cost is not an issue. Exclusivity is. As a publisher specialised in art and luxury, it is more difficult for me to sell a $50 subscription than a multimillion dollar jewellery piece advertised in one of my magazines. It is a phenomenon I can’t explain.”
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