Eyeing Vintage Watches? Dubai: The Region’s Hot Spot

Image Source: Momentum

How smart is a smart-watch anyway?

German entrepreneur Tariq Malik, co-founder and managing partner of Momentum, the Middle East’s sole boutique dedicated to vintage and collectible watches which describes itself as a “Dubai-born candy shop for luxury watch enthusiasts”, speaks to Katrina Kufer on its 10-year-anniversary and answers pressing questions on why vintage is the “real deal”, the skyrocketing prices on the second-hand market, and how to safely build a collection in the digital age. 

Tell us about your start in the industry, how Momentum came to be? And if the industry’s key destinations are Geneva, New York, Miami, Hong Kong, Monaco, Munich and Parma, why set up in Dubai?

In the early 90s when I was about 16 years-old, Swatch launched a few limited-edition collections that turned almost every single watch into an instant collectible item. That’s how I started, dealing Swatch watches to private clients and at trade shows. Towards the mid-90s their premium was gone and so was my Swatch career. But it was not all lost. Quite the opposite. By then I had caught the bug, and I had embraced the watch collector culture – knowledge, community, passion for watches and appreciation for vintage. I was part of a huge network of avid collectors.

In 1996 I bought my first Rolex and that’s when my love for Rolex was born. Together with my brother I opened a shop for modern & vintage watches and jewelry while still in university in Germany. After four years, infrastructural reasons in the town of Aachen made it difficult for us to survive so we closed the shop and I focused on my business degree but my hunt for special watches didn¹t end. A consulting job in telecommunications brought me several times to Dubai where I was constantly searching for vintage Rolexes and very soon noticed that there was not a single store dedicated to vintage watches.

The decision was quickly made and I launched Momentum in 2011 together with three friends who were living in Dubai. Today Momentum is the go-to place when it comes to vintage & collectible watches not only in Dubai but in the Middle East, especially vintage Rolexes. We have a strong growing local clientele.

Dubai has a connotation of focusing on fresh luxury rather than second-hand, although Sotheby’s and Christie’s vintage watch Dubai auctions attract collectors from across the globe, with the latter leading the auction market in the region for the last 12 years and most recently closing sales totaled $8,130,375

The focus is still on new watches, but the secondary market is growing like crazy. Today, buying new watches is difficult, at least the interesting ones from the top brands we all want. This is where the secondary market comes in handy, however, at those inflated prices it is not easy to make a smart purchase. Tough times. It makes more sense to look at the other part of the secondary market, vintage watches. 

What should a collector consider when collecting vintage or second-hand? 

There is a clear line between vintage and second-hand. The buyer should know the value propositions for each of the categories. Second-hand mostly means saving some money versus buying new (at least in a normal environment), whereas vintage can certainly hold a premium for rarity and condition and will probably be a higher valued proposition. It all depends on preferences and the motives. 

Vintage Watch
Image Source: Momentum

"Well, sorry to throw in my opinion on smart watches, but if they were really smart, why do we have to throw them away after a while and replace them with another smart watch?"

What is the position of luxury, vintage and second-hand watches in relation to the world’s increasing emphasis on tech and connectivity? Is it at risk of losing interest? Value? Will it ever be? 

Well, sorry to throw in my opinion on smart watches, but if they were really smart, why do we have to throw them away after a while and replace them with another smart watch? That sounds everything but smart to me, but ok, if that’s the name for it, we’ll call them ‘smart watches’. They are computers on the wrist catering to all needs and more, but you cannot have a romantic relationship with it, you cannot leave it for the next generation, you cannot keep them as a real asset. From what I hear, people who have one cannot imagine life without one, and just looking at the numbers, Apple is the largest watch manufacturer in the world. I think this gives us a direction, but will it replace the classic manually wound watch with the hand painted dial that we want to give to our kids to pass on to the next generation? I don’t think so.

Watches are very tangible, detailed, mechanical objects of artistry. How does this relate to having an online presence, or collectors at a distance? What are the shortcomings or advantages of existing/selling/collecting through a digital sphere? 

This is a good one. I think we can all be very grateful to have access to something like the internet. Without online presence, the market for vintage watches would probably be like a flight to the 1990s: very small and very local. Yes, you could personally loupe and inspect all watches to your liking but what if there weren’t any watches around you? What if you had to jump on a plane and take a 10-hour flight to go and see a watch, would you do it? 

Even if you would do it, you don’t need to. This market is about reputation and trust, about transparency. In this market we say, “Buy the seller.” We have to take our time to research not only the watches but also the sellers in order to be fully comfortable going on that journey. Ask the right questions and look for a seller who also gives you answers without asking a question. At the moment we sell 70% of all our watches abroad, without ever having shaken those clients’ hands. It works, it definitely works.

When it comes to social media, and especially Instagram, it has changed the world of watch collecting and created an international community. One message and you are in touch with someone you have never spoken to and you can learn about that person very quickly by looking at his profile. In the last two decades, the community of watch collectors and dealers has become very tight knit, with oceans of information exchanged and readily available, due in large part to the internet. With forums, then blogs, and now social media, there is a large global online audience ready and hungry for any information pertaining to vintage watches.

What is the appeal of vintage watches? 

Vintage is the real deal. The watch with the original DNA is the icon of the past, and all the new watches are going to be based on the old ones anyways. 

What are the challenges of working in the vintage watch and secondary market industry? 

Our life as a vintage watch dealer is full of challenges, every day. In a world where vintage watches are breaking all price records, a lot of the watches on the market are forged. Exchanged parts, altered dials and several other risks make our lives as dealers very difficult. Our customers expect a ‘no issue’ watch so we have to make sure the watch is 100% genuine in all aspects when it’s offered for sale. 

Another big challenge is to source ‘good’ watches. The market is hot and the demand is like never before. There are more watches going into private collections every year than watches coming fresh or back to market.  

Vintage Watches Momentum
Image Source: Momentum

Momentum is partnered with Chrono24, Dubai Watch Club, International Watch & Jewelry Guild and Rolex Passion Market. What gives Momentum it’s market edge? 

If we look at our region (the Middle East), we don’t have any competitors. After 10 years we are still the only player in the market when it comes to vintage watches. In 2011 when we launched Momentum, our vision was to place Dubai on the map for vintage watches; today, I can say we have achieved this goal. 

As we sell 70-75% of our watches internationally, technically all dealers worldwide who trade in high quality vintage Rolex are our competitors but we are not really competing. Let me explain. The dynamics of the vintage watch market are very different from the ones of the modern watch market. Authenticity and condition play a major role but there is more than just the watch. Logistics are not be underestimated and can make or break a deal. Trust is probably the most crucial criteria. We strive to deal in the most transparent way possible. We try to source watches from the higher quality segment in order to differentiate from other sellers around the world. Also, though we haven’t shaken hands with most international clients, we really go that extra mile to give them that personal ‘touch’ and ‘experience’ they want to have when making an emotional and financially sound purchase. 

The industry saw a growth of $20 billion with estimates it could reach $30 billion by 2025 thanks to COVID. How do you foresee market dynamics post-COVID?

The post-Covid market so far has been very strong. A lot of buyers are sitting on loads of cash, just waiting for the right watch to appear. Another aspect is the value of money today. “Cash is trash” is what we hear more and more often. People, and I don’t mean only watch collectors, are looking for assets to secure their savings for the future. I strongly believe this trend will hold.

There’s been a boom in the secondary market, with some time pieces selling for almost 800% over retail price.

The boom in the secondary market is a result of shortage on the market. It is close to impossible to buy certain watches at retail today, the consequence is a flourishing secondary market with prices going to a ‘nonsense’ levels.

What would be your advice for someone wanting to enter the vintage watch world?

Be smart and research the watch you want to buy. Don’t let yourself be dragged along with trends and values. Select a watch you can easily find information on. The internet is the greatest resource if you look in the right places. Go on forums, ask fellow collectors and try to find your dealer of trust. Don’t get into competition with other collectors. Vintage is the best condition you can afford so use your budget wisely and realistically. The quality is still there when the price is forgotten. 

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About The Editor

Katrina – arts, culture and lifestyle writer and editor (BFA Fine Arts, Parsons the New School for Design; MA Contemporary Art, Sotheby’s Institute of Art) – has lived in 16 countries and written for a multitude of prestigious publications in the MENA region. Based in Dubai, Kufer is interested in observing new environments and exploring cross and inter-cultural connections.