Nothing can outshine the grandeur of vintage objects. They have their own timeless value etched deep in the past. No wonder people get drawn to these things the moment they see them and feel like buying them instinctively. One such antique item is a watch designed years ago. Owning one is about a great deal of passion and understanding. There simply isn’t a shortcut for this.
Working on it with zest and devotion for almost 24 years is Germany-born Dubai-based Tariq Malik, known as one of the most renowned antique watch collectors in the Middle East today. His journey as a watch collector pretty much began when he had his first proper watch. That’s when he realized and nurtured his passion for vintage watches. “It was in 1997 when I bought this beautiful piece — a Rolex Oyster Precision of 1961 in stainless steel with a silver dial and manual winding from a fellow dealer and collector who had bought it from Vietnam,” he says.
Here, he had to play a persuasive role to get hold of it from him. It wasn’t easy. “This man wanted to keep it for himself. I liked it so much that he sold it to me without much ado but under two conditions that I had to agree with him on. Firstly, I should keep it for myself and don’t ever think of selling it and secondly, if I ever change my mind and sell it he has the right to buy it back,” says Malik. “I paid around DHS 2000 at the time. It’s worth more than six times today. It’s my favorite watch and it’s the one I wear most and will never sell it.”
He comes from a family that has been digging into the F&B business for more than 25 years. He was caught by the Swatch collecting bug when he was 15. And in the early 1990s, he bought his first Swatch for 125 German Deutsche Mark and was able to sell it for double the amount after a few weeks. “For a few years, I was constantly buying and selling Swatch watches and in so doing developing my interest for watches. After the Swatch bubble, what was left was a community or just a hungry bunch of watch enthusiasts who rather preferred to join the high-end watches market,” he says. “I for myself went the vintage track. I attended watch shows, auctions and networking events. Through it all, I consistently kept educating myself. In a way, it was more like an addiction for which I developed a never-ending passion.”
In between it, he had a stopover allowing him to think about why not make his passion a part of commerce. This business-driven idea led Malik to open a store where he could put his watch collection on sale for those who are interested in them.
“I am a watch guy. Wherever I travel and I love traveling, the first thing I do is go find out vintage watch shops. I love to browse through showcases to find those special pieces.”
Being an avid traveler, he visited Dubai once to meet his childhood friend Anas. One day, they both went out looking for watches and started their search in malls as part of their plan. “I was impressed by the luxury watches Dubai has, all those boutiques representing almost all major brands, but at the same time I was surprised and a bit disappointed that there wasn’t a single outlet offering vintage watches,” he says.
But for Malik, it was a Eureka moment to try his luck. He realized that Dubai was a great marketplace in every way to be introduced to the world of vintage watches. “That’s how I launched Momentum Dubai in late 2011 — the first vintage watches store in Dubai with my friend Anas who now is my business partner and it fulfilled my desire to host a community of people who love the gleam of watches,” he says. “We researched the market from all angles for seven months, selecting the right inventory, the right boutique environment, and an excellent branding strategy.”
It’s not like any ordinary or second hand watch shop. There is something spectacular about this store that you will feel if you drop by. At the end of the day, it’s not only about buying and selling watches where all big brands starting from Rolex, Omega, Vacheron Constantin, Patek Philippe, Cartier, IWC and many more collide together. “When working with vintage watches, you need to make sure you provide the entire eco-system around the watch. We wanted to create a platform where watch enthusiasts find all needful provisions like watch maintenance, servicing and repairing, watch accessories, evaluation and consultation services and more,” he says.
Besides, the other most important thing surrounding the vintage watch eco-system is education. “This goes hand in hand with the clients we handle right from the start. So it’s right there when a client asks a question about a watch. We take our time, sit down with them and talk watches. It’s about the story behind a watch, the history and lots of details. Vintage watches mark the personal experiences of their owners where our role is to help in preserving their histories safe and sound,” he says.
Another hot spot for vintage watches
The Arabs’ growing obsession with vintage watches has caught the attention of the international market in a huge way. And Dubai is at the forefront of this revolution with international events like the GPHG or Christie's watch auctions taking place here every now and then and creating awareness. “I have visited and held quite a few gatherings among watch fans and people just talk about watches. We have seen a significant increase in demand for special pieces which is proof that this market is becoming more and more sophisticated when it comes to watches,” explains Malik.
According to him, there are a good number of big collectors out there who used to buy their watches in auctions and trips abroad. But things are changing. “These collectors are slowly finding us and sharing their passion with us,” he says.
As this market expands, all high-end watch manufacturers are rushing to make their presence felt in the prestigious local malls. This is partly driven by the curiosity of the local clientele who have become savvier and more sophisticated.
Asked how big the Middle East market is, he said, “Overall, the luxury goods market has grown and evolved in Middle East over the last decade. As for the vintage market, this has been growing internationally and I expect it has reached a remarkable size in the Middle East too.”
Not only that, Malik wants to see Dubai being counted as a favorite destination for vintage watches. “The vintage watch markets in London, New York, Hong Kong and Geneva have had a tremendous run in the last 20 years and built up collectors’ communities and huge networks of dealers. We are very confident that in a few years Dubai will be on the same map with all the important vintage watch destinations,” he said.
Everything depends upon the mood of the market as to which pieces are in high demand. On one hand, it’s the international vintage watch auctions that determine what’s interesting and on the other hand it’s the watch brands. “For the past few years, watch manufacturers have been re-launching heritage models which create a high demand for them as well. People want to wear what’s rare and hard to find,” he says. “The key is to stand out.”
Well, Malik’s own favorite pieces that he loves to wear are his first ever Rolex Oyster Precision from 1961, a 1975 Rolex GMT Master Pepsi, a 1978 Rolex Day Date and many more. Nonetheless, he treats all his watches with the same love.
Shedding light on the pieces that have been sold the most so far, he said, “I would say Rolex retains the top spot in this category. I am observing the Vintage Rolex collecting craze for a while now since I am collecting myself and the demand is steadily increasing.”
There are other brands too whose names are to reckon with. Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, IWC, Jaeger LeCoultre and Panerai have always resonated with watch collectors. These watches, including Rolex are not only bought to show the time but they reflect a lifestyle and say a lot about their wearer while, at the same time, are great investments.
“Vintage watches, when chosen from a prestigious brand retain and increase in value. Some collectible pieces even skyrocket in value as proven by international watch auctions. Last but not the least the results achieved for vintage Rolex have exceeded those for Patek Philippe watches and this means something to take in,” he admits.
Both genders have different preferences when it comes to buying antique watches for themselves. Women prefer something trendy. They are more interested in brands and the aesthetics of a timepiece. The watch has to be rare and hard to find so vintage can be one of the best options whereas men appreciate the mechanics involved behind a watch, the craftsmanship and the value as an investment. They appreciate the iconic status of a watch such as Speedmaster Moonwatch, James Bond Submariner, Paul Newman Daytona, etc.
His clientele is quite diverse. “We have watch aficionados in their 50s and 60s with a lot of gravitas and truly impressive collections who look for very specific items, noticeably quite a few UAE nationals among them. We also have younger watch enthusiasts who have just discovered vintage and are about to make their first investments. Increasingly, we have noticed ladies are building up vintage watch collections as well,” he says.
Asked whether he has a team in different countries to source these collections, he said, “Yes, I do. We have a small team in Germany that covers the European market but I do travel a lot hunting for special pieces myself, going to see collectors and dealers. Each piece is hand-picked. It’s very exciting to travel for watches. You never know what you are going to find. My business partners and I do travel at least 6-8 times a year to source watches. Apart from that, we have a network of dealers we work with and they are spread around the world.”
Things to keep in mind while purchasing
There is a vicious side to it all in the market. There are numerous shops selling replicas of vintage watches. Often, the customers become victims of this widespread scam. But you can save yourself from it if you tend to have the right knowledge. It’s always good to check with other collectors and read on reputable brand forums. Dials are being replaced by fakes or being repainted, sometimes even artificially aged. “I have seen quite a few very bad paint jobs, not to speak of misspellings and wrong logos. Well, re-painted dials are a bit trickier but I’ve seen so many in the last 20 years that with experience and a trained eye even those can be unmasked,” he says.
The other important part that needs a closer look is of the movement. If the model is meant to have an automatic or manual machine, then you mustn't find anything else in there. Certain movements have been made for certain models. Moreover, it’s necessary to check whether the movement was available in the year the model was made. You also need to find out reference and serial numbers of a watch to make sure the components belong together. You can also dig into the history of the related models.
Taking care of vintage watches
Like humans, machines also need care. Mechanical watches should be serviced every 3-4 years. The lubrication in the movement can dry out, so it’s necessary to clean and replace it in order to keep all parts lubricated.
But keep in mind that the aging hands or dials aren’t replaced. In fact, these aging parts keep the value of the watch alive. Make sure these watches aren’t in contact with magnetic fields as they can cause parts of the movement to move erratically.
As for future plans, he certainly has a list of items lined up. “We have just launched the new accessories website, but realistically, we don’t anticipate retail site growth in it until 2015. Eventually, that further expansion might include sites in countries such as Kuwait or the Lebanon — and when we feel the time is right, we will expand our offer and build a footprint in these potentially important markets,” he says.