Crisis, what crisis? Qatari love of luxury going strong

Abdulla Sager al-Khori has little doubt about the significance of a luxury watch when it comes to fashion -- and making a statement -- even in the thick of Qatar's diplomatic crisis.

"Because we have the traditional dress the only thing we can use as an accessory are watches and cufflinks, so the watch is a big part of our being on top of fashion and being fashionable," said the 36-year-old who works in public relations.

Even a regional diplomatic crisis which has engulfed Qatari politics for almost two years has failed to dent sales of luxury items, according to Hublot, whose sales have almost doubled - Hublot / Sandro Baebler

But Khori's passion for timepieces goes further than most -- he is a founding member of the Qatar Watch Club, a group of some 50 men who meet regularly to discuss their love of watches.

It "started from just wanting a watch to just tell the time to... I want this watch because I love the history, I love how hard is it to make this mechanism and how complicated these watches are," he said.

"So, it (went) from just a tool to telling the time to a passion that I hope to pass on to my children in the future."

Khori, who initially trained as a mechanical engineer, spoke to AFP at the close of the Doha Jewellery and Watches Exhibition, a vast five-day show that ran until February 25.

The event attracted large crowds to view the latest collection from global luxury brands, including Chaumet, Dior, Chopard, Tiffany, Rolex, Vacheron Constantin -- with its slogan of unashamed exclusivity "One of not many" -- and Alfardan.

- No price tags -

Qatar is one of the richest countries in the world, ranked by some as the richest in per capita terms, and many of those drawn to the exhibition turned up not just to look but to buy.

There was nothing so vulgar as a price tag in sight, and the show was an unabashed testament to opulence and wealth far beyond the reach of many.

Three-million-dollar necklaces vied for attention with $200,000 watches and iconic cars from the set of Hollywood movies.

Slim-suited European retailers chased the next sale, models displayed latest designs and elegantly-dressed rich locals shuffled between high-end stores -- as nearby Bangladeshi cleaners looked on.

Leading Qatari dignitaries and royal family members attended and Bollywood superstar Aishwarya Rai Bachchan was flown in to officially open the show.

One retailer told of how 500 watches specifically-designed for the Doha exhibition, each costing 30,000 riyals ($8,200), sold out before the show had even opened.

The air itself was rich with the distinct aroma of expensive oud -- also known as liquid gold -- fragrances. Outside, drivers waited for their valet-service parked Maseratis, Bentleys and Rolls-Royces.

- Crisis? -

Even a regional diplomatic crisis which has engulfed Qatari politics for almost two years has failed to dent sales of luxury items.

"Our sales have almost doubled since the situation because now the Qatari people are buying in Qatar," said Hublot regional director David Tedeschi.

"They're not buying anymore" in the other oil-rich Arab states of the Gulf.

Geoffroy Ader, a collectible watch aficionada at the show, said 2018 figures showed that "Qatar holds the first position" for sales of luxury watches.

Since June 2017, Doha has been isolated from neighbouring former allies including Saudi Arabia over allegations of Qatari support for terrorist groups and of being too close to Iran.

Despite repeated denials from Doha, some fear that the bitter regional spat could permanently reshape Gulf politics.

And despite the watch club being an all-male affair, interest is far wider, according to Tedeschi.

"In Qatar... we have a lot of women customers," he said. In most countries around 30 percent of customers are women, while it runs at between 40 to 45 percent in Qatar.

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