INTERVIEW: Hind Seddiqi
Interview by Brynn Wallner, photos by Cobey Arner
Hind Seddiqi’s full name is Hind Abdul Hamied Seddiqi; but when she warmly introduced herself over a video call, she was okay with just Hind. At the time, she was in her home city of Dubai, and I was in New York, where this year’s edition of Dubai Watch Week’s “Horology Forum” was held. Hind (pronounced like a gale-force “wind”) is the Chief Marketing and Communications Officer of her family’s business – Seddiqi Holding – but she’s also the Director General of Dubai Watch Week, a biennial fair founded in 2015. Designed not to sell sell sell, the event’s purpose is rather to celebrate the creativity and community inherent in the luxury watch industry. In fact, nothing is sold at Dubai Watch Week, which Ms. Seddiqi relayed to me with conviction. Open to the public, the entire non-profit initiative is built around her and her family’s deep-rooted passion for all things horology, honing in on the innovative minds behind the timepieces that we often take for granted. The Horology Forum – a traveling, annual subset of the week at-large – is an intellectual space consisting of free-flowing discussions between master craftsmen, captains of industries, visionaries and seasoned collectors (among them, two Dimepieces: Cara Barrett and Mojdeh Cutter!).
With all of her projects, Hind Seddiqi channels an electrifying undercurrent of true appreciation for the industry she was raised around (but never expected to work in). 7,000 miles away, I left our conversation buzzing and inspired. As a woman in this male-dominated space, Ms. Seddiqi has worked hard to forge her own path guided by her own values, reminding us – with a profound sense of humanity – that a watch is never just a watch.
BRYNN WALLNER: Are you in New York now?
HIND SEDDIQI: Not yet. I’m sending my team before I arrive.
BW: Are you ready for Horology Forum?
HS: Yeah, we're excited. This the second time we’re taking it out of Dubai – the first being London. Now we’re going to the U.S. and New York has its own energy, so it will definitely set the tone.
BW: That’s great, I’m devastated to miss it. So, tell me a bit about your upbringing and how you got into watches.
HS: Okay, let’s go back. I was born in the United Arab Emirates; I’m a UAE national. I went to school here, and I went to the American university in Sharjah, which is part of the UAE. I studied mass communications with a concentration in public relations – and, to be honest, I never, ever thought I’d get into the family business.
BW: I didn’t realize that!
HS: The PR agency at the time was struggling to get the right information from within the family business because there wasn’t an internal PR professional in place to best support the requirements of the agency. So, I went in and explained what they needed to do, what types of people they needed to hire, and my father and uncle said, why don’t you come in and fill that gap? I started as an intern; they didn’t offer me a job [laughs].
BW: How old were you then?
HS: I was only 21. I joined the business in April 2006 as an intern and after three months, they invited me to stay and set up the marketing department, which was not formed at the time.
BW: When did you get into watches?
HS: We grew up around them. I remember my father and my uncles… they used to bring the shipments to the house, and in the afternoons they would sit and label the watches, manually make lots out of the watches they received, distribute them, and determine which shop each one would go to. We used to see that first-hand and my dad would help us learn about them in the process. And that’s how it all started.
BW: What watch did you wear early-on while this was happening?
HS: My father would usually gift us Flik Flak watches whenever he came back from Geneva. It was a tradition, you know – when he came back from Switzerland, he’d always have Flik Flaks. I used to love turning the bezel and hearing that clicking sound. Flik Flak was really my first watch.
BW: What about your first luxury watch?
HS: My first real, real watch was a steel and gold TAG Heuer Link, which I got in 10th grade. I believe my mom still has it somewhere at home.
BW: And the first watch you bought for yourself?
HS: Believe it or not, a yellow gold Rolex Daytona. It wasn’t a crazy price back then. It also wasn’t very popular for women in the region to wear that watch, which was labeled “men’s”. I remember when I first bought it, I took it to the service center to remove the links. The watchmaker was like, why did you buy this? It’s not for you, your wrist is too small. But I loved that watch, and I still love it. It’s the only Daytona I have. Every woman who asks me what watch they should invest in, I always suggest the Daytona. It’s timeless.
BW: So it wasn’t a thing for women to buy men’s watches? Tell me more about that. Is that still the case in the Middle East?
HS: There’s been a major transition with women and watch collecting in the region. Today, the Daytona is something every woman wants. Women who really love watches don’t think of them as strictly for men or women, they just buy what they like. Back in the day, a woman wouldn’t even wear a croc strap on a watch; they’d opt for something like satin or something more subtle. But now, they’re even wearing rubber straps! However, we still have a big culture of diamond watches for women only. Lots of ladies love bling.
BW: Why do you think that this transition has happened with women wearing whatever they want, regardless of the label? I’m coming at this from a very Western point of view. I remember, in the US in the ‘90s, supermodels started wearing big Rolexes, like Elle Macpherson and her Daytona. And then in the 2000s, everybody was wearing big watches. Do you remember what sparked this for women over in your region?
HS: I think it was also trendy over here. Women would see celebrities wearing watches like that, so they’d feel comfortable doing it too. And then women started getting into the workforce, and they wanted something nice that would make a statement without the diamonds. We also saw a trend of women wearing their husband’s watches. People definitely follow trends. Especially here in the Middle East, where we love celebrities and love to see what others are wearing… which doesn’t always result in the best outcome because everyone wants the same thing! But there are other things that are nicer! Things that suit you better! Your watch says a lot about you. In addition to selling watches, we play an educator role, making sure people buy something that they actually like. But then, of course, we also have women who know exactly what they want; they've already done their research.
BW: On the business side of the things, are you one of the few women? The watch industry seems to still be a very male dominated world.
HS: When I first started I was often, literally, the only woman in a room full of men. I was the first female family member to join the corporate office – the only others there were the assistants and the phone operators. And then I created a marketing team full of women… to the point where I was questioned if I was doing that intentionally [laughs]. Now, we have a good balance of male and females in the family business. Industry-wise, it was the same thing. There weren’t many before, and now it’s changing. But we still need more!
BW: So, part of Horology Forum is to educate people on watches. Can you tell me more about how it all started?
HS: When we first started Dubai Watch Week in 2015, we began with nine independent brands because they did not have the budget to participate in industry exhibitions – but they had so much storytelling. We had to share this with the watch enthusiasts in Dubai! Our theme was “Rebels of Time.” With independent brands, collectors are able to speak directly to the watchmakers, the owners. It just made enthusiasts appreciate these watches more. We’ve always been doing that with small groups of collectors – we used to fly collectors to visit watchmakers in Geneva, and we’d see how their eyes would sparkle. When people speak to a watchmaker – versus a spokesman or a CEO of a brand – a bond is formed. We can’t take everyone to Geneva, so we decided to replicate that experience in Dubai.
BW: So it’s great for watchmakers and collectors alike.
HS: We also used to hear about common issues from the brands, like the overall transmission of knowledge. These brands have watchmakers, but they’re becoming very old, and there’s no one to learn from them. So “Transmission of Knowledge” was the main headline of the first Horology Forum. We joined watchmakers in the same room and showed them the power of communicating with each other, and they’d come up with ideas and solutions together. And that was the beginning of Dubai Watch Week.
BW: That is so important, for brands to work together and not just compete.
HS: To this day, we always make sure to bring in a nice number of independent watchmakers to Dubai Watch Week. We even sponsor some of them entirely. And that helps the watch enthusiasts to understand that it’s not just about the big brands – there are others. Collectors really appreciate independent watchmakers so much and they begin to understand why these lesser-known watches are special, which tells us that we achieved what we set out to do. They get it, and that makes us very happy.
BW: That's great. There is really so much storytelling amongst the independents.
HS: And amongst the big brands, too! With Dubai Watch Week, we encourage all brands to come with a different angle. They’re not only talking to collectors, but to the general public. We want to attract design students, engineers, art students. It’s an industry that needs to be appreciated. Don’t be so intimidating, is something we always say. Please come with a story. Let us see your journey. We don’t sell watches at Dubai Watch Week, by the way. It’s completely non-commercial. We don’t care if people buy something or not, we just want them to leave having learned something new, to develop an appreciation.
BW: That’s such a good approach. The watch world can really be so intimidating. But when you hear about the inception of anyone’s watchmaking journey, you realize that there are humans behind it.
HS: If you speak to any of the CEOs who’ve attended Dubai Watch Week, they’ll say that they were so much more relaxed there than at a typical exhibition. They are not concerned with hitting sales targets. They actually sit and talk with each other.
BW: Ooh, I love that!
HS: One of the people who really got this from the very beginning was Max Büsser. He was there, he was mingling with everyone. You know, his H. Moser collaboration conversation started at Dubai Watch Week! It’s an environment where watchmakers are so relaxed and they’re really appreciating each other's work.
BW: It breeds creativity.
HS: This industry needs collaboration. Tasteful, meaningful collaboration. We’ve seen it in the fashion world, and we need to see it more in the luxury jewelry and watch industry.
BW: Absolutely. So, what watches are you into currently?
HS: My latest purchase is an MB&F Flying T with the Tiger Eye. It has that vintage vibe to it, which I love. If I love the people behind the brand, I have to have what they make.
BW: Do you have any favorite complications?
HS: You know, I’m dying for a minute repeater.
BW: Yeah, you need one of those.
HS: Maybe in a few years [laughs]. The movement really mesmerizes me. I love to listen to it.
BW: So, you have three boys. How old are they?
HS: My eldest is 14, and then I have a 10 year old… and an 18 month old. Boom! You know, you think you’re done, and then another baby comes! But he’s a blessing.
BW: Are they into watches, too?
HS: My 14-year old follows us on Instagram, and every time we launch something, he asks me how much it is. I have to tell him to calm down [laughs]. We’re not there yet. But I do give him watches from time to time. You know, things that are appropriate for his age.
BW: Flik Flak?
HS: He doesn’t know what Flik Flak is [laughs]. Celebrities play a big role with them. They’ll ask me about Richard Mille, and I have to educate them on how much these things cost. During Dubai Watch Week, they really learn a lot. We have master classes and they always say mom, please, please, let us sit in. We put them on standby, and if someone doesn’t show up, they’ll go in and love it.
BW: I love that younger people are getting into watches!
HS: You’d be surprised over how much youth is interested in them. This is the new generation. The other day, I met a 13-year old collector who knows more about watches than I do! I asked him who he most wanted to meet, and he said F.P. Journe. He appreciates Mr. François-Paul Journe who, for me, is one of the watchmakers I really respect. And it’s wild to speak with a 13-year old who shares this sentiment.
BW: That is so wild. So, do you have any words of encouragement for women looking to get into the watch space?
HS: Don’t be intimidated. We have so much to offer. Women are very creative in the way they approach things – whether it's in the marketing department or the R&D department, we always bring something new to the table. If you are interested, you can learn. It’s okay if you start out knowing nothing. You’ll find that there is a very human element to the industry, and women can really add to that. The industry needs it. We need to come into it with the notion that we can impact and add value to this space. Go with confidence! Not everybody knows everything.
BW: That is so important to remember. Not everybody knows everything!
HS: It also does help to have men who support you… in any industry! Find someone in upper management who believes in your approach, and let them be your voice. Some women may hate to hear that, but this is the reality. In fact, when we first started Dubai Watch Week, people looked at us, like, what are you doing? I remember, my father was the only one who told me, yes, go ahead.
BW: And look at how far it has come…
HS: I remember the first day of Dubai Watch Week, my father was pale, saying I don’t know what we’re doing. What if no one shows up? What if this doesn’t work? But I said, don’t worry, that’s why we start small. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. Then midday, he realized how relaxed everyone was, how happy they were to be there. You know, we used to invite press to the Middle East and people would decline. No thanks, no thanks! I must say a big thank you to everyone in the watch industry who joined us in the early days of the Horology Forum. Jean-Claude Biver was there. He said yes immediately. François-Henry Bennahmias was there. Mr. Pascal Raffy was there. Max Büsser was there. If these people hadn’t come, we wouldn’t have had anything. They believed in us, and I have to thank them for that. And thank you to my team! The majority of the people running Dubai Watch Week are women.
BW: Love to hear that.
HS: And what’s nice about it is that we’re 100% in control of everything we do. Yes, we seek funding; we always look for sponsors as it is a non-profit event, but, really, the big funding comes from Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons. Christie’s has been a partner from the beginning; and they’re still with us and believe in us. Together, we can continue to do whatever we want.
BW: I’m so glad you guys took the risk – not knowing it would grow to what it is today.
HS: Not in a million years did we think it’d grow to this scale.