More consumers in the Middle East are being duped into buying genuine luxury watches that have been embellished with inexpensive or fake diamonds, an industry association says. Omar Chaoui, the Middle East delegate for the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie, said the trend had picked up pace in the region as consumers sought bargains amid economic uncertainty. "Go have a look at the gold souq and you will see some jewellers that have watches exhibited that are sold as new watches or second-hand watches that are diamond set," he said. "Take a picture of that watch and I dare you to go find that exact same kind of setting on the brand's website. You will not."
The increase in tampering comes after the luxury watch industry was hit hard last year. Global exports of Swiss timepieces last year fell to 13.2 billion Swiss francs (Dh41.97bn), down by 22.3 per cent from 2008, the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry reported. The value of the UAE's imports fell to 438 million francs. There are signs of recovery so far this year. Switzerland's watch exports in the first quarter rose 16.6 per cent from the same period last year, federation figures show. In the UAE, imports of the timepieces jumped 49.1 per cent to 144.1m francs.
Sales of counterfeit goods are also on the rise, according to the Brand Owners Protection Group (BPG), based in Dubai. A 2006 study conducted by BPG estimates they could be worth as much as US$670m (Dh2.46bn). The quality of fake products globally is improving, making it more difficult to detect, said Mr Chaoui. And the embellished products add a new dimension, because the goods are partially genuine. Retailers will buy the high-end watches, alter them and then sell them with the original box and documentation.
But consumers later find the original manufacturer may not honour the warranty because the watch has been tampered with, he said. He advised people to be sceptical of bargains. "You want to buy a genuine product, make sure you buy it from an official retailer." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org