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The country remains a major buyer of Swiss watches despite a decline in imports to 438 million Swiss francs.
Sammy Dallal Photographer
The country remains a major buyer of Swiss watches despite a decline in imports to 438 million Swiss francs.

Watchmaker says it is time for Arabic

Arabic-language timepiece has landed in UAE shops as Swiss maker says its new model is unlike anything else on the shelves.

DUBAI // An Arabic-language timepiece has landed in UAE shops, the only one of its kind on sale worldwide without a special order, its manufacturer says. Fortis Watches launched the model yesterday, said Luke Suter, the Swiss watchmaker's sales manager for the Middle East and Asia.

"This is a watch for the local market," Mr Suter said. "We've experienced decent turnovers here and we wanted give something back. Offering them something and not neglecting their culture and their language." The pieces, which will cost Dh6,000 (US$1,633), went on sale in the UAE at Gems World stores. They will be available elsewhere in the GCC by mid-September and globally by the end of the year.

The model is called the B-42 Al Tayar, which means The Aviator in Arabic ,and reflects its technical specifications for the aviation industry. It is not the first Arabic watch but it is the only one available off the shelf for at least 10 years, Mr Suter said. "There is nothing else like this on the market and hasn't been for some time." The watch was designed by Mahesh Shahani, a watchmaker based in Dubai and the managing partner of Gems World, who came up with the idea after several requests from customers.

The debut comes after a particularly difficult year for the Swiss watch industry. Global exports of the timepieces last year fell to 13.2 billion Swiss francs (Dh44.64bn), down by 22.3 per cent from 2008, the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry reported. Although the UAE remained in the top 10 markets for Swiss watches, the value of the country's imports fell to 438 million francs. Mr Suter said Fortis's sales were flat last year, globally and in the Middle East, compared with 2008. The company sells on average between 15,000 and 20,000 watches a year, and it sold between 2,000 and 3,000 in the Middle East last year, he said.

With the addition of Al Tayar, Fortis is aiming to sell 4,000 watches regionally this year, Mr Suter said. The federation is also optimistic for this year's exports. "Signals perceived on the markets indicate that 2010 should see a turnaround for Swiss watch exports," it said. "It will however be modest and will only really be felt in the second half of the year." Early indications support the optimism. Total swiss watch exports in the first quarter rose 16.6 per cent, federation figures show. In the UAE, imports of the timepieces were up 49.1 per cent to 144.1m francs. But this increase was from the first three months of last year, when the economic downturn just began to hit the Emirates.

During the boom year of 2008, imports totalled 157m francs. Hong Kong remained the biggest market for Swiss watches in the first quarter, with imports of 690.5m francs, a rise of 33.8 per cent, the federation said. The US came in second, with a 6.7 per cent rise in imports to 343.7m francs. China was the third biggest market, up 78.9 per cent from the year earlier, with imports of 234.6m francs. @Email:aligaya@thenational.ae

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