x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

The rising tide

What it costs How do water bottles that cost a few fils and ones that cost Dh20 or more differ? Let's find out.

The bejewelled Bling H20 Dubai Collection bottle costs Dh15,000, likely making it the most expensive water on Earth.
The bejewelled Bling H20 Dubai Collection bottle costs Dh15,000, likely making it the most expensive water on Earth.

The fountain of life is a precious commodity that has sparked fierce competition in the Emirates. In a country that relies heavily on seawater to convert into desalinated water for drinking and everyday use, it's no wonder that bottled water companies have tapped the Emirates as a place to boost profits. The market for spring water, which can average between Dh0.50 and Dh1 for a half-litre bottle, has long been divided between a dozen or so local companies, which have the rights to one or more of the UAE's few sources of fresh water.

But in recent years, international companies such as Pepsi and Coca-Cola have utilised advanced water-purification systems that turn desalinated tap water into a commodity that competes in price with the local guys. Upmarket imports, such as Evian, famous for its French Alpine water, are also looking for a slice of the action and are spruiking their brands to savvy consumers with a thirst for luxury - and the right label, of course. These days, hundreds of brands have flooded the market in a reflection of the country's transformation into a high-growth area for H20.

We're not deluding ourselves into thinking that one kind of water tastes better than another, but are there any differences between the bottles that cost a few fils and the ones that cost Dh20 or more? Let's find out.

The packaging Covered top-to-bottom in more than 10,000 Swarovski crystals, the bottle takes centre stage. Each vessel is made to order and the crystals can be arranged in a number of custom designs. You'll also get a handling case and white gloves to hold your shiny purchase. By the way, regular bottles of Bling (without the crystals) go for Dh250. The purity Dandridge, Tennessee, isn't internationally known for its crystal-clear spring water. But don't worry - if you can drink this water regularly, chances are you have a top health plan. The prestige For years, you could find this elite product only at Harvey Nichols in Dubai. However, the US-based Bling has begun to market the unique bottles on its website for the marked down price of US$2,600 (Dh9,542), a discount of 36 per cent. It's more proof that great deals come from unexpected places.

The packaging We immediately felt the distinction of quality when we picked up the sleek, cylindrical glass bottle. A conversation arose about how we could use the bottle when the water was done: a spare change jar, perhaps, or maybe a stylish vessel for balsamic vinegar?

The purity Bottled in a remote corner of Norway, the company claims that air contamination ruins most "natural water" and that its process locks in 100 per cent pure water. They must be right; we can't taste a thing. The prestige You can't just buy VOSS anywhere, but it's making more of an appearance at cafes and restaurants, including Jones the Grocer in Abu Dhabi.

The packaging In a sea of identical round plastic bottles with blue caps, Jeema's unusual design stands out from the crowd. The purity The label says Jeema was "bottled at source" in Hatta, "from nature's very own filtering system of ancient limestones". That's a fancy way of saying well water, although the drilling and filtering process is much more precise than in the Bedouin backyard. The prestige It's available at supermarkets, corner shops, petrol stations, pharmacies, tea shops, shisha bars and vending machines - did we leave anything out? - but sometimes, ubiquity can be its own prestige.