x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Dh1 million o'clock

A Dh990,000 wristwatch brings to mind the story of Nicolas Hayek, who built an empire out of swatch with branding and a little ingenuity.

The axiomatic accuracy of Swiss watches often comes at a price. By that standard the Dh990,000 timepiece on sale at Dubai Mall must surely be precise enough for astronauts.

But of course keeping time is actually the least of the duties expected of a gold and titanium wristwatch four times the price of a sports car. A bauble like that is a status symbol first, a thing of beauty second, and a timepiece only third.

And it's an interesting industrial success story too. Thirty years ago the Swiss watch industry was respected but stodgy and sclerotic; digital and quartz watches from the Far East, selling cheaply, were crowding estimable and reliable old brands out of the world's markets.

Enter Nicolas Hayek, the Beirut-born Swiss entrepreneur who, in the early 1980s, snapped up two dying firms and merged them into the profitable Swatch ("second watch", but also "Swiss watch") that put cheerful, inexpensive analogue quartz watches on millions of wrists worldwide.

Along the way, almost absent-mindedly, the company found itself owning a range of high-end "clockwork" watch brands as well. Porsche is not among them, but the car company's million-dirham watch is Swiss.

When Hayek died last June, obituaries routinely called him the man who saved the Swiss watch industry. Sometimes innovation can be the best way to preserve a venerable tradition.