Fine watches are traditionally more at home among the snowcapped Swiss Alps and ordered streets of Zurich than contrasted against the barren beauty of Oman’s Al Hajar mountains and historic winding backstreets of Muscat.
Environmental campaigner and watch collector HH Sayyida Tania bint Shabib Al Said wearing Roberto Cavallli at Eye Candy
But with its unquenchable appetite for luxury goods, the Middle East’s passion for top watchmakers is unabated, a growing population of collectors seeking out rare timepieces prized for their aesthetic beauty and sense of heritage as well as their engineering. Old money Muscat seems a natural habitat for luxury watches, with strong historic links with Rolex in particular; the Sultan has commissioned numerous models bearing his insignia to commemorate events over his five-decade reign.
Several of these are prized pieces in Misha Daud’s collection, the British born owner of Eye Candy boutique in Muscat. She is united with the Omani environmental campaigner HH Sayyida Tania bint Shabib Al Said by both a passion for watches and by an appreciation of the country’s natural beauty and heritage. They are among a growing number of women collecting in a traditionally male-dominated preserve. The American anthropologist Helen Fisher once wrote “A Rolex watch or an expensive car are the things guys often use to show status, wealth, and basic desirability.”
A 2016 release gold Rolex Daytona, worn below with a Panthère de Cartier ring
Watches are signifiers of wealth, a sentimental heirloom or an investment asset. Or a combination of all three. The Middle East is one of the world’s biggest consumers of watches, both on the primary and secondary market. Take, for example, the auction house Christie’s Dubai bi-annual watch sales. The most recent held in October 2016, containing the 40 Patek Philippe Nautilus watches, totalled Dhs14.4m, the highest ever total for the company in the region, up nearly 50 per cent from the sale just six months before.
That sale was testament to a growing population of female watch collectors with buying power and knowledge, like Misha and HH Tania. “The new auction trend for the region is “vintage is king” – or queen, since we see more and more lady collectors participating in the auctions,” said Remy Julia, Christie’s Dubai watch specialist, after the sale.
So what does a good watch say about a woman’s style and personality? And why is the chase for the rare vintage models so compelling? For HH Tania, President of the Environment Society of Oman, the appeal lies in their combination of function and beauty. For her, a good watch adds “glamour and conversation” to an outfit, their sense of purpose elevating them above mere jewellery. As with a growing number of female collectors, she favours chunkier, more masculine designs. She bought her first serious watch in 1997. “If you buy a watch made by watchmakers as opposed to jewellers it is a timeless item, it is not something that will become dated,” she says.
The watch she wears most is an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Ladies Offshore Chronograph in Carbon, its versatility and practical, outdoorsy design befitting her environmental work. In 1996, HH Tania co-established a society for the protection of Whales and Dolphins in Oman which, after eight years, broadened its remit and became The Environment Society of Oman. Its first large campaign was in 2008, aimed at reducing plastic bags.
“Common sense tells me that if one is not passionate about the environment then we will not be able to continue to live as we are all accustomed to.” Unsustainable development is the biggest threat to Oman, although “the country must make advances economically and diversify. Hence development of sectors such as tourism and manufacturing is growing. Now it is up to the country and people involved to ensure this is done in a sustainable and responsible manner. I tend to see the ocean as the first area to suffer as the coastline is developed for tourism and other projects.” Modern life has impacted on traditional Omani style as well as its landscape and today “one rarely sees the colourful outfits of the past – now replaced with black abayas.”
Misha’s Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, engraved with the Sultan of Oman’s crest on the back to mark his 40th anniversary celebrations, against a Chanel jacket and Valentino bag
She notices a person’s watch before their shoes. If in the past “women gravitated towards jewellery for its elegance and femininity, and watches were the only ‘jewellery’ for men,” today HH Tania thinks much has changed. Rather than concentrating on a certain maker, her eye is drawn more to design and, on looks alone, Hublot wins. “They have made watches out of different materials recently, like a compressed linen, and I find that really interesting and fresh.” Her other classic favourites are the Vacheron Constantin Overseas Chronograph and the IWC Portugieser.
Practicality also influences the clothes HH Tania wears, she favours “casual and comfortable” designs. “I am a flats girl so Todds and Aquazzura flats are my favourite, but my ultimate favourite would be 7 For All Mankind jeans.”
It is within the wild beauty of Oman that HH Tania is most at home and she and Misha share several favourite spots; the Daymaniyat Islands for world-class snorkelling, the Wadi Bani Khalid Canyon and mountains of Jabal Akhdar. Also, the eerie Beehive Tombs on the Selma Plateau, where “the views, the weather and the backdrop of these ancient tombs that are just there is very special.” Above all, Oman is a hospitable, kind country, “a peaceful oasis amid a turbulent region.”
Misha, who alongside her boutique also has a blog devoted to watches, is often asked why she’s fascinated by something that is generally a male affliction. “It still is very much a male dominated arena because men have always used watches as a status symbol. Alongside cars they speak volumes about how they wish to portray themselves, unlike us who enjoy the pretty and aesthetic side of them.” A watch is “the full stop to the end of a sentence. I don’t feel properly dressed without one.”
At 17, Misha was given a Cartier Panthère timepiece and there started the addiction. Years ago, her entire collection was stolen in London, but her enthusiasm remains; she has a specialist in Oman who seeks out specific models.
“To me a watch is a piece of jewellery. It’s not simply functional. It’s something to admire and complement an outfit rather than just use for practicality. I’m not crazy about earrings and big necklaces but I do think a woman has beautiful hands and wrists and should adorn them.” She favours a prettier style than HH Tania and, in watch terms, her tastes are “growing up.”
She has a burgeoning love for classic Audemars Piguet and Patek Phillipe but still likes “Cartier for pretty, Rolex for everything.”
A 2016 release gold Rolex Daytona, worn below with a Panthère de Cartier ring
Misha jokingly says she makes “watch contact before eye contact.” A watch speaks volumes about its owner, their individuality and mood, “whether she’s a girly girl or uber cool.” Her recent prized buy is a vintage Rolex with the Omani Khanjar, the antique dagger symbol of Oman, reflecting her love of this beautiful country, home since she moved here after marrying her husband in 1995. She’s fond of traditional Dhofari dresses, but generally her style is more “Coco meets Kate. Moss that is not Middleton...” Like many women, her style has become younger as she has got older. “I wore Chanel when I was in my 20s because it never looked classic, now I moved to what I call the ‘wanting to be 20 phase’. I mix pieces of Chanel and Fendi with Balmain and Yves Saint Laurent.”
A decade ago, Misha opened Eye Candy and has just launched the online store, stocking just the sort of clothes she personally likes to wear. “We all used to travel to be able to get what we saw in magazines. I wanted to bring it here, to my home; Oman.”
On her first visit to Muscat, Misha was struck by the city’s “beauty and serenity” and her love remains undimmed. Its historic gems are often unknown to the outside world. Alongside the famous Grand Mosque and Royal Opera House, she picks out a house on the Muttrah Corniche. Here, with its Portuguese influenced architecture and houses embellished with lattice-work, “there are still signs of the old Muscat. Coloured houses, small streets and Omanis still living in that old community way.”
For Misha, “Oman is home. It’s that feeling that you get; peace, safety and love. Everyone who comes here remembers that.”