Hassan Akhras: The Arab Watch Guide
Founder of Arab Watch Guide and one of UAE's most recognized influencers, Hassan Akras is a watch enthusiast and a luxury lifestyle content creator. He shares his passion for timepieces through the blog he started in 2014, together with his Instagram account and YouTube channel. His club connects Arab watch collectors and connoisseurs, offering them opportunities to learn about the brands and history, as well as a platform to share their knowledge with other members. Influenced by trends and the fashion world, but never one to lose his own sense of style, Hassan is an unmistakable leader.
The Pemberley: What’s your background?
Hassan Akhras: I’m Syrian and I’ve lived in many cities and countries across the globe including Beirut, London, Paris and Australia, until I settled here in Dubai. I’m a strategy consultant and I’ve traveled a lot because I had many international clients.
TP: How did you get into watches?
HA: I love watches and I’ve collected them ever since I was a kid. My parents couldn’t understand it, but this is one of the main things in my life that makes me happy. In 2014 I was talking about watches while having coffee with some friends, and they told me that it was time to share my passion with a wider audience. They encouraged me to write a blog, create a website, open an Instagram account and start posting. I started my blog around four years ago.
TP: How did you start out? Do you have a background in writing?
HA: I’m a math guy but I’m good at writing; at school I was one of the best in literature. After the Instagram page started picking up, I began creating content from my own collection, from researching the industry, and before long I found myself in touch with the watch brands.
TP: Which was the first brand that you connected with?
HA: I was a JLC (Jaeger-LeCoultre) collector, so I had many of my initial watches from them and they were the first brand I got in touch with. They began inviting me to their press releases, I started meeting more people and with time, I was attending events from different brands, until I found myself as part of their media list. This opened a world of opportunities that were not accessible to me before. The first year I went to Baselworld I didn’t know the system of creating your schedule and booking so I would just go to brands with my business cards and say “Hey, I have an Instagram account, I’m a collector…can we talk?”
This is where I dived deep into the world of media, and Instagram. I met a lot of bloggers around that period and I started learning about the world of social media and content creation. I met people, asked questions and learned some tricks, especially in terms of how to contact brands and grow that relationship professionally.
TP: How many watches did you have at that time and how many do you have now?
HA: Maybe 15 or 20 at that time, and now I have around 50. I’ve had more but I went through a consolidation phase and I let go of a lot of pieces to get others that were more meaningful to me. There are phases in the life of a collector- at the beginning you just want everything, but then you grow and read more, and recognize the value in some brands and watches more than in others, and you realize that there are pieces that you’re not wearing and won’t wear again. I went through that phase a few years ago when I had a restricted number. I still get pieces now- if I like it, and it’s an acceptable price, I buy it.
TP: Watches are inherently elegant— do you feel like you need to go with that vibe all the time?
HA: I do, but there are a lot of watches I own that actually shouldn’t be worn with a suit.
TP: Would you buy a watch and then create an outfit around it?
HA: Yes, but it goes both ways. Sometimes I have the suit or the outfit and I see that I don’t have a watch that matches, so I search for the right colors, straps, dials, and the right look for it. And sometimes it’s the other way around; I have the watch and realize that I have nothing that fits, because it’s either too formal or too casual, so I shop for the right clothing.
TP: What was your first project?
HA: My first real content creation was Jaeger-LeCoultre and climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. I approached Jaeger and told them that I wanted to do something very different with one of their high-end watches, and surprisingly, they loved the idea. The project was also a charity project for Unicef— I linked it to the Syrian Refugees and raised some money for them. It was a ten-day trip during which I created content and videos. The response was amazing and then I realized that there was potential to create more content and value for brands. I love adventures, sports, exploration, and expeditions, and so I like to mix that aspect with the watch world, to create more of the educational content together with the brands. This led to where I am today.
TP: Tell me about the club.
HA: The club started about 3 years ago and was the idea of creating something formal to bring together the collectors I knew from the region and around the world. It was a place to share our common interest, to network, and get to know each other better. I started it with ten of my friends on a WhatsApp group, and we clicked very quickly. Then the participants began proposing friends who wanted to join, and we started taking recommendations, meeting more people and inviting them over.
TP: Is there a charge for the club?
HA: No, there is no cost. You need to be recommended or fit to be a part of it. At the beginning when we were trying to decide what the criteria was, we had people coming in who didn’t seem to be right and we had to sort of kick them out. It was very awkward.
TP: How hard was that?
HA: For me it’s very difficult because I get them in and then I need to send them away. It creates a lot of haters around me and an assumption that we’re arrogant- but there is always a certain reason to let somebody go. It’s not just that I don’t like you- there needs to be something you’ve done such as abused the club, the connections, or the name of the club outside.
TP: What do you offer club members?
HA: Once we started this club, I wanted to create special editions because that seemed like a really nice target and puts the name of the club above everyone else. I started approaching the brands that I like, and that most of the club guys would appreciate, and I pitched the idea to the brands. Some were more difficult regarding the restrictions of customizing the watches, but in general they liked the idea. We started creating our own editions and hosting private events with the brands. I always try to bring that connection to the table, be it visiting the manufacturer, teaching the members more about the brand, creating more awareness, and treating them to special perks.
TP: Tell me about visiting the manufacturers.
HA: I offer collectors the opportunity to visit the manufacturers of the brands they love, and this also acts as an eye-opener for those who don’t have a watch from that brand- to see how it’s made and learn about the brand. When they see how the pieces are built and the craftsmanship behind it, they share it with their friends, and within the group, and it creates a nice hype and a discussion. At the beginning, many of the brands were quite skeptical, which I understand, but there were a few who took a leap of faith because they knew me and trusted my word. When that happened, other brands saw the events and the interactions, and realized that we are serious people; not just visiting to take pictures and walk away.
TP: What are the companies getting from your members?
HA: At the end of the day, most of these guys are buying watches from the brands. I still remember when I did the first factory visit; we were 4 or 5 guys and we did a tour of six factories, and every day we were hosted by one of them. A few of the guys wanted to buy some pieces from these brands, and once they saw how they were made, they immediately made the order- which turned into an ROI for the brand- it’s an immediate return on investment because they acquired a collector. For some of the other brands, skepticism turned into brand awareness, and ultimately promoting the brand. Even if it’s not immediate sales or a customer, it’s also a good penetration into the Middle East in creating this awareness, creating a promoter, that should lead at some point to acquiring that collector. It may not be immediate, but for people who didn’t know anything about the brand, now it’s on their radar and they may eventually become customers.
TP: Who are the members of the club and how did you reach them?
HA: They are Emiratis, Kuwaitis and Saudis- it’s a quite diverse circle. Honestly, Instagram paved the way because these guys would ask me if a watch they were considering was a good purchase and good value. I somewhat exposed my life on Instagram, so they felt like they got to know me, and this opened the conversation. Once I met them, we started going out, having coffee and chit chatting. Some of them would call me when they would visit, and we’d meet for coffee and they’d show me their purchase, or they would ask me to join them to choose a watch. There was this kind of bond that we already had that set things in motion, and then of course they had friends who eventually joined the group.
TP: Are there women in the club?
HA: No, unfortunately not. It’s difficult to have women and men at the same place in the discussion because I think our levels of appreciation in the watch world is different. We’re more ‘geeks’, but the women I’ve met mostly view it as an accessory. I think this is evolving, but I believe they need more education to perceive watches in a different way. Many of the women I know don’t even have the time set on their watches- they wear it because it looks good. I’ve actually done a special edition of 10 pieces for ladies who weren’t club members but they were wives of our members, or women that we know that like watches- but they weren’t very interested in being part of a wider community.
TP: Are people spending money on a watch because they think it’s cool, or do they understand the heritage?
HA: There are different categories to be honest, but the club guys don’t buy just for the sake of buying- even though they have the means, they’re quite money savvy. There are a lot of people who just follow trends- but in the group, we educate each other on the trends, what’s going on, what to buy, what not to buy and where to buy etc. Each one of us has expertise or knowledge in specific brands- for example there are members of the group that are crazy Rolex collectors and they know everything down to the history of the dial, so we leverage that knowledge. There are some watches that we buy just because they’re cool and sometimes there are editions that come up, and if it’s not the crazy expensive editions, it makes the decision much easier. For example if it’s a $2000-3000 watch, you can afford to make a mistake- but when it’s a higher end watch, there’s a lot of thinking that goes behind that.
TP: Which brand comes to mind for a higher end piece?
HA: There are a few models that we love of Richard Mille in the range of 400,000-5000,000 dirhams for each watch. We discuss if the piece is Richard Mille hype or if it’s really going to last. Is it going to maintain its value? I love the RM67-02 which is going crazy right now in the industry and it’s impossible to find- you need to dig and talk to dealers and sometimes pay a premium for it because you’ll never find it in the boutique. When you need to invest a lot of effort, you tend to ask if it’s worthwhile. We try to help each other discuss that around these pieces.
TP: Do you think it’s necessary to spend a lot to get a quality watch?
HA: People assume that if it’s expensive, it must be good, which is not always true. There are a lot of watches that are not very expensive, but they are good value for money, and can tell a lot about your taste and about your understanding of the industry. I know that there are many people who buy super mega expensive watches just for status.
TP: What is the minimum needed to spend for a good quality watch?
HA: For 3-4,000 dollars, you can get a really interesting Bell and Ross, a really good value for money. If you spend $4,000, you can get a proper Rolex which is always a robust watch. I’m not a Rolex guy at all, but I respect the brand and I respect what they do.
TP: Why? They’re so overused.
HA: There’s a specific reason why they’re overused. They do everything so well and have perfected the watchmaking process from A-Z, down to the buckles and steel. They have their own steel, their own gold, and their own standards. They’ve reached the point where they can separate themselves from the rest; they built that world of Rolex. For someone who can only afford one watch, he would want to get the right watch that’s not going to break down every few months and need to be serviced, and Rolex fits that category. The value for money is amazing, you get a nice watch that will work for years without any problems. If someone is looking for recognition and he’s wearing a Rolex, it’s certainly the right watch. I’ve had Rolex’s before, but I don’t own any at the moment, because I like to have something exciting.
TP: Which is your favorite watch?
HA: To be honest, I don’t have one. I like a few of Patek’s, and a few of Vacheron’s, but I can’t live with just one watch. It’s a big problem.
TP: If you had to live with one watch, which is the most coveted?
HA: I’d say my Patek Worldtime. It’s a slick watch, and the one I don’t own. There’s the Richard Mille that I’m dying for- the RM 67-02- because it goes with everything, it’s super light, and it’s an amazing watch. If I had to live with one, I could wear that every day.
TP: Which do you prefer, leather or steel?
HA: Both, because it depends on the season. In the winter it’s great to wear leather, but in the summer it’s harder because you start sweating in it, so the full bracelet is more comfortable and easier to clean. I know that some guys feel more comfortable in leather because you can play around with the size, whereas the bracelet needs to fit right.
TP: What’s the most unbelievable find that you’ve come across?
HA: I have a vintage, but I don’t trust vintage at the moment. If you’re buying from Christie’s or Sotheby’s there can be mistakes that happen that make you question the sources and sometimes the quality. I heard a few stories about watch recalls from auctions, because the information was incorrect. I admire the vintage watches, but I just keep myself from buying any right now because I’m not too sure how to evaluate them. Usually the world of vintage is dominated by Patek and Rolex and you can find some amazing pieces, but the prices are sometimes crazy.
TP: What was the first watch that you ever purchased?
HA: Oh first watch? It was a Breitling Chronomat. I was around 23.
TP: What are your tips for buying an heirloom watch?
HA: There are two schools of thought. The first is to purchase a Patek or Rolex that you know you’ll appreciate because it’s extremely rare, it has value, it will always have value and your children will appreciate it. The other approach is to purchase a piece that is meaningful to you in some way- such as a watch to celebrate the birth of your child. I have a friend who created a watch for their firstborn with the engraving “for my child” and his date of birth. The watch has a meaning because it represents the family and will eventually be passed on to the child.
TP: Tell me something that we don’t know about you.
HA: I’m actually a very shy and introverted person. People think I’m very outgoing because I expose myself and I seem comfortable with it— but sometimes I’m not.
TP: What's the one thing every gentleman should own?
HA: A watch.
TP: What is luxury to you?
HA: It’s appreciation of the little things, the details. If it’s a watch, it’s what’s inside the watch, how it was made, the master craftsmanship behind it. If it’s a hotel, it’s the small details around you such as the furniture, the floors, the services, and the people.