Watch Time Middle East postponed its first meeting with Hassan Al Akhras on his request as he was eagerly awaiting the return of a Jaeger LeCoultre Reverso that he had sent away to be engraved. Hassan had purchased the watch – a Grande Reverso Ultra Thin Duoface with a burgundy dial – in Rome a few months previously and he was getting a rendering of the Colosseum engraved on the caseback along with the date, in Roman numerals, of the year of his visit to the Eternal City.
It would be a shame, he said, if such a highly personalised watch wasn’t included in the feature. Wanting to see for ourselves how the master craftsmen at Jaeger-LeCoultre dealt with this very specific embellishment, we were happy to oblige. When we meet two months later, the watch is firmly ensconced in the Buben & Zorweg watch box that Hassan clearly reserves for his most prized pieces. He’s happy with the result.
“I had always wanted a Reverso, but I didn’t know which one to get,” Hassan says from the comfort of his Dubai Marina bachelor pad. “When I saw this one I thought this was special. Because I bought it in Rome, I decided to have a hand-engraving of the Colosseum on the back and the year 2014 in Roman numerals.
It took about eight weeks for JLC to get it done but it was worth it. I sent them an image, via their website, of the Colosseum with the inscription that I wanted, and they sent me a 3-D model back for approval. It was perfect,” says Hassan.
It’s the second watch Hassan has had engraved. The caseback of his IWC Pilot Mark XVI features an aeroplane and the playful inscription, “Captain Hassan”. Tasteful customization is something he enjoys, and he has a knack for “freshening up” watches, as he puts it, by artfully pairing them with unusual straps, as anyone who follows his blog, theArabWatchGuide.com, will attest.
“It’s true, I like to play with them a lot. There’s a guy called Zirdiva from Thailand who does really good-quality suede straps, so I use them for my Rolexes. There’s also a guy in the US called Attila Azodi who makes straps in any kind of material you want.
On my Datejust II I have this strap made by him that has a cork surface with leather on the reverse, and he can make it in almost any colour. It’s kind of his speciality. Plus I’ve recently ordered a green leather strap with red stitching from the Jean Rousseau Atelier Paris for my Reverso.”
Hassan, a 31-year-old strategist and investor, originally from Syria, started collecting watches – albeit more modestly priced ones – when he was in school. “I admired the mechanics of Casio G-Shocks; I was never a Swatch fan,” he says. “I liked the functions they had. It grew with that and I started collecting them. With time, I started getting Seikos and Sector watches. The watch collection grows with you, so the more mature you become, the pickier you get.”
Hassan was 18 when he obtained his first serious watch. “I decided I wanted a Breitling, so I got a Super Avenger Chronograph. And that’s what started me in the upper range. I like its materials, the weight and its size. It feels great on the wrist. When I look at the dial, I love the way it turns from grey to blue to black, according to the light. That’s what is nice about it.”
Despite often visiting Breitling stores after that purchase, Hassan never developed an attraction for the brand, revealing that his next significant purchase was a Zenith El Primero. For a long time Hassan had no interest in Rolex because of its ubiquity, preferring to focus on less common brands. “At the beginning I thought, oh, Rolex is everywhere, it’s all about marketing. But then I started liking some of their pieces, and I bought a Datejust II. Once I started looking into the new models I understood their appeal.”
He has now completed something of a Rolex hat-trick, having also acquired a Milgauss and an Oyster Perpetual. When he started his collection, Hassan toyed with the idea of acquiring one model from every major watch brand. But when he realized how restrictive it would be for someone with such broad taste, he decided instead to focus on a few of the brands that he liked most, as well as watches with specific functions and complications.
“Also, they have to fit in the budget,” he says. “I’d love a Greubel Forsey, for example – all those amazing mechanisms and quadruple tourbillons – but they’re too expensive.”
The rarefied haute horlogerie of Greubel Forsey may be out of his price range but Hassan’s collection does include some refined pieces that any serious watch collector would be proud to own. One of his most recent purchases is a Jaeger-LeCoultre Duometre a Quantieme Lunaire with moonphase and date, a highly innovative timepiece that has had watch writers and bloggers salivating.
Like all Duometres it has two distinct power sources, each with a 50-hour power reserve. The first, regulated by the escapement and balance, is dedicated completely to timekeeping. The second source of energy is devoted to the display of the secondary functions, including power reserve, calendar, and moon phase. The two are synchronized by the jumping seconds hand seen at 6 o’clock.
“I love everything about this watch,” Hassan enthuses, wrapping it around his wrist with a well-honed flourish. “I love the perfect combination of rose gold, brown leather strap, and light dial. And it’s a complicated dial. There are a lot of things happening, but it’s elegantly designed.
“You wind [the crown] forward for the first and backwards for the other. It’s got a 50-hour power reserve. There is a version without the moonphase but I think it adds a bit of character to the dial. I had to buy this in Paris in order to get a proper discount. When I wear it, I feel great. I might change the strap at some point.”
Those following Hassan’s blog will also know how smitten he is by his Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711, his only Patek to date. “Some people go for the version with the blue face but for me it’s the white one. It’s classy and you can see the dial better. I bought it last September after looking for one for a while. I went to the Patek store in Dubai several times and they said, ‘Sorry, there’s a huge waiting list’.
“So my friend and I went to Paris where I planned to buy an Audemar Piguet Royal Oak Skeleton – which I’d like to get next – and I walked by the Patek Store and we asked if they had any Nautiluses, and they said yes, we have the 5711 and the 5726, which is the annual calendar with moonphase. I sat down and tried it on and bought it.”
Asked if he ever sells his watches, he admits to offloading a Hublot The Vision Dubai edition a few months ago after being made an offer that was too lucrative to turn down. “There are two reasons I buy a watch,” he explains. “Sometimes it’s because I like it for me personally, and sometimes I see an opportunity, and I know that in this market they will be very sought after when they’re discontinued. When they launched this particular watch I knew that they would love it here. But the funny thing is, the person who eventually bought it lives in Singapore. I was expecting to sell it to an Arab not an Asian.”
One Hublot he has kept, however, is an Arturo Fuente Forbidden X limited edition, the dial of which is coated with a real tobacco leaf. Looking like a prop in an Indian Jones film, its treasure chest-style display case doubles as a cigar humidor.
Hassan gives watch-related advice and occasionally reviews timepieces. “I got pushed into doing it by my friends. They said ‘you’re obsessed with watches, you collect them, you like to talk about them. Why don’t you start writing and reviewing them?’.
“So I did. I hadn’t joined the Instagram frenzy yet but I started following people like Watch Anish and Patekaholic, and I realized I should focus on my Instagram page where there was a real community – I could talk to my followers, and they could answer me back.”
Does he have a favorite city for watch shopping, given his propensity for making impromptu purchases on his travels? “Paris. The experiences I’ve had there have been amazing. I love the way people treat you and talk to you. For example, I go to Chronopassion [an upmarket watch boutique on the exclusive Rue Saint Honoré] and they are very accommodating. If they don’t have the pieces you want, they will get them for you. They have a lot of limited editions. If you ask for a specific model they don’t have they’ll follow up immediately and offer to send it to you. London is second – Marcus on Bond Street is excellent. And then Dubai, of course.”
Always impeccably dressed, Hassan is scrupulous about wearing watches that complement his clothes and he confesses to changing his watch at least twice a day. When he packs his suitcase for a vacation or business trip, is he weighed down with half his watch collection?
“I take at least four,” he says. “I have my pouch, which holds three, and I wear a fourth one, plus I leave a space in my bag for any new purchases. Honestly, when I travel I have to hit all the watch stores, or I at least try to see them all. On a business trip, or as a tourist, I try to find watches – even in Ibiza. My friends laughed at me there because while I was partying I’d be taking wrist shots of my watches for the blog. But it’s fun. I’m enjoying writing it and I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t.”
(This article originally appeared in our February-April 2016 print edition)