For many collectors, it takes years of questionable purchases and mistakes to become what might be described as a refined collector. Our latest edition of My Watch features Alessandro, a young collector in his early 20s who has managed to amass an interesting collection of vintage and independent watches. Going by the instagram handle @Mr.A, Alessandro collects knowledge and pieces with an optimism that many could learn from.
Give us an idea of where your interest for watches began?
You know, I actually have no idea how it happened. I’ve been interested in them for as long as I can remember; I think just one day I started paying attention to them.
Do you remember having watches as a kid?
Yeah, I had a customisable Disney watch set, which had Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy and some others. It was a digital watch, but the fact that you could change the straps and a sort of cover was just amazing to me.
Interesting, we haven’t come across those in our research…
[Laughs] Of course, me being me, I would put the Donald Duck with the Mickey Mouse strap or one of the others just to mess around with it a bit. I had a bunch of Swatches after that, some time only, some chronograph with these big yellow pushers.
So, your tastes have changed somewhat since then…
Yeah, I found a book that my dad owned about Rolex among a huge library of books and that got my interest. I didn’t know much about them but…
You thought you might have a browse…
[Laughs] Yeah, I started thumbing through pages and thinking these watches were just so beautiful. I saw a cloisonné dial for the first time, the dragon, and I remember just thinking that I wanted a dragon on my watch [Laughs].
[Laughs] Why not…
My dad thought it was bizarre that I was so taken with a book about watches and sent me out to play instead. A few years later, I guess I saw that book again and started looking through it, equally as taken as before. I discovered Hodinkee around 2010, which began a period of research and would occasionally share things with a few like-minded friends at school, like the latest Paul Newman Daytona discovered or whatever.
Were you buying watches at this time?
Well, I asked my mum when I was 14 if I could get something and I thought maybe a Hamilton was the way to go, but a friend at school had one [Laughs].
[Laughs] So, naturally you couldn’t buy that one…
I decided to buy an all black Suunto divers watch, which was digital, but I thought it was a cool design. The other thing was that I was diving a lot at the time, so it was a very practical choice.
"They wanted to buy me a Rolex, of course, to last me a lifetime but my initial desire was a Universal Geneve."
How did your buying progress?
I caught the bug from then on. I was researching all sorts of stuff, mostly vintage pieces and we are approaching my 18th birthday by this point and my parents had decided that they wanted to buy me a watch to celebrate it.
Did you have anything in particular that you wanted by that point?
They wanted to buy me a Rolex, of course, to last me a lifetime but my initial desire was a Universal Geneve. I’d been researching a lot about the brand and had really fallen from them. They were also becoming the talk of a lot of collectors online, so I needed to have one. They’re difficult though, because a lot are refinished, or not functioning correctly.
They’re quite the minefield…
So, because I spent too much time deciding, my dad went out and pulled the trigger on a Rolex for me.
He bought me a reference 14270 Explorer one from the ‘90s. He casually picked that watch up, handed it to me and said, “Here, knock yourself out.” [Laughs].
And were you pleased about this or...?
I was a little annoyed at first, but I was of course incredibly grateful to have been given such a beautiful watch. One of my best friends got the same one at the same time, so it became an awkward thing because I didn’t want him to think I was copying him.
We’re beginning to see a trend in your personality here…
[Laughs] Yes and no. I mean, I’m not intentionally just trying to be different, but I just want something that feels special. The fact that it was kind of an ‘easy’ watch made me not really appreciate what it was. Some time later, I realised the versatility of it, and wore that to university rather than my delicate ‘40s chronographs, you know?
Absolutely, one sharp knock can have a dramatic impact on something vintage like that…
There came a point where I realised that it was just the perfect watch. You can do anything with it, I mean I can go to the beach, I can go to the mountains, skiing. It’s a true explorers watch. I’m much more cautious with my vintage collection.
Was your father a big Rolex fan?
Absolutely not [Laughs]. He’s a totally self-made man and then one day, he started to make some money and decided to reward himself with a Rolex. It was the thing you do, you know?
You do well, you buy a Rolex. Since the day I was born, he has worn that thing every single day, and I’m jealous of him for it, because he’s a one watch guy.
What’s the model he has for his daily?
It’s a two tone, steel and gold ‘80s Submariner with a blue dial. That dial is literally turning tropical on his wrist; I’ve seen it go from deep blue all the way through purple and it’s now turning turquoise. My mum has bought a couple other watches for him which he will put on if he has to wear a tuxedo or something like that.
And that’s it, literally nothing else?
Well, he bought a 6263 which he never wore [laughs].
That thing is pretty much new old stock sitting in the safe, but he pulled the sticker off [laughs], so new old stock isn’t totally accurate.
What do you make of the realm these kinds of watches are getting to value wise?
It’s very difficult to justify it, I think. In terms of how long you have to work on an entry level salary to buy some of them, it’s just crazy. I’d have to work for two years straight without spending a singly penny [laughs].
"The next thing on my list is a nice GMT I think, they’re still within reach."
[Laughs] Should be easy right?
Hopefully I’ll inherit one. The next thing on my list is a nice GMT I think, they’re still within reach.
It’s a spectacular all rounder…
Let’s talk about how your tastes have changed over the years…
I have always had a lot of flexibility where collecting is concerned, I’ve never really had a clear idea of what I want or need to have. One thing I do stick to is finding the best possible example of whatever it is I’m buying, because condition is king. It’s less about volume and more about quality for me. Every single element has to be correct.
When did independents first cross your radar?
I’ve always been a fan of them because they’re similar to the kinds of watches horologists were making 150 or 200 years ago; the approach is very similar. I’m a particular fan of Urwerk and MB&F because they make such unique looking creations. This kind of approach, this special approach has been somewhat lost in modern industrialised watchmaking.
Back in the middle of last century, it was more common for case-makers and parts manufacturers to be separated and specialised, which meant that the quality of work was higher. These days, it’s so efficient and in-house that these special creations exist less. If you look even at the tones in gold from back in the ‘50s versus today, it looks almost artificial; it’s lacking an indescribable warmth.
It seems like these days shareholders mean more to brands than customers do. The quality of the enamel work from the past is just on another level. I have an old cashmere jumper which my father gave me from the 1970s made by Loro Piana, and the quality by comparison to modern examples is a world apart. They invest in growing their own materials, keeping sheep in New Zealand because they realised they can elevate the quality. What is there in the watch world that could be comparable to that level of care on an industrial level today?
"It would be like Rolex investing in a gold mine because the quality of gold was exceptional."
Good point, nothing comes to mind…
It would be like Rolex investing in a gold mine because the quality of gold was exceptional. I feel like people would really respond to care like that, but it’s unlikely to happen.
So, your Urwerk…
When did you first discover this model?
I had been researching Urwerk’s historical models, because as much as I love their newer models visually, they don’t seem to fit my wrist; obviously something quite important.
I was looking through their timeline that they have on their website, and I was aware of a model called the 101, which looks a bit like the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars; a kind of asymmetrical shape.
This was kind of cool, but then I discovered a slightly different version of this called the 102, which was a symmetrical version of the 101. This to me is the kind of watch that would be a special vintage piece of the future. It has classical influence, but it’s undeniably modern.
And how did you find one?
I was browsing Bring a Loupe on Hodinkee, and clicked an old link and of course the watch was already sold, but then slap bang in the middle of the page, there’s an advert for Stephen Hallock. I thought again that, this being the internet, it would be sold, but it was available.
Got there just in time…
Yeah, so I didn’t actually know at this point that the 102 model existed with the lugs, so I called Urwerk directly in Geneva and asked them about it. I told them I was an aspiring owner and that a gentleman named Stephen Hallock had one for sale, to which they confirmed that the piece was correct and that if anyone was going to have that watch for sale in America, it would be him.
So, right in the middle of my exams, I’m wasting time phoning around independent watch companies and dealers trying to secure this watch. I called Stephen and we had a really nice conversation and I decided to pull the trigger on buying it.
Amazing, and he just shipped it to you?
In actual fact, it worked out better that I just fly to LA to pick it up, which was a bonus for me because it had been my dream to go to LA for a long time. I meet up with him in a little coffee shop somewhere in the arts district and he pulls this watch out. I fell in love with it, it was the turning point in terms of my collecting and it became quickly clear how much I was going to dive headfirst into it all.
"The other great part about it was that it was number 13 of the edition, which is my lucky number because I’m born on the 13th."
You caught the bug…
Yes, hook, line and sinker. The other great part about it was that it was number 13 of the edition, which is my lucky number because I’m born on the 13th. The whole thing felt like destiny, it was a dream trip, to pick up my dream watch, which happened to be the perfect number for me.
And it’s quite amazing that you were just able to call the brand directly like that; not something most brands will do…
Yeah, absolutely. It’s kind of the least Urwerk Urwerk if that makes sense, but it was the beginning of everything where their brand’s visual identity is concerned. It was their first satellite movement with the two discs, which they ultimately ventured into three and four disc versions.
The nice thing about it is that it’s handmade in Martin Frei’s garage, literally. I’m lucky to have become friendly with those guys because I really look up to them and admire what they do.
Definitely, these kind of independent watchmakers are true genius’…
I first met them in Basel and I just walked up to them and said, “Hey guys, look what I have.”
[Laughs] How did they react?
They both said, “No way,” and started talking about how it was made. I actually noticed something to do with the polishing that they were surprised and a little embarrassed that I had noticed, because it was effectively a production flaw. I kind of love it all the more for these kinds of details though.
Did you ever visit their manufacture?
I did, and it was great to see how they create things. Owning this watch is like owning a small piece of their history. It’s one of the first 15 pieces they ever made, and to be able to sit with the creators and have a conversation about that is just magical to me.