Gabriele Vittozzi, Paolo Spinello and Manuel Vittozzi, the cadre of “I Signori del Tempo”, have been part of the Italian vintage watch market for many years. Located in the center of Milan, they sell, buy, repair and estimate collector’s watches.
I have known them for a long time and I know for a fact that their work is full of interesting and surprising aspects…
1) How difficult is it today to determine and guarantee that a vintage watch is completely or partially authentic?
Today it is not easy to determine the value of a vintage watch, neither as an investment nor as a collector’s item. We are living in a world where everybody can easily find information on the internet
– more or less correct and often confusing
– but you have to be able to analyze this information. This is where the real experts come into play: they are skilled at examining, evaluating and studying all details without neglecting the practical “inspection/test”of the watch. Since my father also repaired watches in his store, I began dealing in“used” watches, as they were once called, almost just for fun in 1979. Later I started to buy and sell watches for fun and passion. I wasn’t able to tell the difference between a Daytona 6263 and 6239, just like a 5513 was the same as a 5512. I just knew that the first were worth 6-700 thousand Lira (about € 350) and the latter 2-250 thousand Lira (about € 125) and that I might earn a million (€ 500) with the one and 4-500 thousand Lira (€ 250) with the other. It sounds absolutely ridiculous today, doesn’t it?
2) What does it take to become a real expert on vintage watches?
I believe it is not enough to gather information on a pc or tablet in order to be an expert. I am convinced that only someone, who has been active in this sector for a long time, and I mean a really long time, can gain handson experience, thus improving practical know-how which also includes making some mistakes and underestimations… Today not many of those who are considered to be a guru of vintage watches have come all this way… no offence to anyone!
After 50 years in the watch world and – even more important – with my father and many other members of my family owning watch stores since the early 1900s, I can doubtlessly call myself an expert on vintage watches. I am able to give an accurate and reliable estimate of every watch that passes through my hands… And what’s more: I take them apart, I repair and I restore them and I know them down to the most minute detail.
3) Which are the brands you are mostly specialized in?
The world of Rolex definitely occupies the largest part of the vintage and second wrist market we are specialized in. This brand has so deservedly opened up a magnificent world of collecting and – with some ups and downs – has generated a lot of interest in the world of horology thanks to technical innovations, futuristic to say the least, and materials with outstanding longevity. We also offer Omega, Patek Philippe, Tudor, IWC, Audemars Piguet, and Longines watches with high quality mechanisms and designs, which make their comebacks depending on fashion trends.
4) Watch collectors have always been very interested in the Italian market; what are the advantages of working in Italy?
I was born in Milan and practically grew up in what was the beginning of a passion for vintage. I had the privilege of witnessing the entire history of watch collecting. The launch of the Swatch watches in the 1980s generated a real boom in the collector’s world. These watches didn’t have anything to do with the classical collectible timepieces and were not a real investment. They were produced for everyday use and made to resist any type of stress, but they did not last long. Swatch watches are characterized by their colors, their limited and top designer editions. But all this enthusiasm was useful to re-launch the interest in precious watches, to get them out of the drawers, dust them off and put them back into circulation, with the result that the Italian market, especially Milan, was and still is one of the most vibrant and interesting marketplacesworldwide.
We, I signori del Tempo, with headquarters right in Milan, in the Navigli– Darsena district, have had the privilege to find, examine and buy most of the watches that now are the object of desire and interest to collectors worldwide.
5) At present the market is in continuous evolution; how do you keep up to date?
In fact, it is more and more difficult to find really original and precious pieces, but fortunately we are not only dealers: we are also collectors – as is the case with Paolo Spinello, member of I Signori del Temposince 2002, founded by Gabriele Vittozzi in 1995. We won’t easily let go of a rare piece, which we found only after a long search and many sacrifices over time. Today we can boast a large number of interesting watches that meet our client’s taste, which varies according to the fashion trend of the moment, and reflect our passion for every beautiful watch, regardless of brand. Of course we shall continue our tireless search for unique examples that fit perfectly into our range of timepieces. One of our strengths is that we have countless spare parts at hand, mainly dials, all of them strictly original and coeval. This enables us to repair and restore even the most precious watch in our own laboratories.
6) Which advice can you give to an aspiring watch collector for the purchase of his first watch?
I would start with this advice: read and inform yourself, in order to choose the right watch, whether sportive, classic or professional. Consider that famous brands –Rolex, Tudor, Omega, Patek Philippe, IWC, Audemars Piguet, Longines – are definitely more expensive, but their well-established brand names, and their exclusive materials and sophisticated mechanisms hold their value better in the future. When purchasing a second wrist watch, the age of the watch is not the only important factor, but it is the combination of age, integrity, condition, authenticity, and coevity of all its components which makes the difference.
The original box and warranty of the watch will also add value, even though they are not a must.
And here is another piece of advice: the beautiful “patina” of a timepiece can significantly increase the value of the item. Time can give a special color and warmth to the dial, thus adding character to the watch and making it unique. A conservative restoration would be perfect, but don’t even think about making it look like new!
You need to know: watch models that were worn by some actor or other famous person are quoted at higher prices. Sean Connery – as James Bond – wore a Rolex Submariner and a Rolex Daytona with a special dial, which was much less appreciated at the time, but today bears the name of Paul Newman (the personal watch of the actor was sold at auction in 2017 for over 15 million Euro).
7) What is your advice to watch collectors, who have been buying watches for years whose value continues to change over time?
Don’t panic: as with all things, there are ups and downs in fashion and “preferences”. Until some years ago our greatest wish might have been a Rolex Date or Air King, whereas today everybody dreams of wearing a Rolex Submariner or a GMT with the red and blue bezel on their wrist. An experienced collector just has to wait: a rare and precious piece might lose some value, but with time it will return to its original value and that’s a fact.
8) What are the secrets for buying the right watch with investment potential?
First of all you need to contact a professional and reliable expert, who is able to recommend you a timepiece; maybe a model that is little known or little advertized and that could turn into a good investment for its special features, its integrity and uniqueness. You must not forget that a vintage watch is also an amazing investment that you can handle, treasure, improve, protect and above all touch and wear… And you will be the main character in this entertaining game of interesting profits.
9) Gabriele and Paolo, how long have you been in this business? What did it mean to you that Manuel (Gabriele’s son) joined your team?
I (Gabriele) followed in the footsteps of my father. As I have already mentioned, I started to work with vintage watches back in 1979. Whereas Paolo, who has been working with me since 2002, comes from a collector’s background, and this makes him the perfect person to look for rare and
unique pieces. My son Manuel has already been working with us over the last few years.
He guarantees a future to our passions and brings the fresh impetus of an enthusiastic and hardworking young person. I often see him working with social media, even late at night. This approach has led us to expand our range of activities to social media and the web and to become better known even abroad.
10) How have social media changed the activities of a “watch dealer” and the world of collectibles in general?
As always, the world of social media and internet has its positive and negative aspects. You just have to know your way around to avoid common mistakes (at this point my son’s “ability to navigate” comes in handy), and rely only on specialized websites with a filter, where there is no room for pseudoexperts.
These media tools enable me, as a dealer, to considerably increase my visibility and reach clients worldwide with just one mouse click. For collectors, they simplify and broaden their search for the object of desire. It goes without saying that the knowledge and the reliability of a dealer are as important as the direct “assessment” of the desired timepiece. We also greatly appreciate the indispensable and precious help of Gino Balbi, nicknamed Ginobi on the internet, and also called Professor for his immense knowledge on vintage watches; he is always available to help us with our researches.
11) For many years you have been working side by side with my family on various Mondani books (Gabriele Vittozzi and Paolo Spinello are co-authors of many books on Rolex): in a world madeof smartphones and tablets, how important is it to receive reliable printed information?
First of all a big thank you to the Mondani family for this exciting on-going cooperation that throughout the years has led to the publication of amazing and precious books, full of details and interesting information. Democracy on the internet has given floor to all and hence opened the world to news and information that are often fake or inaccurate.
It is always a great pleasure to read a book, written by an authoritative and reliable expert, which can also be used as a reference guide or for business purposes. And just how beautiful is a book – dedicated to collectible watches – that invites you to linger over countless images and details, which are often invisible to the naked eye and make these pieces even more desirable.
12) Is there any book on watches, which every collector and aficionado should own?
There are many publications – true bibles – full of detailed information to expand your knowledge, make a decision or do an estimate; most of these books were published by Mondani Editore. If you have to do research, you need specific books on every single model:
Submariner, Daytona, Milgauss, Explorer, GMT or Turn-O-Graph. Together with Gino Balbi we have cooperated on some books and I do admit that sometimes even we refer to them for advice.
13) Which guarantees do you offer a client, who buys directly from you?
Every second wrist timepiece we offer is subject to meticulous inspection and overhaul and is sold with the Signori del Tempo certificate that guarantees the perfect functioning and the authenticity of all pieces. Today, thanks to my son Manuel and the help of Alessandro Colombo Kapsa, a professional photographer who works exclusively for us, we can offer the most important and precious timepieces together with a special customized photography brochure.
14) What kind of guarantees do you offer for repair and overhaul services?
By law there is a 12-month warranty for the correct functioning of a second wrist watch, but being I Signori del Tempo, we are also a customer-friendly and family-run “workshop” and therefore prefer to serve our customers well and offer free assistance for watches purchased from us even years before. With my DNA as Maître Horloger I am always available at my workbench for what I call “First Aid” and I often resolve problems in front of the client without even “admitting” the watch to our own laboratories.
I love to open and if possible repair watches quickly, before the astonished and curious eyes of a client; whether collector, owner of a simple timepiece or dealer in need of an urgent repair, they all come to us. Speaking of dealer colleagues – and I would like to stress this – we often give our advice or opinion and we do appreciate a good job done by others!
I don’t care much about unfounded “destructive criticism,” which is often made just to acquire a client but only spoils the market and frightens the collector.
15) How many watches do you have in stock right now and what brands?
Ah! All of them! And only the most beautiful ones! The most precious ones! Those which are impossible to find! Any brand you like!!!!!!!! Is that enough? hahahaha!
16) Many of my clients and friends come from other countries of Europe and the world. They have all bought from you; can you tell me the reason for your success on the foreign market?
It is true: we are expanding to the foreign market. Our reputation as professional and reliable experts along with our wide range of qualified services, has spread our name. Some kind of word-of-mouth publicity we appreciate a lot as it somehow “certifies” our work. The new communication tools on the internet and social media have certainly helped us a lot to become better known abroad.
17) How would you imagine thevintage watch market in 10 years’ time?
I am convinced that not much will change, if not from an economic point of view. It is such a fascinating world, full of surprises, which is not bound to come to an end and there will always be a rare piece to hunt down. Quite on the contrary: the internet will definitely help to find rare pieces in some remote corner of the world; places that were completely out of reach until only a few years ago and that now are becoming the new generation of marketplaces for collectors (for example Vietnam), who never miss out on a beautiful, precious and rare watch. Getting on a dealer’s waiting list for a unique and sought-after vintage watch, doesn’t automatically mean that it will eventually arrive ….. Indeed, collecting almost becomes a power game.
Those beautiful and rare watches are on the market and that’s it, they won’t be produced anymore: the available pieces will obviously become more and more interesting. We just have to maintain a high level of professionalism, combined with availability and flexibility in order to always remain up to date.