Marking time by collecting it
“The sky’s the limit with some of our affluent collectors,” says Roberto Chiappelloni, 63, owner of Greenwich’s Manfredi Jewels. “Collecting timepieces is a passion: it has a way of taking over your interests. And that can be expensive, really, or inexpensive.”
In Fairfield County, Greenwich Avenue’s Manfredi, along with Betteridge Jewelers, and Lux, Bond & Green, are meccas for those seeking the most exquisite watches and timepieces. From all that local insiders choose to tell, most collectors are wise enough to know the brands, some of which are more esoteric — such as the maddening beauties of Franck Muller or Patek Philippe — to the more immediately recognizably Rolex, Hermés, Cartier and OMEGA.
But more importantly, only they can tell you why they collect or buy specific watches.
“The majority of my clients, or collectors, who are deep into a brand or specific watch, understand why they like them,” Chiappelloni says. “There are those who own 500-600, and even 700 watches, on my client list.”
So, from those in the know, who shall remain anonymous, specific collecting reasons can range from the standard “I like getting compliments on my wristwatches," to a fine understanding of movement and horological intricacies. Some cite the the monetary increase in value of a timepiece over time, or, more interestingly, collecting in order to squirrel wealth as an income shelter for…certain situations, say, evading a pre-nuptial agreement.
Others just like to spend money on a fine timepiece, within a set amount, within a set period of time each year. It’s no secret, but it bears repeating that you can find comparable collecting passions in rare books, art, cars, instruments, all the way to, say, comic books, pottery and ephemera.
This may sound eccentric or esoteric, but there are no hard-and-fast rules, in value or appeal. For example, Chiappeloni points out the exquisite works of Laurent Ferrier, whose website lists the founder’s guiding principle: “I nurtured a dream of making watches that represent my horological values: simplicity, precision and pure, uncluttered beauty.”
These beauts usually start at $50,000 for a three-hand watch with a leather strap, and Manfredi is their ONLY licensed dealer in the United States and Canada. So: hour, minute and second hands on an exquisite face with a leather band. Thus, “uncluttered beauty.”
“It’s the look, the function of a watch,” Chiappelloni says. “Some will be interested in a particular chiming mechanism, with a little man who comes out, say, in a chronograph. But then, you will also have someone who simply collects and buys OMEGA, and they don’t have to be in the thousands of dollars range. But all are fascinated or intrigued by different aspects that brings these together.”
Listening to Chiappelloni discuss his own favorite watch means hearing a collector’s enchantment mingle with the pinpoint knowledge of a true connoisseur.
“I have watches from 30 or 40 years ago,” he says. “My most expensive is $40,000. I bought it years ago, a vintage watch, with a perpetual calendar: It is a mechanical wonder that tells the time, date, day, month, and adjusts for leap years. And it will remain accurate until the year 2100. It is just a marvel to see all of these wheels and wonders performing these functions. Remember: collecting, you know, this is not new. People have been doing it for decades, for centuries.”
With regard to what to buy, and why, however, Chiappelloni is discreet and very precise.
“Brands that people collect have managed to convince people that they create a worthwhile timepiece,” he says. “I never pass judgment. I love when they come in, and we can talk watches until we go home.”
As a sign of the love he has encountered, Chiappelloni cites timepieces’ heirloom quality, and the care clients exhibit for watches they take to his shop.
“We get people,” he says, “People who bring in watches that have four generations of engravings on them for repair. These have been in their family for that long, and they require care to maintain, and they care for them, and we will repair them in the shop and they will keep going.”
When I had the privilege of speaking with him, Chiappelloni was, interestingly, travelling to Switzerland the following day for an event.
Hopefully, he said, he would be “returning…with more beautiful timepieces.”
Lux, Bond & Green; lbgreen.com
Betteridge Jewelers; betteridge.com