While most watch collectors are discreet about their holdings, Sandro Fratini presides over a collection so large and impressive, there’s little point in trying to hide it.
Instead, the entrepreneur and scion of the Italian family behind Rifle, one of Europe’s oldest and best-known premium denim brands, has enshrined about a third of his collection of more than 2,000 mechanical wristwatches in My Time, a 688-page coffee table book published earlier this month in collaboration with Christie’s.
“I never wear my watches because for me, it’s not necessary to show other people,” Fratini says. “For this reason, I decided to get with Christie’s to make a book together to show only a part of my collection to other people. I am very happy for this.”
Fratini pointed out that the pages of the book are denim blue, a tribute to the jeans company his father Giulio and uncle Fiorenzo founded in 1958.
“When I was 25, 27, 30, I didn’t have money to buy watches, and my father helped me,” he says. “He died 25 years ago. This book is for him.”
Fratini recently spoke to Robb Report about his life-long love affair with watches, the advice he’d give to new collectors and, if push came to shove, which of the 2,000-plus pieces in his collection he’d single out as his favourite.
How did you get started in watch collecting?
I began when I was 9 years old. For my first Holy Communion, the father of my father gave me a watch. It wasn’t gold. Nothing important. It was a Longines. For me, the movement was something extraordinary. I fell in love with it. And after, my grandmother bought me some watches—of course for a boy, nothing important. When I was 20 years old, I began to buy. This was the beginning of my love story. I am not a collector, I am only a lover.
How did you build your collection over the years?
This has been possible because when I began, I was alone—nobody wanted watches. Forty years ago, it was not like now when everyone wants a watch. In that period, it was the ’70s with the quartz movements, precise and modern, so the old watches were not so important for the people.
In this way, when I went on my journey, in America, Brazil or Hong Kong, for instance, I always looked for watches in my free time. I bought everything: dials, movements, old watches. Now it’s impossible because this category is no more, not like when I went around the world.
I buy only what I like. My favourites are of course Patek [Philippe] and Rolex. But I love also Audemars Piguet, Vacheron Constantin, Cartier. Every watch that speaks to me, never mind if it’s expensive or not, a famous brand or not, the only thing is that I must like it.
What is your advice to novice collectors?
Don’t follow the market. Follow your heart. I think the market today wants only watches in mint condition, perfect, but I don’t like those kinds of watches because watches must show their age. The watches I love are 100 years, 80 years, 50 years old. I don’t like watches with the case polished, dial washed—no, they must show their life. That’s very important to me.
What pieces would you never consider and why?
I don’t buy pocket watches because my collection is only wristwatches. I like pocket watches—they are beautiful watches—but for now I only concentrate on wristwatches. There is no brand I cannot buy. Because when I hold in my hand a watch, it speaks to me. It must like me. (I am very strange like that.)
For me, the price—never mind. If my watch costs £1 or £1 million, never mind. I don’t sell them. For me, the value is in the heart, not the money. Of course, if I know they cost a lot of money now, I am very happy. But it’s not necessary.
We know you like vintage watches to look the part, but what are your thoughts on restoration?
If a watch has been restored, if the restoration has been good, for me, it could be okay, but I prefer the condition it was before. I can accept it, for instance, for the movement.
Which models do you consider to be the most important new watches for 2018?
I am a lover of vintage watches, but I like the Rolex Daytona, for instance. I like very much the Daytona with rainbow full pavé in pink gold. I like very much Audemars Piguet, especially the Royal Oak in any form, any dial.
What are you on the hunt for now?
I miss something in my collection, but I don’t know what it could be. Now it’s very difficult to find something exciting for me. Every day, I hope to find something new. But this year, no. Every year, it’s always more difficult to find.
And if you had to choose a favorite…?
Of course, I love every watch. But if I had to choose one, I tell you it is the Patek Philippe, round, yellow gold, black dial, made for [the Caracas retailer] Serpico y Laino in the 1940s. This is my favourite because I never saw another equal.