When I started to get passionate about the world of watchmaking, thirsty for knowledge, I spent most of my time discovering not only references, movements, stories, but also characters linked to the fascinating world of hands. Among these, a legendary figure that I have always wanted to meet - either for the air of mystery that surrounds him and his deep passion and knowledge - is John Goldberger alias Auro Montanari.

Many of you will associate his name with some of the finest watchmaking books ever written, others will remember him as he nonchalantly opened the back of a Rolex Split-Seconds Chronograph (ref. 4133) - one of twelve specimens in the world - with a cheese knife, during a historic interview for HODINKEE

Auro is above all a true gentleman, as well as one of the largest wristwatch collectors in the world. Gifted with refined taste and great intuition, his collection is the result of an immeasurable passion, combined with an impressive archive and research activity that even leads him to collect books and catalogs from the 70s to today.

We met him on a quiet Emilian day, where Auro welcomed us with a beautiful on his wrist IWC Compass olive green color, ref. 3510, designed 40 years ago by Ferdinand “Butzi” Porsche, which I fell in love with!

MATTEO BEGA

Ritual question, what was your first watch? 

AURUS MONTANARI

My first watch was given to me by my father on the occasion of my first communion. It was a Omega Seamaster Calendar, which was already Vintage because it was produced in 1957, with a steel laminated case. Then came a Hamilton Pulsar "Tiffany" for my 18 years.

After that I started shopping Rolex, Universal Geneve, Movado. I also knew some brands thanks to advertising signs, such as Longines, until my father mentioned a brand I did not know: Patek Philippe.

So I took the car, drove to Geneva and understood what Patek Philippe was. At that time there were no books, so experience was gained in the field. The first watch book came out in 1983/1984 and was WatchTime, American, and then arrived in Italy at “Le ore d'oro” produced by a great dealer and collector. 

MATTEO BEGA

I know you are a great collector of catalogs including a rare book commissioned by JP Morgan ..

AURUS MONTANARI

Of course, to learn and understand what the watches were like, I have a nice collection of catalogs from the 80s onwards. The book you are referring to I bought from an auction house and was commissioned by John Pierpont Morgan, American billionaire banker, who built a very beautiful collection of watches from 1 to 600 and had this catalog drawn up with all the photographs of the hand-colored watches. This is a very rare edition, the first, produced in only 1 copies. 

MATTEO BEGA

Since collecting is a kind of madness, a fire, what is the deeper reason behind the wristwatch?

AURUS MONTANARI

First of all, the watch is the best portable collection. There is no other portable collection. It is also a product that is still sold in stores today. Many collect items that are no longer used, such as postage stamps, while watches are still worn and is basically a small mechanical tool. Once it had a very important function, now it is an object to be exhibited: you look at the time on your smartphone. In addition, it is an object that young people still like ...

MATTEO BEGA

What was your first approach to watchmaking and how did you start to get passionate about it?

AURUS MONTANARI

Quite simply, at 20 I followed my parents, who were art collectors, to various antiques markets and exhibitions around Europe… I was also bored. So my father suggested that I follow wristwatches since, given the crisis linked to the introduction of quartz, many of them could be bought at interesting prices, I'm talking about Rolex, Patek Philippe for a few hundred thousand Lire. We are talking about '78.

MATTEO BEGA

What was the watch market like in those years?

AURUS MONTANARI

At that time, to make you understand, the steel Daytona in the shop cost between 950'000 Lire and 1'100'000 Lire and I the first watch I bought was a Rolex from 1935, chronograph, three counters with deco handles and I paid 500'000 Lire.

Then there were gods SEIKO and BULOVA, which were quite expensive compared to the prices of second-hand watches that were found in the main markets of the time, that of Arezzo and Modena. It was fun and from there I met the first dealers. Although in that period the great collectors collected pocket watches.

Then, in the early 80s, the first catalogs with wristwatches appeared. The first was from Antiquorum. In 1981 a Paul Newman was sold for around 750 Lire, the Patek Philippe 1518 in yellow gold between 8'000'000 Lire and 15'000'000 Lire and then other highly regarded watches were the Rolex Ovetti and Prince. This is because the London market was the main source of supply, thanks to its colonies around the world. Subsequently, the market was "discovered" in America where conventions to buy watches were born ...

MATTEO BEGA

What role did Italy play in the watch market?

Italy has always been a market that has sold many watches. If you go to look at the Rolex and Patek Philippe catalogs from 1930 to 1950, the list of Italian authorized dealers was very long. Historically, Italians have always liked watches, then collecting in Italy was born. Certainly the greatest collectors were Italians but, consequently, also the greatest dealers were Italians. Just think of the first auction house dedicated to watches, Antiquorum, was founded by an Italian. 

MATTEO BEGA

Speaking of auction houses, which auction in particular has changed the world of watchmaking in your opinion?

AURUS MONTANARI

Surely the one held in 1989, on Patek Philippe and organized by Antiquorum, while the Rolex Daytona auction organized by Aurel Bacs in his senior year since Christie's, which changed the perception of Daytona chronographs. The price level went up and it was not an auction that distorted the results, just look at how much they have risen in the following years.

MATTEO BEGA

In addition to looking for and buying them in Italy, have you ever traveled the world in search of watches, perhaps in unlikely places? 

AURUS MONTANARI

I have never looked for watches, not even in exotic places, unlike many other collector friends who have funny anecdotes too. I used to buy them abroad, if there was time, when I was traveling for work. 

MATTEO BEGA

What was the step that slowly led you to develop your own taste and get passionate about Cartier, Longines…?

AURUS MONTANARI

I have always looked at the aesthetic part of the watch, then the mechanical part and the small details such as case, movements, dials. The fundamental step was to have met the traders. At that time the most important had offices in Milan or New York. Then there were the auction houses, even if I always bought very little at auction. 

MATTEO BEGA

The presence of vintage watches is predominant in your collection. Although qualitatively they are in some ways inferior to modern watches, for obvious reasons, what is the factor that makes them so attractive to collectors, including many young people?

AURUS MONTANARI

After all, the vintage watch is unique. It is difficult to find two identical watches. Each has its own nuance on the dial, the quality of the case, the conformation of the indexes. 

Vacheron Constantin steel, ref 4178 with salmon-colored medical dial

MATTEO BEGA

What advice would you give to an enthusiast who would like to start collecting watches? 

AURUS MONTANARI

I would say that there are 5 golden rules to keep in mind:

  1. You buy the seller, not the watch
  2. Buy quality, never compromise
  3. Try to take advantage of all the information you can have on the internet, on blogs, books, auction catalogs 
  4. Always be very humble, never compete with other collectors
  5. Try to learn from everyone

MATTEO BEGA

Among the independent brands, is there any fashion house that you consider interesting both in terms of collection and beauty?

AURUS MONTANARI

I like them very much Philippe Dufour, Laurent Ferrier and some specimens of FP Journe. In the landscape of modern watchmaking, I have to say that I don't see anyone moving into entirely new landscapes. Perhaps Richard Mille, which is the only one who has made its own path in terms of design, choice of materials, well-made movements made by Giulio Papi. I like them very much, the prices a little less ..

MATTEO BEGA

In a recent interview with Wei Koh you opened a giant red Cartier box and literally left me speechless. I love Cartier, either because my career in the sector started right there and also because I love the immortal design of its watches. Why this love for Cartier? What do you like about this maison?

AURUS MONTANARI

Aesthetics, rarity and wearability. At the bottom the Cartier it is a very simple watch, only time, without complications. Although, if I were to find a "complicated" Cartier I would be very happy. Then I like the idea that a person between the 30s and 60s had to go to to buy a Cartier London, Paris, New York or in their offices that they had on the Côte d'Azur.

MATTEO BEGA

Which Cartier of these locations do you prefer?

AURUS MONTANARI

I really like Cartier London, because they are unique compared to others. They very much reflect the historical period of the Swinging London, between '67 and the early '70s.

Cartier Cintrée London, 1969

The three locations were managed by each of the Cartier brothers respectively, but Jacques - in charge of the London office - had decided to differentiate himself from the others with different dials and cases, innovative designs. Think of the hand-painted Cartier London dials, the LeCoultre movements they mounted. Watches produced among other things in very limited quantities ...

MATTEO BEGA

Compared to other brands, think of Rolex and Patek, it is more difficult to access Cartier documents. How do you orient yourself and where is it possible to find authoritative sources?

AURUS MONTANARI

Fun is just that. There are few collectors or dealers who know the subject well. The experience and having talked to those few people who know the history of Cartier, has allowed me to move more easily.

MATTEO BEGA

Do you think there are still brands with unexpressed potential and that have not yet reached the figures they deserve?

AURUS MONTANARI

I think everything has already been discovered: the Speedmasters, the Longines, the Movadoes, even chronographs with brands unknown to most. The only slightly depressed ones on the market are pocket watches and it may even be that in the future a young person will have a smartwatch on his wrist and if he wants a complicated object, maybe he will have in his pocket a minute repeater, split-seconds pocket watch ... to have to touch an object of over a century, with complications without spending exorbitant amounts. It being understood that the collection to be exhibited is always the wristwatch.

Cartier chronograph, dual time and complete “digital” linear calendar, Paris 1925

MATTEO BEGA

Your latest book "Time to Race" written with Cesare Maria Mannucci has just come out. Tell us about this book that I think will make a large part of watch lovers happy because, you know, very often those who love watches also love cars - especially vintage cars - and vice versa .. How did the idea of ​​giving life to this come about? project and what are the topics covered?

AURUS MONTANARI

With Cesare Maria we are friends as kids. We were both passionate about motors, but he was able to turn his passion into a profession, while I thought about collecting watches. He worked for many years at Autosprint and every now and then we met in various airports around the world, promising us several times to make a book that would put cars and watches together. Until a year and a half ago we met, we pooled our knowledge and in almost 7 months we made the book.

The Preface was written by Piero Ferrari, son of the great Enzo, also a collector of watches and da Tk Mak important collector of super cars and watches from Hong Kong. The book is divided into 5 chapters dedicated to Drivers, Managers, Formula 1 and Constructors. Watch manufacturers, timekeepers, circuits, a chapter dedicated only to Ferrari and Porsche.

MATTEO BEGA

How did you manage to find the material?

AURUS MONTANARI

I already had a database with historical photos of pilots with watches on their wrists, while Cesare Maria knew the pilots themselves, or their heirs. We have managed in many cases to find the original watches worn by the pilots, where it was not possible we tried to insert the exact same model photographed on the pilot's wrist.

I am already working on the second volume. We have already found 40 characters, different drivers, focusing on the 50s, 60s and 70s, the golden age of Formula 1.

MATTEO BEGA

Allow me a consideration. After all these years in the world of watchmaking, many would consider themselves already arrived for much less. It's nice to see a person who is still very thirsty for knowledge!

AURUS MONTANARI

Watchmaking fills my days. Then, editing books, I deal with topics that I would not have addressed and I enjoy seeing watches, looking at them. I have been slowing down shopping a lot lately, so I really enjoy seeing other people's watches: looking at them, opening them, photographing them… so I satisfy my hunger for watches. 

MATTEO BEGA

What are your next projects? Despite your large collection made up of unique, rarities, do you still have a 'dream in the drawer'?

AURUS MONTANARI

I have many dreams in the drawer. They are very particular watches, of the "unicorns", like the Hamilton that they have made in a few specimens, made for the film "A Space Odyssey". Or a Cartier I saw photographed in old books Cartier de Cartier, which belonged to Pasha of Marrakech, rectangular in shape, with all green, blue enamels and Arabic designs. Items that have been auctioned and never seen again..

Among the projects certainly "Time to Race"Part 2, and the book is in progress"Time to Wear”With my friend Alessandro Squarzi, dedicated to his collection of vintage watches and clothes. Another book that I am making is "100 Superlative Rolex WatchesPart 2, which is nearing completion.

To find out more, visit the Auro website Montanari clicking here