This is the first sentence a machine said to us non-machines. The following article is not your conventional report. The pictures are not perfect, the lighting is at times a little off, the focus is not always on point, but neither is life. I have grown to love the unpredictable nature of film photography. When I decide to press the trigger, I am physically exposing light onto a special film giving birth to what you see here. I am attracted by the realness of it. I do not know what’s going to come out and there ain’t no second chances. And to me that is so much more special than any perfectly taken and edited picture seen online. There are already enough people and blogs doing that, and I thought it’d be cool to do something different, something a tad more real.
‘Il Mercante in Fiera’ might just be the mothership of all vintage fairs. The event attracted over 60k people for this spring edition alone. You can really find anything you want, from American hand-wound petrol pumps to 1900’s LV trunks, the vintage world is at your fingertips. It is no surprise that the lead up walk to paddock number 6 was the ideal mood setter to dealing with such items in all their detailing and glory. So before we talk watches here’s a little something to get you in that same framework.
I have always had an attraction to vintage stuff. I surround myself with it. I listen to vinyls, I wear vintage clothes, I will (someday) drive a vintage car, my bicycle is from the 70’s. It is crazy to think I sometimes pay more for a vintage tee as opposed to a new one. My friend once said it made no sense to him. I got him to touch the old, used fabric and compare it to his newly bought tshirt. With no prior textile knowledge he understood how superior that fabric was even 30 years later. He hasn’t complained about me buying vintage since.
When exploring the intricate world of luxury, a dear friend, Max Bernardini, sums it up perfectly: “luxury today is a celebration of a life that doesn’t exist anymore” and honestly walking down those aisles in Parma that sentence really resonated in me. He also emphasises the importance of “not how [these objects] were made, but rather the clients for whom they were made for.” Have a look at those vintage LV trunks with beautifully embossed initials, it’s about their history.
Collecting has really become an art today. I mean collectors are almost more important than the pieces they own, as crazy as that sounds. But then again it makes sense. Because honestly, we are are all so privileged (and thank you Higher Being for I am so eternally grateful) that we can afford to spend our life surrounded by all this beautiful art, so in the end it’s not always a matter of purchasing power but rather taste.
The most interesting collectors I have had the opportunity to meet are those who buy what the market is yet to understand. I guess it boils down to vision and a deeper intrinsic understanding of an object – and that is something you can’t buy.
Here we are, Paddock 6. Time to fly
When you pick up a watch, any vintage watch, you are immediately confronted with a mixture of design, machinery, history, quality and ageing. I’ve laid out my attraction to the vintage world. Yet nothing for me compares in terms of feelings to timepieces; you see a watch is something of extraordinary power, it has managed to capture humanity’s scarcest resource, and that is time.
Take for instance a tropical sub, it might be scuffed and used yet somehow the price is directly proportional to the ageing that dial has had. And that is because the journey that watch has had before lying behind a showcase glass in the middle of Reggio Emilia’s countryside was in fact a real journey. It has spent countless hours exposed to the sun and sea, it has visited the abyss as a loyal tool to its owner, banged against the side of the boat on the way to the diving spot, etc. It has lived those 40 odd years. That ageing is what you buy. And that is Real.
To no one’s surprise will I affirm that Rolex was the number one brand seen at the show. It’s desire and ease in reselling makes it the most liquid watch in the world. I would not be surprised if in a few years it’ll be traded in the Forex market under the bracket of alternative currencies. From the latest to the oldest models, anything you could possibly desire you will be granted the possibility to buy there and then.
In terms of mass produced output, quality of manufacture and obnoxious detailing over models, there is so much for the collector that I feel this position to be justified. Feeling-wise, Rolex has a solidity, reliability and general wearability that it becomes hard to find a brand that can compare, which explains why most vendor’s showcases were Rolex dominated.
If I ever were to find a portal gun that could open an interdimensional door to Plato’s realm of perfect form I’m convinced the ideal, pure, chrono, diver and simple time only watches would all be quite close to what Rolex has managed to produce. Bear in mind this is all coming from a guy who doesn’t even collect Rolex.
One type of watch I have been sceptical of till lately, and am growing to love and appreciate more and more, is Bling. I find gems and precious stones so special, I mean they are none less than mother nature’s art and when mixed with the talent of stone cutting and setting it goes to further amplify the often hard to draw line between horology and jewellery. I have to admit, Rolex really does know how to set stones. It’s growing on me. And when they are beautiful, they really are. And not just rolexes. Bling has its appeal, if done right.
On a similar market cap level to Rolex but maybe a twentieth of the numbers is of course the other market leader: Patek Phillipe. Once again, the position they maintain in the market is totally legitimized and one they have worked very hard to achieve. This is a brand that in the ’50s was producing less than 1000 watches annually, so when you pick one up, you sure as hell know they made it with a certain criteria and method very few manufacturers can boast to have. I was very happy to see less quantity but higher quality pieces overall.
What I love about such fairs like Parma is the ability to have hands on experience with some top notch pieces. As much as you can study watches from websites and books, it’s on-hand experience that will ultimately give you that extra sensitivity and sixth-sense.
As opposed to other more commercial watch fairs, the vibe and the audience Parma attracts is fantastic. I was lucky to visit on the pre-opening Friday and must say, all the big players were there; from top dealers to some very well known collectors. It is more of a social gathering than just looking at watches in showcases. You float from stand to stand meeting and seeing all these crazy enthusiasts, it’s fantastic, I absolutely love it. I must note that some of the most interesting pieces I saw were indeed, proudly strapped to their respective owner’s wrist.
One dealer I have grown particularly fond to is also one of the first I have ever bought a watch from; Fabrizio Caso from CasoWatches (IG: @Casowatches) . You can see here below one of his timepieces posing on the cover of Pucci Papaleo’s MICRO Vacheron Book made in collaboration with Roberto Caso, Fabrizio’s brother. I will add that in a visit to Pucci’s studio in Rome I had the opportunity to flick through the MACRO version of this publication and despite it will set you back a mere 15k, this colossal, entirely hand printed work of art was an experience in itself, that only Pucci could have pulled off.
It’s great to see a dealer contribute so artistically to the knowledge of the horological community. Here below, a selection of some of his showcased timepieces.
I was also very lucky to lay my hands on the complimentary edition of the upcoming #FERO project, a fantastic collaboration of prominent collectors, @paologobbi and Pucci Papaleo, which seeks to document the most beautiful and historically important steel chronos out there. Really looking forward to see this finally done!
I love every watch. It doesn’t matter whether it be steel, chrome, gold plated, rose, platinum or titanium. I have grown to love and appreciate everything. Of course I don’t buy everything. I saw a lot of awesome pieces in Parma (check my IG @mr.a for an ultra-brief wrap-up). I was very happy to see a nice selection of some of my favourite lower-key brands such as Universal Geneve, Eberhard, Heuer etc. From the last edition it seemed dealers had refined their selection, less pieces but higher quality.
A feeling I got however was that watches are getting scarce. Ask any dealer who has been doing this for a lifetime and they’ll tell you tales of “back then it was totally different” and it is no surprise. There are more collectors who buy to keep than those who buy to resell or trade, the number of collectors has also significantly increased, and the vintage watch stock is fixed. Supply is by its very nature designed to keep decreasing and ergo prices rising.
Parma remains a collector’s utopia, with the best dealers and hundreds of top notch watches for sale all in a radius of 50 meters, so please do not be surprised if it’s an expensive dream.
More than ever am I realizing inexperience can really turn out to be a costly lesson. You really ought to know what you are buying. That being said, scouting for under the radar watches is, IMHO, where collecting is at. This is when the disparity between price and value can often be maximised. That really is when most fanatic collectors come out and can strike the best deals. Buying watches ultimately boils down to a game of assymetric information. The dealer may well know more about the provenance of the watch, whose hands it’s been through etc. but the real value is subjective to the buyer not the seller. A dealer might actually not know the value of their first series Universal Geneve Broad arrow Polerouter. Why? Because when’s the last time you’ve seen one hit the auction market? Or any market? But we all know exactly how much a genuine Daytona Paul Newman should be priced at, to the cent.
This is when, for instance, Rolex’s reputation becomes so particularly useful, because every single dealer who is big enough to set up a stand at the shows knows exactly the market value of their watches. If they are asking 20k for a good looking 6542 then you know something is off. Because no rational dealer with a perfect-looking 6542 is kind enough to give you so much value, irrespective of how nice they may well be. Sure if you had bought that 6542, you would probably now own a cool looking watch, which to an untrained eye would look great, yet the dial would be replaced, the lume off-looking and you’d have a replacement bezel. It might even be worth 25k. But is this what high end collecting is about?
It is a crazy environment, but one that works in extreme symbiosis. As an economics and philosophy major, I am deeply curious of the nature of it all. I have come to the conclusion that (with all due respect) the more careless dealers are the reason you end up spending more money for a similar product from your loyal dealer. Let me explain:
Reputation is key in price setting. The maybe not so reputable dealers (with all due respect) with seemingly better prices but on average lower quality watches create a less reliable market environment. This pushes up the level of uncertainty for the buyer. I view the average buyer’s risk profile to be neutral [to justify such seemingly irrational expenses as spending an annual salary on a ticking metal machine, we are also weary of the fact that the price paid for a watch should be close to it’s value and thus you will, ceteris paribus, get most of your money back]. So when uncertainty increases we are also less likely to take on the risk. In order to minimize risk we turn to the only quantifiable measure of certainty: reputation, as this is a good proxy for risk minimization. Theoretically, the higher the reputation the lower the risk. As such, dealers who have worked hard to build up on their reputation can afford to charge premiums over market prices as they offer you a guarantee that others maybe cannot. You are essentially buying certainty.
But of course in real world all this happens implicitly and is rather obvious, yet I thought I’d lay it out theoretically so we can all agree on it – or not! And if this case let’s discuss it!
The show was really fantastic. It broadens your eyes as to what is available on the market, and the people you meet make you always more intrigued in both the pieces and the collector’s rationale behind them.
I was stoked to attend such a fantastic gathering with some notorious and highly specialized collectors. I think these events are so special. It is just pure and borderline insane appreciation for watches. You get to see all these watches you only dream of, you can try them on and can actually realize what it is you really love and need in your collection. For a young collector who is learning the art of collecting it is also a fantastic opportunity to understand what it was that pushed someone to delve into a specific watch or brand.
Overall Parma was a blast. I loved every minute of it. I met some awesome people, got to see some dear friends, and laid my hands on some very special stuff. If you have never been I highly suggest you come, you’ll love it. I hope this article was a little journey into my experience of the show. I also decided, this being my first major article, to really take my time and offer my most sincere, unbiased, fresh to the market view on the crazy watch world we all love so much.
Peace to all,
Thank you to Pucci Papaleo for trusting my photography and ideas and the whole team (Naomi you are an angel and so patient) who supported me a priori, really appreciate it. Thank you to my closest collector friends, who are shaping the collector I am and trust my views, you know who you are. Shoutsout to Nikon for making the perfect camera (vintage F3) and Kodak for still believing in film (all shot on Portra 400).
If anyone is interested…
So the idea behind this article was born over a coffee with Pucci Papaleo and given his love for photography and prints, when he saw me camera and I told him I was going to Parma, we thought it’d be cool to join forces and together with the Team’s ‘not-vintage pics’ – a tiny nod to modernity – offer a photographical insight of the Parma show in a more old fashioned way.
I tried for the most part to ask consensus for the use of my pictures but of course I might have missed someone. I deeply apologize if this causes any inconvenience to anyone and would hope you let me know if that is the case. Furthermore, all the views expressed here are mine and mine only. I did not intend in any way to offend, promote or undermine anyone, but rather offer my pure honest view.