Sandro Fratini

“Collecting is the wrong word. I don’t collect, I love. I’ve never bought my watches to collect them, but to love them. Everything I’ve found, I’ve found because I was driven by the desire to possess and the pleasure of having, looking at, touching a watch. I never called myself a collector, but a lover. My relationship with watches is a love story that lasts a lifetime: I love them now just as much as the first encounter”.

Sandro Fratini cannot be clearer in describing what it means for him to own a watch. He’s one of the world’s most important collectors, sorry… lovers, as well as great connoisseur of the subject. A former textile entrepreneur and now a hotelier, he has a vast collection, even if he has no idea how big it is or the total worth: “I’ve never counted the watches I own. I’d say around two thousand pieces but I don’t know the exact number or value: after all, love is priceless”. The word love is here once more. A love that, for Fratini, has early roots: “It struck me as a child, at my first communion, when I was given a watch by a relative, a mixed-metal Longines not worth that much. But its wheel train ignited a spark, just like love at first sight. It was the first encounter with a watch, which was followed by others mainly thanks to my grandmother who bought them for me: simple watches but for me beautiful, the most beautiful I had in my life”.

So, how long has this love lasted?

For about sixty years, during which there have been no ups and downs but only highs. At the beginning there was the enthusiasm to find the watches in an adventurous way and this gave me immense satisfaction. Then, with the advent of the Internet, the way of looking for them changed, fewer and fewer discoveries are made: nowadays there are rather rare.

Can you give an example of such “adventures”?

I was in Havana, I don’t remember the year, and I had been told that a lady had a chronograph she wanted to sell; we didn’t know if it was gold, steel, what brand… nothing. The watch had belonged to her husband, shot under Fidel Castro’s regime; well, when I visited the lady, she got a biscuit tin and took out the timepiece: it was a Patek Philippe with round buttons in pink gold with pink dial. A genuine shock: I was so excited I gave her twice the asking price. I look back on that day with great pleasure, because it’s those moments that get the heart racing. That’s what I’m mainly referring to when I talk about love story.

Who are your lovers?

I’ve always gone after what I liked, Rolex, Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, Cartier, just to say the first names that come to mind. But also Eberhard, Ulysse Nardin, Universal Genève. These last few were actually just what I could afford and that I was trying to acquire at the start of my story, because I had to watch my spending; they were the hard core of what I was looking for, which I found at really affordable prices.

As with all relationships, have there been any painful break-ups?

Until a few years ago I’d never sold one of my watches, what I did was exchanging them; when I found one of the same model in better condition or with a more attractive dial, I exchanged it. Actually, though, I’ve been selling a few lately, mostly modern watches, from the ’70s onwards.

Is the love passed on?

Yes. My son Giulio also loves watches, especially modern ones.

Did being born and living in Tuscany, in Florence, a land of beauty and watchmaking tradition, give you an extra gear?

I have a strong bond with Tuscany. My family comes from Campi Bisenzio, I’m proud to call myself Tuscan. Everyone sees Switzerland as the home of watchmaking, but Italy has played its part too, as shown by historical evidence and references over the centuries. Some time ago my dear friend Ugo Pancani, professor of mechanical and electronic watchmaking, reminded me that the first literary quotation of a watch appears in the tenth canto of Paradise, in the Divine Comedy. And then, there is one of the world’s most beautiful antique clocks in the counter-façade of Florence Cathedral. Proof that Italians are not onlookers to the watchmakers.

And, as far as I know, they are among the most important collectors.

Where in the world have you “been hunting”?

I’ve found them in New York, Miami, Rio de Janeiro, Caracas, Buenos Aires and every watch was a discovery. Often when I heard about a watch in one place, no one could tell me which model or reference; I was told “there is a Rolex”, but until I had it in my hands I did not know if it was a “Stelline” or a normal 6084. As it was with the Patek Philippe in Cuba. For me they had a unique value because I was compelled to take them for their beauty, for what they would give me at that moment, while holding them. I didn’t think that they would reach certain values, I did it out of love.

Is romance still alive when looking for a watch?

I want to think so, because so much would be lost were this romantic aspect of the object taken away: it’s what excites one the most as it’s the result of chance and many factors that lead one to discovering something unexpected. It’s the surprise that gives such tremendous pleasure and satisfaction when one’s hunt can be crowned with success.

What are you wearing today?

The first watch I bought with my own money, when I was eighteen and it cost me 400,000 lire. It’s a gold-plated Rolex with a rather eye-catching brown dial.

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