For the third episode of our series, we’d like to introduce Carlo Biagioli. Those who have been able to meet this man from San Marino in the flesh can call themselves lucky to have experienced a true enfant terrible. He could easily be passed off as a modern dandy, but this man of insatiable interests and endless passion is more than just a well-dressed fellow. Long before the days of social media and worldwide travels booked via the internet, Carlo was already out and about in the most remote places, looking for the unusual. Which has also made him a passionate watch collector. Benvenuto Carlo!
Ciao Carlo! You are a man with a truly unique style. Please tell us about the origins of your many interests – and when did your passion for watches take off?
As a young law student, I worked as a nightclub PR to support myself. I have always been passionate about watches, and with the proceeds of the work in the disco, I started buying the first pieces and reselling them to friends. I bought them abroad, in London in particular, where I spent a lot of time getting in touch with collectors and merchants.
Over the years, I expanded my range of action around the world to Asia. In addition to watches, the Asians are serious hoarders of spare parts for watches, like boxes, bracelets, antique catalogs, advertising material and photographs of watchmaking. Over the years, I have also collected a fair amount of contemporary art, like paintings and sculptures.
Please tell us a little more about your travels and adventures. How do you approach unknown territory?
I am always very curious about the different, the new and sophisticated. I have developed a completely different sense of beauty, compared to the conventional. My beauty is not that of most watch buyers. I am not interested in commercial global marketing operations pushing certain products to acquire financial wealth and status symbol value, that simply isn’t real to me.
My research has always focused on time pieces that have a story – watches that have been in wars, worn by generals, or used by explorers, aviators, divers. Or they were designed by Cassai or other great designers. Or the pieces were revolutionary, frontrunners for innovative technologies which are then employed globally.
For someone whose life is so internationally minded – how do you cope in these times where travel seems difficult, if not impossible?
I believe that it is still possible to travel and exchange experiences through the internet or social networks that allow us to see the existing collections even without physical travel. The world wide web has extended the possibility of participating in auctions all over the world online and whenever I am not practicing as a lawyer, I dedicate part of my time to searching for special objects online. However, I am looking forward to being able to travel freely again and to return to Asia.
Your life appears filled with diverse interests and a devotion to detail and history, from the shoes you’re wearing or your glasses to the armchair in your living room. Nothing about you ever seems trivial. Do you see yourself as a rebel or rather as someone who is simply concerned about consuming too blindly?
I have always made a point of not following trends. I never wanted to run around like Tom, Dick and Harry and simply lead an average life. A prime example for this approach is my Patek Nautilus.
When I bought the watch thirty years ago, no one around me cared, just like with most of the things I am into. Nowadays, this watch has become a mainstream object of desire, not only in Italy but around the world, and everyone would like to have one. Which takes away the fun of the watch. Of course that is silly, considering how much I loved this watch, I even had a custom dial.
Now the watch is in my safe and you can see me wearing a budget lady’s super compressor diver’s watch with exactly the same passion for the Nautilus. I don’t want to sound like a hypocrite – of course I have objects and watches in my collection that have some value. However, monetary value has never been my real interest.
To me, a dented ring I bought for pennies from a random passer-by in India can be worth as much as the most costly watch in my collection, if not more.
Is there one object you particularly care about?
Yes – it’s a lucky charm that consists of many small objects which have accompanied me in different periods of my life and are still united by a single thread. The first object came from the Copacabana, the second from Kathmandu, the third from Naples, the fourth from Calcutta, the fifth from San Marino and the sixth from Sarsina.
We’re delighted that you have decided to offer parts of your private watch collection within our portfolio as a guest curator. Please tell us something about these watches.
We’re starting with the maybe most unique and and special one of the quartet…
The so-called Domino watch made by Asprey, built on a domino tile made of ivory, and the front is ebony. A unique piece, custom made by maybe the most important and influential jeweller on Bond Street in London. One can only imagine how extraordinary it must have been to request such a custom piece back in the 1940s – not only because of the domino base and its materials, but also because of the size of 43 mm. I bought this piece several years ago in an auction, a truly unique piece which made me hunt for similar watches in the years after.
Next up is the Patek 130 Lokalike
The 1930s Movado M90 chronograph features a very similar case to that of the famous Patek 130. It features Movado’s high class M90 movement which was outstanding back at the time – and still is. Details like the snake-shaped hand are just the cherry on top. I bought this watch several years ago at the Parma Fair.
Number three is the golden sparkle
Movado Hermeto Cartier
The Movado Ermeto in 18K gold was a custom, ordered by the prestigious Cartier jewelry who requested it to be customized with their logo. A real time capsule that has stood the test of time for one hundred years without any trace. It has a breathtaking charisma which is even more impressive in real life than you can already guess from the photo. Next to the condition and charisma, this watch amazes with the ability to wind it up by simply closing and opening its case – a revolutionary technology at the time that is still impressive today due to its constant functionality. The watch comes from an important Italian collection.
Last and by far not by least of the quartet features Honeycomb vibes
Tudor Honeycomb Ref 7909
A Tudor with a honeycomb showing a beautiful patina, on a Rolex big logo bracelet made for the Indian market. This watch is a prime example of what country-individualized productions stands for. The dial features a very individual and uncommon honeycomb structure. Back then, the big logo clasp jubilee bracelet was something I had never seen before. I bought this watch from a collector in India. It got me digging deeper into the rabbit hole to find out more about these special bracelets.
I was able to meet the owner of the company that produced these bracelets in India for the Indian market under license from Rolex. While he showed me his still operating factory and even the archived paperwork of the correspondence between him and Rolex, I was wearing this watch with a bright smile on my face. A great example of what defines me as a collector.
You can find all unique pieces from his private collection here!
In the following video you can follow Carlo and Bernhard talking about the watches in detail: