Auro Montanari, who zealously guards his privacy, gained global renown in 2018 when his vintage Rolex — the only white gold Daytona known to exist — sold for $6 million.
Auro Montanari is clear about what he thinks of contemporary watchmaking. “I do not see any great innovations in the panorama of modern watches. We are in the third millennia, and the Swiss brands still take inspiration from the past,” he says. And then, he adds: “In the 1950s, for example, Omega and Rolex introduced the ‘Tool’ watches. These were very innovative timepieces for that period, without any influences from the 1920s or the 1930s.” But, hold on a second. Who is this gentleman, and why are you being subjected to his views? Auro Montanari is not your usual Panerai/Rolex/AP-sporting braggart with provocative views, mostly borrowed, on horology.
According to the Foundation de la Haute Horlogerie that promotes watchmaking around the world, Montanari “is a true horological scholar and serious collector of the highest order, synonymous with expertise, quality, discretion, and taste”, and a respected US-based luxury magazine once described him as “the world’s most important watch collector”. That is, of course, a good reason for him to be on the pages of this magazine, but there is a topical reason as well. Montanari, who writes under the pen name John Goldberger, is also an author of — among others — 100 Superlative Rolex Watches, Patek Philippe Steel Watches, Longines Legendary Watches, and A Journey into the Deep, which is focused on Rolex dive watches. His latest book, released in June this year, is on the relationship between time and speed, or watchmakers and racers. Time to Race, co-authored with Italian motorsport journalist Cesare Maria Mannucci, takes a fond look at some great racing drivers and car lovers, and of the timepieces, they wore before sponsorship arrived big-time into motorsport. The men who populate the book include F1 world champions and legendary motorsport figures such as Jim Clark, Stirling Moss, Carroll Shelby, and Ayrton Senna as well as tycoons such as the American industrialist and racer Briggs Cunningham.
“Cesare Maria Mannucci wrote about the car manufacturers, tracks, and racers, while I focused on the watches,” says the Bologna-based electronics and telecommunications entrepreneur. Among the watches, and watch lovers that Montanari’s research unearthed include Count Carlo Felice Trossi, the first president of Scuderia Ferrari and a two-time Grand Prix winner who was often seen on the track sporting a custom-made, oversized Patek Philippe chronograph, and Briggs Cunningham and his Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar Moon Phase (ref 1526) and a chronograph with a black dial (ref 1463). Montanari, 62, began collecting watches over four decades ago, and pursued his passion as a student in the United States. Over time, as his collection, which includes Cartiers, especially those made in London, Rolex, pocket watches, vintage digital watches and even watch catalogues, grew, and he became a kind of mythical figure in the watchmaking community. Montanari, who zealously guards his privacy — hence the pseudonym John Goldberger — became known to the wider world when he put his vintage Rolex — the only white gold Daytona known to exist — for sale at an auction in 2018. The watch sold for $6million, and Montanari donated the proceeds to a children’s charity.
Among his most prized possessions is a book on watches commissioned by the American banker JP Morgan. “JP Morgan was one of the biggest watch collectors of his time, and he had several hand-coloured timepieces that were made between 1600 to 1800. He published his ‘Catalogue of the Collection of Watches’ as a gift to his close friends and fellow watch aficionados, and I was lucky enough to snap it up at an auction,” says Montanari. Each time he travels, Montanari takes time out to spend time at watch shops and flea markets, and keeps in touch with auction houses. His golden rules of collecting include keeping it simple and fun, and “buying the seller, not the watch”.
Montanari may not think much of the manufactures of today, but what about the ones who are independent? “Philippe Dufour and Roger Smith have often held my attention. They do some exciting work,” he says. He also feels that Seiko has been doing sterling work for ages. “As a brand, it is undervalued.” Montanari is also a stylish man, and so, it doesn’t come as a surprise that the next book he is working on with Italian designer Alessandro Squarzi will have both vintage clothes and vintage watches. “I met Alessandro Squarzi a few years ago, and I discovered we shared the same passions: vintage watches and vintage clothes. He has amassed a great collection of very interesting watches, and these include different models of Omega Speedmaster, Seamaster, military timepieces, Patek Philippe Nautilus, and Rolex Sport watches. In Time to Wear, I will juxtapose his collection with his work — vintage denim and military-inspired clothing.”