For those who are involved in vintage high-end watchmaking, the name of Alessandro Ciani is more than familiar. Alessandro Alex Ciani approached the world’s high-level trade in the late ’80s, in the beautiful setting of city of Rome, where opulent Yuppies dressed stylishly, driving powerful engines cars and, of course, wearing icon watches stigmatizing their rampant status.
Very young trader at that time, he was part of a group who changed the international vintage watches market between the late Nineties and the early years of this decade.
Since 2011, Alex is permanently living in Los Angeles, where he consolidated the same uncompromising credibility he had in Europe among the most demanding fans and collectors, forging strong business connections with some of the country’s most influential dealers, a small group of internationally known professionals, of which he quickly became a part.
In addition to buying and selling on a daily basis for his business, he shares his knowledge of the rarest watches appeared on the market as a partner in major purchases or consultant for investors or simply for specialized press. While his main focus is about watches, Alessandro likes to surround himself with all kinds of objects of the near and remote past, representing the same lifestyle which, the passion for vintage watches, is a part of: from art to design, from great cars to luxury accessories – Vuitton, Hermes, Goyard -, his gallery is a real “man cave” full of awesome objects in the eyes of every “man of the world”.
His future goal is to expand the boundaries of his own interests and passions embracing and offering customers a wider and richer project of true Lifestyle. Alessandro collaborates with OM for many years now, and we have had several conversations with him on the topics that matter most to us. On this occasion, we ask him some of the most frequent questions in our conversations.
Alex, what do you think the market in this very moment, and what do you expect from its possible future scenarios?
As some of us had predicted for years, or they had simply wanted to believe, the vintage watch market is no longer a phenomenon which is limited to a few small niche markets as in the past, where Italy, Japan, Germany and Great Britain were the only markets of buyers in the ’80s, and now it has literally spread across the world. Social media has greatly facilitated the exchange of information, and today, being able to distinguish a 2499 third series from 4th series (/100) model, or a Rolex Sea-Dweller MKIII from a MKIV, is something within the reach of millions of aficionados.
Unlike the early years, what has really changed is that today watches are recognized as a value at the highest level, nearly like Art. The fact that some wristwatches regularly reach six-digit prices, is not as important as the reason why this happens today: a ’40s Patek Philippe split-seconds chronograph in steel is an object which is universally considered as important as a Picasso for example, that non matter what, even a minor Picasso, will always be an important painting, beyond the fact that its market increases by 20% each year or loses 40% due to a crisis momentum. The value of this market is now recognized at a higher level: according to numbers, it has been a couple of years now, that the volume of the international business around antique, vintage and pre-owned in general, was esteemed $ 40 billion. As for the future, I can’t really make predictions, though for sure I know that starting from here, and though we might expect a drop in prices, the basic parameters have been established.
What are the changes in the international market compared to what you have experiences at the beginning of your journey as a watch dealer? Which kind of watches were sold then? And Where? What about today, instead?
As I just said, the globalization of this market, thanks to social media and the Internet in general, has resulted into a big explosion.
Two things have certainly changed, compared to my early years in this industry: the new big collectors and the lower interest for old watches as today some modern watches are actually much more important than their “ancestors”. In the last two decades of the last century, the countries that had spent most in buying watches between the late Nineteenth century and the first fifty years of the Twentieth century – especially the United States and South America in general – have done nothing but selling, selling, and selling. Extraordinary objects which were bought at exorbitant sums by rich and powerful people of older times, often came on the markets at bargain prices, and a handful of merchants, mainly Italians (I was there!), Germans and Japanese bought watches of all levels of importance for increasingly passionate local customers, and very important watches for a small group of big collectors who were already putting away rare and complicated Rolex and Patek.
Still today, some of the most important watch collections in the world are based in Italy, Switzerland and Germany. After going through an initial price crisis in the late ’80s and early ’90s, with the raise of Internet and to the foresight of a bunch of big merchants and a few open-minded auctioneers, the vintage watches market has gained a completely different visibility and importance. As a result, we have today new collectors, somewhat a little more aggressive than the “barons” of the old guard, though animated by the same passion, who have changed the face of this market. They are located in the United States now (one of the reasons why I moved) and in Asian Southeast, which explains the rapid growth of new young dealers who have been able to learn so much more (in such a little time) than those of my generation.
Everything has changed: twenty years ago, there were dealers who could boast the five most important collectors of their country as their customers, and they were literally influencing the market thanks to this. But today they have to compete with young people who know as much as them (or even more) and who have thousands of important collectors whom to sell to. Add to this the impact of generational turnover of collectors with the passing of time. My first big clients were aged between 40 and 50 in the ’80s. Their reference objects were mainly those representing something very important at the time of their birth, objects that their parents owned, or they would have wanted to own but could not afford. Also the culture for the antiques as an unquestionable value, was very strong at that time, equal to that of real estate. Wristwatches already overwhelmed pocket watches, which were slowly going along with coins and stamps, but more “antique” wristwatches were considered more important: a Rolex Ovetto was a collector’s item by default, more than a Sea Dweller “Qaboos”; a ’20s Patek Philippe chronograph with hinged or tonneau case was far more important than a steel 1463 with Breguet numerals. However, the collector who is between 40 and 50 today, refers to the icons of the ’60s and ’70s. Furthermore, he has grown in a world where an Andy Warhol’s “multiple” has always been much more important than a ’700 Venetian flap, which explains why a 1958 Rolex Milgauss can easily be valued the price of five or six Patek Philippe 130 gold chronographs, only one of which was worth five times a Milgauss, twenty years ago.
In 2015, our market is more attractive than ever and opportunities, the unpredictable changes, the prices keeping rising beyond what we could imagine, make any prediction difficult. The only sure thing is that vintage watches fascinate many people around the world, from small lovers to big investors. Anything can happen.