The Jewels & Watches department on the second floor of the Brian & Barry Building presents some of the finest watch and jewellery brands, selected to provide a world of sophisticated, accessible luxury. The major player as regards watches is the company GMT Great Masters of Time, which has two boutiques in Milan, with the second on Corso Magenta 11. We spoke to Stefano Cristofori and Mattia Corvo Santini, who have a lot of experience in the world of watches and can therefore offer valuable insights in this area. Our first question was about GMT’s company mission.
Stefano Cristofori: “GMT operates on the Italian market, presenting brands that are not generally found in other stores. We generally select independent, high watchmaking brands that we think represent finest Swiss watchmaking. They may be linked to tradition, such as F. P. Journe, or looking to the future such as MB&F or Ressence. At the Brian & Barry Building, the watches department includes Espace Journe, which presents F.P. Journe to Italian and international customers. We also work with other brands such as Chanel Watches, Bell & Ross, and SevenFriday.”
Gentleman’s Chronicles: In some sectors, such as vinyl records and fountain pens, we are currently seeing a return to products that previously seemed to have substantially disappeared from the market. Is the same thing happening for mechanical watches?
Stefano Cristofori: “In my opinion the Italian market is progressively moving away from mechanical watchmaking, even though these products, like vinyl records, have their own unique character capable of inspiring their owners. As far as I can see, young people today are keener on high-tech products, such as smartwatches or other types of electronic technology.”
Mattia Corvo Santini: “But it is still true to say that if you take care of a mechanical watch, it will still be running after 100 or 200 years, just as is true of a vinyl record. This is very different to a technological object that becomes obsolete after three years. A watch is something that accompanies you for your entire life.”
Gentleman’s Chronicles: Have there been some watchmaking success stories in recent years?
Stefano Cristofori: “Some brands continue to attain excellent results. There are two pilasters in the sector, Patek Philippe and Rolex. But at the other end of the spectrum there is F.P. Journe, a much smaller company making just 900 watches per year, but that has been attaining ever-increasing success over the course of the last two decades. They currently have 10 movements in production, and the company can be considered as a true “manufacture,” in other words a watchmaking concern that makes all components of their watches, movements, cases and dials.”
Mattia Corvo Santini: “One of the interesting features of GMT is that it was founded with the intention of presenting the personalities operating within watchmaking concerns to the general public, and our collaboration with François-Paul Journe is possibly the best example. Many other brands operate without an authoritative personality at the helm. Of course there is a degree of risk when one person has a lot of responsibility, but in the case of Journe, it is important to say that Chanel has acquired part of the company, guaranteeing its long-term survival. This development was welcomed positively by collectors.”
Gentleman’s Chronicles: For someone who is thinking about purchasing a mechanical watch, which could be a good starting-point?
Stefano Cristofori: “It depends on what you are looking for. Considering the brands that we present, Ressence makes some very original mechanical watches. At prices around 15 or 16 thousand euro, they make watches that are totally different from any other brand. They have an orbital display, with indicators that seem to be floating on the surface of the watch, consisting of co-planar discs that revolve around the dial and show the time without any hands.”
Mattia Corvo Santini: “If you are looking to spend less, there is Bell & Ross, which makes accessible, very interesting watches. They have an original design, and they are powered by third-party movements, a feature that lowers the price tag.”
Gentleman’s Chronicles: Today more than ever before, there are many new brands that make cheap mechanical watches using movements made in Asia. It is becoming increasingly difficult for the general public to understand the difference in quality.
Stefano Cristofori: “This is one of the major problems today, caused by insufficient knowledge within our specialist field. It is up to the people who present watches to the public to highlight their factors of value, and an important role is also played by the companies themselves, who are responsible for communicating their brand identity. The value of a watch is not determined so much by the materials of which it is made, but rather by the way in which the movement is crafted and decorated. Kari Voutilainen, whose atelier makes watches with superbly finished movements – products that we present in our store – has told us that even a single component can require 40, 50, even 100 hours of work, dedicated to the finish of a bridge, or for the process of anglage, in other words bevelling the edges of bridges, levers and other components. For this reason, a watch by Voutilainen will have a high price, something that can be understood and accepted by someone familiar with the field. If a customer is new to the world of watches, the difference between a product such as this, and other industrial products in which most of the procedures are performed by machines, has to be explained.”
Gentleman’s Chronicles: Another complicating factor is that you can find mechanical watches dating back to the 1950s or ‘60s on the stalls of antiques markets, at prices of around 50 or 100 euro. Is there a degree of risk in buying vintage watches?
Stefano Cristofori: “Purchasing second-hand watches is always risky. It may be difficult to find spare parts for vintage watches, particularly if they were made by brands no longer in existence. You are likely to spend much more on restoring the watch than buying it.”
Gentleman’s Chronicles: Do you organize events and presentations in order to give your customers the chance of meeting watchmakers?
Stefano Cristofori: “Almost every year we organize an event at the boutique on Corso Magenta or here on the second floor of the Building, or at the lounge bar Terrazza 12, for example with Chaumet or Chanel, or with personalities such as Max Büsser from MB&F, Felix Baumgartner from Urwerk, Kari Voutilainen, or Benoît Mintiens from Ressence.”
Gentleman’s Chronicles: Does the Italian market have its own special characteristics?
Mattia Corvo Santini: “In Italy there is the habit of preferring brands for which resale is easy, above all Rolex. Italian customers like to be sure that they are buying something that they feel can be resold at the same, or even higher, price with respect to the purchase price.”
Stefano Cristofori: “We prefer a more emotive approach to watches. We think that a watch should be purchased and worn, rather than buying a piece as an investment and storing it in a safe in the hope that in 10 years time it will have increased in value. In our opinion, a watch is a personal pleasure, an object that is worth wearing every day of your life, simply because you like it. What’s the point of buying a Ferrari and never driving it, leaving it parked in the garage?”