Interview with John Goldberger

Interview by Carlo Danelon and Umberto Scabin


John Goldberger is considered one of the world’s greatest collectors of vintage watches by many enthusiasts. For us at Libertyclub it was an honour to be able to ask him a few questions about watchmaking and his career as a collector.

Good morning. First of all, thank you for accepting to do this interview with us.

We’d like to start by talking about your passion for watches: could you tell us where it stems from? At what age did you start collecting them?

I started collecting watches when I was eighteen. My parents were art collectors and they attended the various markets of the sector. In the late 1970s my father advised me to buy watches, which were cheap at that time. During the late 70s with the advent of quartz and the resulting crisis in the Swiss watch industry, many used mechanical watches were available on the market at very affordable prices.

What was your first watch as a collector?

A Rolex chronograph, reference 3835, from the thirties, found at an antique dealer’s in Bologna in 1978, paid five hundred thousand lire.

The next question we would like to ask you is a rather broad one. In recent decades, we have witnessed the birth of quartz watches, then of digital ones, then of smartphones and finally of the smartwatch. However, mechanical watches have never stopped being produced and purchased. Why should one choose a mechanical watch today? In your opinion, what is the future of mechanical watchmaking?

I believe that people will always want to wear a complicated movement, handmade in a handcrafted way on their wrists, or in their pockets. An electronic object will still be an electronic object, a watch is a concentration of technology in little space.

Why do people keep wearing custom-made clothes?

Because they love wearing handmade garments and not industrially produced ones.

Picture by Umberto Scabin.

What would you recommend to a boy or a girl who feels fascination for the world of watchmaking and wants to deepen their knowledge about it, perhaps with the aim of creating a collection?

The only thing that can always save you is knowledge: knowledge of those who are going to sell you the watch and knowledge of the object. In the end, you always have to “buy the seller” more than the object.

In your opinion, what is the main difference between vintage watchmaking and the contemporary one? Why did you choose to mainly devote yourself to the study of the former?

I chose to dedicate myself to vintage watchmaking because in it research and study are more fascinating, moreover, it is much rarer than the modern one. In modern watchmaking there is not the challenging “fascination with the journey”, that is, your looking for the object, discovering it, studying it and coming to know it.

What countries are most involved in watch collecting?

The collection of wristwatches was born in Italy, because in the ‘80s the best traders of wristwatches were Italians. Then it developed in Germany, America, Japan and lately in all Eastern countries, which are now playing the leading role.

What is for you the most important aspect in the evaluation of a watch, the aspect that makes you decide to buy it?

When I have to choose between buying a watch or not, I always focus my attention on two aspects in particular: rarity and beauty. By beauty I mean its objective qualities: the proportions of the case, the aesthetics of the dial, the quality of the components, the finishes, the details.

It is undeniable that up to today the majority of watch collectors have been men. Why is it so, in your opinion? Do you expect the number of women in the field of watchmaking to increase in the future?

I hope so: few women collect watches. It is a really male chauvinist context, mainly due to the numerical difference between the traders from the two sexes.

Picture by Umberto Scabin.

What characteristics must a capable collector have?

He must study, study, study.

How has the world of the Internet and social media changed watch collecting?

It has certainly made more information available, given more opportunities to exchange watches around the world. The democracy of the web!

As a collector and the author of some of the most famous books on watchmaking in circulation, what readings would you recommend to those who are experiencing their first approach to the subject?

The best readings to be found on some specialized blogs. I also recommend reading the old auction catalogues and some books.

Which is the watch you are most attached to, which is your favourite model?

I am getting more and more bound to the latest watch I have purchased, to the latest discovery. I am not a fanatic of important watches, I don’t like banal watches.

Do you think there is a parallelism between artistic trends and the world of watchmaking? If you think so, what watches would best represent the Art Nouveau style?

Close-up of the Cartier Cintrée worn by John Goldberger at the time of the interview. (Photo taken by Umberto Scabin)

Yes, I believe there is a link between art and watchmaking. Art Nouveau could be represented by certain pocket watches and by some shape clocks from the turn of the century.

Finally, what are you wearing on your wrist today?

A Cartier Cintrée small model produced in nineteen seventy-one by Cartier London, different from the French one as for its movement, case and dial.

The entire Libertyclub team would like to thank you for your time.

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