In the world of vintage watch collecting and dealing, there is a Sicilian man who all dealers and collectors alike have only positive things to say about: Roberto Randazzo – known as “Jatucka” to his friends. His knowledge is unquestionable and he is a renowned expert on a vast array of horological subjects including military watches, early Omega pieces, vintage Rolex and important chronographs. He has recently opened a new two-floor shop on South Molton Street in Mayfair, a space in the traditional Italian style of office-cum-showroom, but with the additional element of a private lounge to host clients, collector get-togethers and friends for a coffee, a glass of wine and a bite to eat. But where did this passion for watches and pure, customer-focused watch dealing come from? I caught up with Randazzo at his new space, VWC by Jatucka, to find out more.
“I started to love watches from a very early age,” he said. “My first serious watch was an Omega Speedmaster – I mean, what is there not to love about the watch worn by astronauts? But even before I owned that watch, I had owned some Seikos, including a very cool Bullhead, and a number of Casios and Pulsars. My very first watch as a child was a Mickey Mouse watch that my father bought back from New York.”
And so the passion for watches was born and a lifetime of research and acquisition of deep-level knowledge began. A well-known and highly regarded moderator on some of the biggest watch forums, he became known for his masterful insight, straight-talking, honest replies and accurate appraisal of vintage pieces – often with annotated pictures from his archives.
“There are so many areas of vintage watches that I care very deeply about and have spent many hours researching,” he added. “To truly understand vintage watches you have to immerse yourself in them — read about them, hold them, inspect them and disassemble them. You can’t learn all that you need to know by doing a Google search!”
If pushed to name his favourite models, can he narrow it down to a couple? “I love the Speedmaster. Omega created so many important versions of this watch and often with very subtle changes. The Rolex Daytona is also an iconic watch and whilst it has become somewhat hyped over the past few years, it has always been an important reference for scholars and dealers in my country.” It is often said that the Italians invented watch collecting and it is true that there is a strong representation of Italians in the upper echelons of the vintage watch world. Randazzo is one such esteemed authority and is often approached by auction houses and high-profile dealers to give important pieces his seal of approval. “I always want to help where I can. What good is knowledge if you can’t share it?”
Falling for Omega
With so many watches passing through his hands, surely each day sees a different timepiece adorning the barbed-wire tattooed wrist that has for so many years played a starring role on Instagram? “Let me tell you about my watch. In around 2012, I was at the Parma watch fair and I took a steel Omega dress watch in trade against another watch. My intention was to resell it immediately. I put it on to wear for dinner that night and the strangest thing happened… I totally and utterly fell in love with it. And until this month, I have worn it every day since. On my trips to the fairs in New York, Hong Kong, Parma and my holidays. It’s a large size steel Omega dress watch reference 2505-15, in a beautiful and elegant 38mm case. I have now become well-known for selling these very rare watches. I took 25 of them to Parma this year, which made the stand look amazing but it took me eight or nine months to find them all.”
I’m interested in Randazzo’s views on the current market. The current prices of watches are, according to many, unsustainable and making it hard for new collectors to enter the market. Where does he believe the market is heading? “The market changes every week, so it’s impossible for me – or any other person – to know where all this is heading. What I do know is that now and forever more, it’s important that people buy the best quality and the most honest example they can. And the responsibility for this lies with the dealers. Having 100,000 followers on social media doesn’t make you an expert. I will never make up a story about a watch and I feel that buyers have been brainwashed into having to know the watch’s history and believing that it’s an original owner piece in all-original condition.
“Of course, original-owner watches in perfect condition do surface and when they do it is fabulous, but it happens rarely. However, often they can’t remember whether or not they had the watch serviced 30 or 40 years previously and whether or not parts were replaced. These owners rarely have the collectors’ mind set. It’s the dealers’ responsibility to represent these pieces to their clients, which requires trust that has to be built. I have heard too many original-owner stories based on essentially nothing.”
A Hidden Gem
One question I have to ask is about the most memorable discovery of his career. Without pause, he immediately begins telling me about a very special Breguet dive watch that he discovered. “I bought the watch and really felt that it was special. I began researching Breguet dive watches and was initially a little bemused that there was no information anywhere on this watch. Having exhausted my archives, books and the internet and having shared pictures with friends, I realised that I had one of two things — something incredibly rare or a “frankenwatch”. My intuition told me, however, that I had something special. I got in touch with Breguet and eventually sent the watch to them. Quite quickly they got in touch with me to tell me I had a very rare and important dive watch, known as the ref. 1646 made in only 60 pieces. I received an archive extract signed by Emanuel Breguet — I was ecstatic!”
My immediate response was to suggest that these watches should be known as the Breguet Jatucka. “My friend, this watch is rare enough, it doesn’t need to be given a nickname to make it special. This has become a real issue in the watch world for me. There are so many special and great watches out there for collectors to buy and enjoy, including new and exciting discoveries. But buyers get swept along with current crazes or the latest must-have watch and miss the whole point of collecting: the passion for beautiful timepieces. Giving a watch a nickname doesn’t make it rare or important.”
So, what does make a watch beautiful to him? “Quality is key, but it’s a concept that is totally misunderstood. Instagram is full of self-proclaimed experts who tell people that they must chase perfect, ‘time machine’ watches. Really? Truly perfect vintage watches are so rare and appear very rarely. I believe this is maybe pushing people to refinish watches and rework them to try and fit into that mould. Either that or somebody actually invented a time machine. This is terrible for the market. Of course, if you are buying a very common reference then you should look for the very best example out of the many that are out there. But with super-rare pieces, high quality doesn’t mean it has to be really minty. The quality of the piece can be in its rarity. Too often I see amazing rare pieces being dismissed because they’re not ‘unpolished’ or there is a small mark on the dial. It’s crazy and moreover should raise more questions about originality of all these supposed time-machine watches. Quality is relative.”
Phoning It In
It is true that Instagram has turned almost all collectors into quasi-dealers, but is this such a bad thing? “Yes, it’s dangerous. You can’t tell the true quality from one picture on your phone and often when you look deeper, you will unearth all kinds of problems. It’s important to ‘buy the seller’ of course, but there is no substitute for doing your own homework and really understanding the watches you wish to pursue.”
So, what can a client of VWC by Jatucka expect? “Here at South Molton Street, we have built a beautiful space where we can socialise, discuss watches and learn more about our shared passion. My main room is deliberately divided in two: one half to relax and discuss watches and the other to discuss a deal or inspect watches properly. But there is no hard sell here — if I sell a watch, then that is a bonus. But I am adamant that I will stand behind every single piece I sell. Each client gets a lifetime guarantee of authenticity with their watch and post-sale assistance with any issues that arise. When you need your beloved timepiece to be serviced, I will give you a service watch to wear. And every piece I sell is accompanied by high-resolution images of the watch. This is my Jatucka guarantee.”
Photography is another passion, as highlighted in the stunning pictures on his website and Instagram feeds. “Well, my collaborator Luca Garbati does the watch pictures for the website and he is amazing. I have been collecting cameras for many years and at one point I had a collection exceeding 300 important pieces. I now am focused on collecting cameras that were owned by important photographers and try to buy them with a signed print or book of their work. Quite a few of these guys have become good friends of mine.”
With that he takes another drag on his signature vaping device and takes a call from an important Italian client. And so the self-proclaimed black sheep of the watch-dealing community goes into one of his inimitable passion-fuelled discussions about a watch that will be perfect for his client. And I know for sure that the client will love the watch. In this world of Insta-dealers and buy-high, sell-high days, Randazzo is a breath of fresh air. A true horological scholar, whose main concern is to ensure his clients are happy and getting the best example of whatever they are chasing: this is what makes him the dealers’ dealer.