A Casa Con: Auro Montanari (Part 2 - The Aesthete)

A Casa Con: Auro Montanari (Part 2 - The Aesthete)

In part two of a four-part series, we sit down with Auro Montanari, The Aesthete, to learn about his youth, what excites him, his hometown Bologna, and thoughts about collecting and culture.

In part two of a four-part series, we sit down with Auro Montanari, The Aesthete, to learn about his youth, what excites him, his hometown Bologna, and thoughts about collecting and culture.

- By Tiffany To, translated to Traditional Chinese by Jill Chen


We speak with Auro Montanari during this period of confinement to learn what he’s doing, and to discover more about the inimitable multi-hyphenate: whether it be the collector, writer, entrepreneur, scholar, aesthete, and much more. Accompanied by photos taken by Auro himself, this series is divided into four sections: Writing, Living, Learning, and Collecting. 

Today, in part two of a four-part series, we sit down with Auro Montanari, The Aesthete, to learn about his youth, what excites him, his hometown Bologna, and thoughts about collecting and culture.

Where do you live now, Auro?

In Bologna, downtown, in an apartment with my wife and two dogs. I live around the corner from my family house – I bought this place around 30 years ago.

What are you doing these days?

In Bologna here, my company is closed and I stay at home. I’m going through my collection of 2,500 books. I’m trying to make order out of the many photos I took in the 1980s, as well as my vintage watch and auction catalogs. I have so many! I’m cooking a lot as well.

Do you cook yourself? It’s not Francesca who does it?

No, myself! I like to make order in the kitchen as well. I like healthy food. Today, I just made Guacamole and these days, I also make a lot of pasta with fish and vegetables, with a glass of Baron de L or Cloudy Bay for lunch.

I guess at the moment you can’t wear denim and vintage army jackets at home…what do you wear these days?

There are my slippers…I wear these everyday now! A jogging suit [laughs] and cashmere sweaters. Nothing special.

In the next coming months, I can imagine tourists will come to Italy again. What are you favorite places in Bologna?

For watching shopping…there is L'Ora Del Gallo Di Sergio Galletti, Piretti and Bachelite. For my clothes, I buy them in Milano, Rome and U.S.A. - nothing in Bologna. The best flea market for vintage denim and military clothes is at the Piazzola every Friday morning.

For food, one of my preferred places to walk and shop is located downtown at the street market “Quadrilatero”. In terms of restaurants, there is Osteria del Sole, the oldest Osteria in Bologna. All’ Osteria Bottega is great, as well as Cesarina, which is located in the most beautiful square in Bologna. For aperitivo, there is Camera con Vista.

Market scenes in Bologna.

The most stunning place that I like to visit is the complex of the seven churches in Piazza Santo Stefano. There is also the University of Bologna, which is the oldest university in Europe.

Piazza Santo Stefano

How has your background and upbringing influenced your taste and things that excite you?

I come from a family of collectors, though mainly in art, paintings, furniture, ceramics and carpets. I travelled a lot and visited many museums. I did my studies on graphics and design in university.

Apart from Italy, have you lived anywhere else in the past?

I lived in California between 1981 and 1986, in Venice Beach.

(top left) Muscle Beach, Venice in 1981; (bottom left) Hollywood in 1985; (right) Downtown L.A. in 1984. 

I think readers today see you as a near “mythical figure” with an air of mystery. Can you describe your youth and more about your time in California?

Well, it was very simple. In 1981, I decided with my younger brother, who is four years younger than I am, to move and stay in California. I fell in love with it…it was free and simple. It was not very expensive either. I rented an apartment in Venice Beach and I bought a bike. I also bought a 1954 Cadillac Coupé de Ville for 900 dollars. I repainted it, and went around the city. At the time, the airport was very small and the only populated areas were Santa Monica and Hollywood. Los Angeles only came on the map in 1984 with the Olympic games. Now, L.A. is a big city.

Hollywood in 1982

What did you do there?

I was playing basketball, surfing, taking photos and buying watches in the flea market. It was like that [laughs].

Auro in 1982 with his Cadillac Coupé de Ville wearing an Omega Ploprof; (left and right) photos taken by Auro in L.A in the 1980s.  

Where did you find the watches?

There was the Rose Bowl in Pasadena and another small market in Santa Monica. There were pawnshops in Beverly Hills. I found many watches there.

And you would go into the pawn shops and ask them what they had?

Everything was on display on the window, so it was easy in that respect.

So it was more about looking, then talking to the people and convincing them to sell.

Right…in the 1980s, many good watches came out of Hollywood and Beverly Hills. People were getting old and selling pieces. Many great watches came to the auction market from LA. There were important Patek Philippe and Cartier watches made in the 1920s and 1930s that were sold to this region.

L.A. in 1984

What were some of your best discoveries?

In Pasadena at the Rose Bowl in 1982, I found a wonderful stainless steel Rolex bubbleback with a black dial. In 1984, at a pawnshop in Beverly hills I also found an incredible white gold Patek Philippe, reference 3450.

Writer’s note: To the best of our knowledge, the present example is one of only three known examples of reference 3450 cased in white gold. The two known examples that have appeared on the market carry the movement number 1’119’799 and 1’119’729, with the most recent example being sold at the Phillips Hong Kong Watch Auction: ONE, 1 December 2015.

The third known reference 3450 cased in white gold, found at a pawnshop


Changing the topic a bit…what interests you, other than watches? Do you have a period of time that you are most fascinated by?

For me, the best century was the mid 1950s to the mid 1960s. I’m not a big fan of the 1970s style. I like this period for the movies, books, watches, cars…it was great. It was also a period for good furniture and design as well, particularly in Italy and the States. It was the golden era for the lifestyle.

In terms of watches, I particularly like the explosion and invention of the tool watch by Rolex and Omega during this period. They invented watches that had a link to specific purposes such as diving, exploring, aviation and even space. It was very interesting

Outside of watches, you also see the best line of Ferraris during the end of the 1950s and during the 60s. Aston Martin and Jaguar made great cars then as well. It was the best period for the car builders like Pinifarina, Scaglietti, Ghia, Bertone….

Do you find the quality of “older” things better than they are today?

You know, this period was fantastic because it was about quality and simple design. It’s easy to say everything was better before, but it’s important to think about the future. Love the things in the past but move forward. 

For you, what is the relationship between the people of Italy and arts and culture?

It is hard to explain…it’s a great place for arts, for everything. But I don’t believe that every Italian loves Italy. The Italians understand beauty, but not all of them appreciate everything. Maybe Italy is the most beautiful country in the world but not all the Italians appreciate the heritage and culture. The buildings, the museums…not all of these sites have been saved and restored.

Scenes from the Univserity of Bologna

How has the taste of Italians impacted watching collecting?

A lot! When I started, I knew only a small number of Italian collectors, a few Japanese, a few German. The most important dealers were Italian. The very first important watch auctioneer was Italian. Some of the very best dealers in the world were from Milan in the beginning of the 1980s.

Are they still around?

No…not many are still in business.

In the beginning, was it the Italian dealers that shaped the watch collecting culture?

Yes, particularly between 1990-1995 and then there was the explosion of the Internet and blogs with information. People around the world can have information easily, especially for some particular watches.

And do you find that information is too easily available?

No! It’s good. I love the democracy of the web. The more democracy, the more knowledge there is around the world.

When did watch collecting start to become serious like it is today?

Well, in the 1980s, Patek Philippe started buying watches [for their museum]. I would say that it was only in the past twenty years that great watches have come on the market. Back then people didn’t care a lot of quality – the quality of the case, the dial. Only in the last twenty years have collectors really focused on this.

Today, the Italians don’t collect so much anymore. There remain only a few collectors today. Most collectors are spread around the world.

Last question…what object in your house means the most to you? What do you treasure the most?

[Laughs…]I don’t have many!

OK…maybe this…I have a very rare bronze sculpture of Ecce Puer by Medardo Rosso. My family purchased the piece – there are only three original examples in bronze from the original cast. Rosso was an important artist in the beginning of the century. Ecce Puer is the face of a child in front of the window. I remember this piece a lot because it was in my family home for a long time.

Ecce Puer by Medardo Rosso

It’s something you grew up with, and seen a lot, something from one generation to the next. Great sentimental value then.

Yes, exactly. 

Auro’s Bologna:

L'Ora Del Gallo Di Sergio Galletti - Via Santo Stefano, 23a/b, 40125 Bologna BO, Italy

Piretti - Galleria Cavour, 7/F, 40124 Bologna BO, Italy

Bachelite - Via de' Foscherari, 19, 40124 Bologna BO, Italy

Osteria del Sole - Vicolo Ranocchi, 1, 40124 Bologna BO, Italy

Mercato Piazzola - 40126 Bologna, Metropolitan City of Bologna, Italy

All’ Osteria Bottega – Via Santa Caterina, 51, 40123 Bologna BO, Italy

Ristorante Cesarina - Via Santo Stefano, 19/B, 40125 Bologna BO, Italy

Camera con Vista - Via Santo Stefano, 14/2a, 40125 Bologna BO, Italy