Lifestyle

Rolex Mania: The Secret World Class Collection Of Bob's Watches

When you first speak on the phone with Paul Altieri, proprietor of Bob’s Watches, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were trading words with Joe Pesci’s more soft-spoken younger brother.

“I moved to LA in the early 80’s, had to get out of Rhode Island. Cranston. Sideways rain in the winter, awful,” he quips in a sharp Italo-New England accent, which provides an interesting juxtaposition to his place among the top Rolex dealers in America, moving between 400-500 units a month on his un-eponymous website Bobswatches.com

But it’s not the volume of swiss steel he moves nor his idiosyncratic manner that makes him intriguing. It’s that this man, since the late 1970’s has been slowly, quietly, and graciously accumulating one of the world’s most incredible vintage Rolex collections. And nobody has ever heard a peep about it.

Until now.

Reference 6542, Bakelite GMT Master

“Now this was the first vintage watch that I ever bought, in the late 70’s,” says Paul of this beautifully aged timepiece. It’s exceptional enough that he’s held on to it this long, but what’s more exceptional is the fact that the bezel is in near new condition. The precursor to plastic, Bakelite was an extremely brittle material that almost replicated the touch and feel of ivory. As it ages, the colors deepen, and Rolex guys go insane. “What’s really unbelievable about them still being out there, is that when you sent your Rolex in for service, they typically removed the bakelite dial and swapped it out for the aluminum and steel bezels you so frequently see today.”

Reference 6536/1 New Old Stock

Remember the watch that Bond wore in Dr. No? Yeah, this is that watch. “I bought this thing so long ago, I can’t even remember. It should be in a museum somewhere.” Undoubtedly rare to be found in this condition, Paul will concede that it’s a bittersweet relationship he has with the watch. “I can’t wear it, and it kills me. It’s so perfect, and yet I can’t wear it out. Unbearable.”

Reference 5510 Big Crown “Frank”

“This guy Frank was a military guy. Bought the thing new to take on his deployment. Wore it every single day of his life, passed away, and left it to his next door neighbor, who was a friend of mine. He eventually needed to finance a house for his family. The only condition on which he let me buy it from him was that I never sold it. I made that promise.”

Reference 6241 "Paul Newman"

“I was fascinated by the way this one came to me, it was through this incredibly private New England estate. Literally never even got to know the name.” The 6241 Newman, is, arguably, one of the greatest collectors’ rolexes one can own. It’s styling is so distinctive and coloring so striking, even non-watch enthusiasts take notice. But it’s not about that for Paul, “I could just sit in a room and stare at it all day. Don’t even have to wear it out, just sitting there, staring. It’s beautiful.”

Reference 5510 “Joyeria Riviera”

Before Castro took control of Cuba, there was a legendary jeweler on the island named Joyeria Riviera. It was a glorious monument for the capitalist accoutrement, and they had a special deal with the Rolex Factory where the name of the jeweler was actually printed on the face of the watch. Good rule of thumb, any time you see something on a Rolex that isn’t Rolex, and it’s not fake—expect to pay a lot more for it. A looooooot more. “I don’t want to talk about how much I paid for this one. It’s bad. Really bad. But I had to have it.”

Reference 6541 Milgauss “Richard Petty’s Watch”

“Now this has a strange story. Iin 1958, Richard Petty was on a rocket to the top of the racing world. As a little gift for himself, he picked this 6541 up at a Jewelry store that my friend owns, still to this day. He wore it for a while, apparently while constantly fielding flack from his wife and others about how ugly they thought it was. So he returned it! It then sat in a box for god knows how long till I eventually bought it, not just for the story, but because I’d never seen a milgauss 6541 with that crazy woven dial, almost canvas like. Incredible watch.”

Yeah.

Impressive as this stuff is, Paul only showed us about 1/50th of his actual collection. Think about that for a second—it’s staggering. It wasn’t necessarily due to not wanting to show off some of the pieces, although he is a bit shy about some of them. (“Some of these I really don’t want people to know that I have. Us Rolex guys, we’re a...little passionate if you can’t tell.”) It’s mainly because his collection is strategically stashed all over the place in various secure locations. “I keep a few here, a few there—the collection has far too much value to me to be in one place. Not just financially, but some of these watches are so personally important to me that it would be an incredible loss if there were to be a fire or something.”

May we all find the time, energy, and resources to amassing the collections of our dreams. Cheers Paul, thank you for letting us into your vault!

Pro Tip: Bob's Watches has a vintage section where a few of the pieces you might find in a collection like Paul's are known to pop up. Check it out over at www.bobswatches.com