FrontRunners: Rare Vintage

  • Ken Kessler

In the Swiss town of Lugano, near the border of Italy, is Lugano’s Watch Center (+41.91. 922.64.83), a watch collector’s paradise. The outdoor showcase tempts you with a sampling of the shop’s rarities: a boxed 1993 IWC Portuguese from the original batch, four very rare Bulova Accutron Spaceviews, a wrist-worn aviator’s bomb timer, a clutch of Eberhard chronographs, and early Omega Speedmaster Professionals. Everything is in mint condition and fully serviced.

The mastermind behind this assortment of more than 1,000 watches is owner Riccardo Radaelli—mustachioed, fortysomething, Milanese by birth, fluent in English, and possessing a penchant for small chronographs. His clientele is mostly Italian, he says, noting with irony that a passion for vintage watches is not as prevalent among the Swiss.

Radaelli also repairs and restores valuable classics. “I used to have a full-time watchmaker, but I studied what he was doing and trained myself,” he says, as he pulls out tray after tray of unused dials from Jaeger and Audemars, plus tens of thousands of hands, crystals, and winders. One tray holds more than 25 assorted Rolex Submariner dials, never used and rarely relinquished by Radaelli.

Additionally, amid the shop’s eclectic range of boys’ toys, including Märklin model trains and automotive bric-a-brac, is a showcase filled with Leica, Nikon, and Sinar cameras. “In the 1980s, I had three photographic shops in Lugano,” says Radaelli. “A friend asked me to sell a Rolex for him. I put it in the window and it attracted more customers than the cameras.”

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