Collectors Dialogue Roni Madhvani

Kampala, Uganda

Roni Madhvani

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My tastes for watches have found myself parked in the garage of design hence the unusual cases, lugs and dials.

Roni Madhvani

Undoubtedly one of the foremost collectors of vintage watches way beyond his home country of Uganda, Roni Madhvani is a legendary figure in the eyes of many vintage horology aficionados, including us here at Time Curated. Known for his tasteful curation of eclectic timepieces beyond the typical, Roni was kind enough to chat with us about his love for art and watches.

Vintage Audemars Piguet Ref. 5093 “Disco Volante”. Photo courtesy: Roni Madhvani
Vintage Audemars Piguet Ellipse with lapis lazuli markers. Photo courtesy: Roni Madhvani

First and foremost, let me just start by stating that your Talking Watches episode on Hodinkee is one of our absolute favourites. Your sense of style and level of design curation is unparalleled in our opinion and I’m sure many others will agree.

Your focus on distinct shapes and case designs has been documented widely. We love and respect how this introduces a form of discipline into the often haphazard assortment of the trendiest timepieces seen in many other collections. Has your philosophy on collecting changed over time?

Indeed it has changed over time. When I started collecting I simply did not have the means and I collected and bought watches for a few hundred dollars. Fortunately, that changed over time as did my tastes which evolved with it. I do feel most tastes change over time until we reach a stage where we feel we have found something that gives us the ultimate rationale for collecting whatever it may be. My tastes for watches have found myself parked in the garage of design and hence the unusual cases, lugs and dials.

I feel there is a need within this overall genre to focus on particular brands too, otherwise there can be no end to it. Focus is ever so important, methinks.

From left: Patek Philippe Ref. 2550, Ref. 2549 “Devil’s Horn”, Ref. 2549/1. Photo courtesy: Roni Madhvani
Vintage Patek Philippe Ref. 3412, Ref. 3424 Asymétrie, Ref. 3422. Photo courtesy: Roni Madhvani

Your unmistakable love for the Art Deco style permeates through everything from your collection of timepieces to contemporary Indian and African art. How did this love affair begin, and is there a piece from your art collection in Kampala that holds a significant place in your heart?

Again as with watches, my preference for art too has evolved with age and through reading, travel and attaining further knowledge and education. For example, recently I’ve been attracted to the school of social realism and it was fascinating to travel to Mexico City to see the works of great Mexican artists like Rivera, Orozco, Siqueiros and others. Many of their works were done during the Art Deco period which was encouraged by the Post-Revolutionary State to create a sense of national identity through art. The spark that actually led me to this was a Christie’s Watch Auction Preview in New York City which I had attended, and where concurrently was one on South American art!

Closer to home, I love contemporary African art but sadly, most artists face tremendous struggles and hence it is wonderful to see some artists from across the continent finally gaining recognition by the recent interest through the international African art auctions. Amongst these, I love the works by the late Geoffrey Mukasa from Uganda whose stunning art I’ve posted with my watches occasionally. 

Art by Geoffrey Mukasa. Photo courtesy: Roni Madhvani

Your collection of timepieces is undeniably one of the most fascinating ones in recent memory. Do you actively seek out interesting watches, or are your discoveries chance encounters?

You are too kind and I’m most humbled!

As with most collectors I do have a wish list (actually two… one of which may be within my reach and another which shall remain as a fantasy unless I win the lottery) of certain watches but of course from time to time something not on the list pops its head and tempts me!

Clockwise from top left: Vacheron Constantin dress watch, Double Signed Audemars Piguet/Cartier dress watch, Audemars Piguet Ellipse with lapis lazuli markers, Audemars Piguet Carre, Audemars Piguet dress watch. Photo courtesy: Roni Madhvani

Your have shared your pursuit for Audemars Piguet timepieces from the ’40s and ’70s and talked about how an increase in demand will lead to an inevitable hike in prices. When you have your mind set on a particular piece, are you one to set a budget or will you spare no expense in your hunt for the perfect example?

Unfortunately I’m not a cheque book collector where money is not limited. I shifted away slightly from vintage Patek as it has become increasingly difficult to find affordable vintage Pateks in good condition. Collecting vintage AP was a fresh of breath air where one can find the most incredible pieces without having to fork out a king’s ransom.

Vintage Patek Philippe Ref. 3417 “Amagnetic”. Photo courtesy: Roni Madhvani
Vintage Audemars Piguet “Precision”. Photo courtesy: Roni Madhvani

…I feel the spread of social media has educated collectors and made them so incredibly knowledgeable about their passion which is wonderful.

Roni Madhvani

Social media has definitely brought about a shift in the world of watch collecting, connecting collectors and hobbyists alike, facilitating watch appreciation and advancing horological scholarship at an accelerating rate. Apart from the occasional rude price requests in your inbox, do you have any interesting stories of how social media has proven itself a handy tool in your watch hunt?

Haha! Yes the “How Much” brigade! Besides that, I feel the spread of social media has educated collectors and made them so incredibly knowledgeable about their passion which is wonderful. One can no longer hoodwink a collector as before and while the auction catalogues used to be the primary source of knowledge on horology in the past, now social media rules. On a personal level, it is wonderful to know and meet like-minded friends from all over the world although sometimes when I visit a new city, my daughter does think that me meeting “strangers” is a little weird!

You often share snippets of your extensive watch collection on your Instagram feed, @roni_m_29. Would you mind sharing one or two of your timepieces that would never leave your collection?

Pièce Unique Cartier Platinum Tank Cintree. Photo courtesy: Roni Madhvani
Pièce Unique Cartier White Gold Crash. Photo courtesy: Roni Madhvani

Watch collecting has long been a solitary pursuit before the advent of the internet and social media. How has the watch collecting scene in Uganda evolved, and has your passion for watches rubbed off on those around you?

Unfortunately watch collecting isn’t a thing in Uganda which is why I’m eternally thankful to the advent of the internet and social media!

Marasa Sarovar Bodhgaya. Photo courtesy: Marasa Sarovar Bodhgaya
Marasa Sarovar Bodhgaya. Photo courtesy: Marasa Sarovar Bodhgaya
Marasa Sarovar Bodhgaya. Photo courtesy: Marasa Sarovar Bodhgaya
Marasa Sarovar Bodhgaya. Photo courtesy: Marasa Sarovar Bodhgaya

This year had been surreal and difficult for many. The losses and challenges faced are immeasurable, and have changed the ways we live, work and interact. Several industries and livelihoods were affected, most notably the travel and hospitality industry. We are sorry to hear that your recently opened hotel Marasa Sarovar Bodhgaya had to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For now, we can only dream of visiting but it looks to be a lovely hotel located in a beautiful area! We would love to hear about its conception and perhaps some recommendations for traveler destinations in Bodhgaya once international travel has resumed safely.

I had the idea of putting up beautiful designed hotels based on a religious tourism model that also offers value for money in India about a decade ago. I had thought within 5 years I would have half a dozen properties. Unfortunately acquiring greenfield sites in India, getting permissions and building itself is a nightmare and not for the faint-hearted! Each of the hotels takes in the design and architecture of the temple or place of worship in that locality to make it unique. I’ve tried to spread them out laterally unlike the usual marble clad edifice “matchbox” hotels found in India and are considered 5-star or the best.

Sadly a month after opening the hotel at Bodhgaya, India was locked down and the spread of Corona has destroyed the inbound internal travel there to this day. It was incredibly sad to recruit a most wonderful team and then to lay off most of them. Hopefully one day the light will prevail. Within Bodhgaya and its vicinity are a plethora of historic and religious sites, many off the beaten track. Our hotel with its landscaped waterbodies offers a great location to explore these daily!

Bodhi Tree, Bodh Gaya
Mahabodhi Temple, Bodh Gaya

Our thanks to Roni Madhvani for taking the time to chat and share your insights. As 2020 comes to a close, we reflect upon the adversities and challenges faced in the past year. We share the same hopes as Roni and pray for a better 2021 for all.

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