Sebastian Manti, whose Watches & Collectables store is one of the newest businesses to open at Liberty Wharf, speaks to Emily Moore
THE first man to walk on the moon and the beagle from popular comic strip Peanuts… at first glance, it is difficult to imagine a connection between the two.
However, enter into a conversation with the proprietor of one of the newest stores in Liberty Wharf, and it is not long before the link between Neil Armstrong and Snoopy becomes apparent.
‘It was in 1964, after carrying out several tests to establish the watch’s precision and reliability, that NASA selected the Omega Speedmaster chronograph for its space programme,’ explained Sebastian Manti, of Sebastian Manti’s Watches & Collectables.
‘The agency then issued one of the Speedmasters to Neil Armstrong for use during the Apollo 11 mission of 1969, so that is the watch he was wearing when he became the first man to walk on the moon.’
Less than a year after that historic landing, Apollo 13 set off to repeat the mission, an effort which was thwarted after an oxy-gen tank exploded, leading to the famous ‘Houston, we have a problem’ message.
With the crew forced to switch off all ‘unnecessary equipment and reserve resources’ to get back to Earth, the astronauts relied on their Omega Speedmasters to time 14-second bursts of the Lunar Excursion Module’s rocket engine to guide them back to the ground.
In recognition of the part the watch played in avoiding a tragic outcome, NASA awarded Omega the Silver Snoopy Award, the logo for which was drawn by none other than Snoopy’s creator, Charles Schultz.
‘I have always had a passion for Omega and the Speedmasters. Both the modern versions and the pre-lunar-landing models are great pieces to trade with,’ said Sebastian. ‘It is also really exciting that we have one of the Omega Silver Snoopy Award watches in the shop at the moment. This is quite a rare piece and, as far as we are aware, it is the only one available for sale in the Island.’
Sebastian and his wife, Dawn, opened the Liberty Wharf store in September last year, initially on a pop-up basis for four months. They have now signed a year’s lease and are hoping to extend this further.
But while trading from physical premises may be a relatively new venture for them, the business has been established for nearly a decade.
‘I have always had a passion for watches,’ Sebastian smiled. ‘During my early 20s, I worked for Time Jewellers at H Samuel and Ernest Jones and it was in the early 90s, during the Swatch craze, when I started collecting pieces.’
After moving into the finance industry – where he met Dawn – Sebastian took a career break after the couple started a family.
‘Dawn was quite advanced in her career so it made sense for me to become a house husband, home dad, taxi driver and DIY expert,’ he said with a smile.
And although this role proved to be much more ‘manic’ than he had expected, he still found time to indulge his passion for timepieces.
‘I became one of the first to take part in both the Mind Jersey Shabby Chic to Antique events and the vintage fairs at St Brelade’s Parish Hall,’ he said. ‘In the early days, I only had a few pieces to display but those events gave me a great shop front and an opportunity to meet other collectors and enthusiasts.’
In 2009, Sebastian set up Seb’s Classic Collectables, a business name chosen to reflect the ‘wide array of items’ he had amassed.
‘I had everything from porcelain and Clarice Cliff ceramics to watches and clocks,’ he reflected. ‘But after a while, I decided it would be better to focus on one thing and do it well and, with my love and knowledge of watches, that was a natural choice.’
Four years after launching the business, the couple decided to ‘take a year out’, moving to France for 12 months, during which Dawn home-schooled their children and Sebastian renovated their house.
‘We came back in June 2014 and that’s when I launched Sebastian Manti’s Watches & Collectables,’ he said.
Sourcing most of his items locally, Sebastian says that the local ‘community of watch enthusiasts’ is both sizable and growing.
‘There are plenty of watch lovers in Jersey, more now than ever, as the watch market has come to the fore with international dealers promoting certain brands and key pieces on social media and YouTube,’ he explained. ‘Since Covid, people have also recognised the investment potential in timepieces and are building portfolios in much the same way as you would put together a portfolio of shares.’
With the most collectable items those which are harder to come by, it is no surprise that Sebastian’s main focus is on ‘brands which are not so readily available locally’.
These include International Watch Company, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Zenith, for whom he says there are no local dealers.
‘There are also the top four brands – Patek Philippe, Rolex, Audemars Piguet and Vacheron Constantin. These are the ones that people tend to recognise and their watches are very good quality,’ he said.
‘As the business grows, my goal would be to stock more pieces from these manufacturers although it is also important to carry a wide range of brands and price points so that there is something for everyone.’
With all of the items in the shop being pre-owned, Sebastian admits that much of the excitement he experiences comes from the constant element of surprise.
‘You never know who will come in with what items,’ he said. ‘The excitement comes from not knowing what the next find will be. And it’s not necessarily the highest-value items which are the most exciting to find. One of my favourite things is finding something rare, and it’s also great when you find something still in its original condition, as that is quite unusual.
‘One man came in with an early Tudor Submariner watch and a pre-lunar Omega Speedmaster. They were both in their original conditions, with a patina on the dial so that was really exciting because it was very unusual, 30 or 40 years ago, for people to buy watches and just put them away. They were nearly always worn.’
When presented with such pieces, Sebastian admits that there is often a ‘battle between my heart and my head’.
‘It can be painful because I know that I would love to have the watch but I can’t let my heart rule my head,’ he smiled ruefully. ‘I have to tell myself that there will always be a better piece. As a result, my personal collection is a lot smaller now than it used to be, although there are a select few which I can’t bring myself to part with.
‘There are also a few which I’ve sold and then wished that I hadn’t, either because the piece has skyrocketed in value afterwards or because it was so rare that I realise I’m unlikely to find another one like it.’
One piece which is still within Sebastian’s collection is one of the very first watches which he bought.
‘It was the year my son was born and I purchased a special-edition Red Arrows Breitling,’ he said. ‘It has never been worn and came with a certificate signed by all the pilots. I bought it with the view of giving it to my son at some point, as watches make lovely gifts for milestone birthdays. In fact, a lot of people come in looking for something special for wedding presents or 18th or 21st birthday gifts.’
As well as buying and selling watches, Sebastian offers informal valuations and a consignment – or sale or return – service.
He also, as the name of the business suggests, has a selection of other collectables on the shelves, including some clocks, coins and bullion.
‘As the business grows, I would consider increasing the range of clocks and perhaps even stocking some high-end jewellery,’ he said. ‘And, while I don’t want to end up in the world of generics, I would be interested in working with a boutique-style watch brand to add a selection of new watches as well as pre-owned pieces.’