Singing the Praises of Collectible Watches

It seems to be all about the timing for the British tenor Freddie De Tommaso.

In late 2021, at 28, he stepped into the role of Cavaradossi in “Tosca” at the Royal Opera House in London when the scheduled tenor had to bow out. Mr. De Tommaso saved the evening, garnering huge applause in what one British critic called a “had to be there” moment.

Mr. De Tommaso, a rising name in the opera world, is also a collector of watches as a connection to his past and to milestones of his personal and professional lives.

Timing has also been on his side when it comes to finding certain watches in his travels to the cities of Europe and beyond. His fast-track career is allowing him to afford watches that he once only dreamed of buying.

His interest in timepieces and opera started when he was growing up in Tunbridge Wells in southern England. His Italian father, Franco, who had moved to Britain in his 20s, opened a restaurant, Signor Franco’s, in 1995, which became a favorite among locals. A young Freddie was exposed to opera through the background music always playing at the restaurant and during family outings to the nearby Glyndebourne Festival Opera. He also began to notice the watches of the restaurant’s male customers and a few high-end watches that his father had collected over the years.

“I always found them interesting since as men we don’t usually wear jewelry,” Mr. De Tommaso, 31, said by video recently. “Watches are our statement pieces.”

Mr. De Tommaso and his two younger brothers inherited their father’s collection when he died at 55. Freddie was 18.

“I inherited a 1983 Rolex Datejust from my father, and I had always been fascinated by that watch,” he said. “My dad’s best friend had the same model. Those two watches really made it for me.”

That began his interest in collecting watches, and he and his brothers found a connection to their father in what he had left them. They even inherited a Chopard pocket watch that they say they know almost nothing about, a mysterious family heirloom.

One brother inherited a Rolex Cellini dress watch, he said, and his other brother got a Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle. “These are incredibly valuable pieces and not to be worn every day,” he said. “Let’s just say I don’t wear mine when I go to London.”

Mr. De Tommaso, who studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London, has emerged as one of Europe’s most sought-after tenors. In April 2021, he became the first solo tenor in 20 years to debut at No. 1 in Britain’s Official Classical Artist Albums Chart and has recorded two solo albums of operatic arias.

His early training at the Georg Solti Academy in Italy continued his love affair with Rolex, which sponsors the academy’s bel canto summer school. But last year during a return to Munich — where he had studied and performed at the Bavarian State Opera and had signed with Decca Records in 2019 — he sang the lead role of Pinkerton in “Madama Butterfly.”

He was able to buy his first dream watch. “My Rolex Daytona is my pride and joy,” he said. It cost 25,000 pounds (about $31,200 now), he said, and it was a watch he had wanted for a long time: “Watches are important to me to celebrate milestones in life.”

Mr. De Tommaso said he had wanted to celebrate the achievement in his singing career and to measure a certain status he felt had been achieved.

“It would be like I bought a Ferrari,” he said. “I just love how it looks and the racing history. You see a lot of celebrities wearing them.”

Vienna is another city where he has a watch connection. Last month he finished performing “Simon Boccanegra,” playing the supporting role of Gabriele Adorno, at the Vienna State Opera and has sung at that house several times.

“Vienna is an awesome city for looking at watches,” he said. “It’s fun to look at a watch in one of the many windows and think: ‘Oh, that’s’ the salary of two performances. Oh, that’s three performances.’ It’s tempting.”

He purchased a Rolex GMT Master II 126710BLRO, also known as the Pepsi watch because of its red-and-blue bezel, in Vienna in 2022 when he was singing the title role in Verdi’s “Macbeth.”

“I saw it in a shop in Vienna, bought it and later flipped it,” he said. “You don’t always get a chance to get your hands on one of those. It was a good price and a good investment.”

He purchased yet another Rolex, the Yacht-Master, at an auction in England last year. “This wasn’t for any special occasion,” he said. “I just liked it.”

He also has a Cartier Tank watch that was a 30th-birthday gift from his wife, the Australian soprano Alexandra Oomens, 31. They met at the Royal Academy of Music and married in September. He had purchased the women’s version of the same Tank for her 30th. Two months later, she returned the favor and bought him the men’s version.

“We were looking for his-and-her watches,” Mr. De Tommaso explained. “There aren’t that many options and Cartier was a more affordable option than Rolex.”

He also has a Ronde de Cartier that is a bit more subtle than some of the watches he typically goes for, he said. He first fell in love with Cartier when he stumbled upon one completely by chance.

“The Cartier dress watch is my ‘rescue watch’ because I found it in an antiques market in Tunbridge Wells in bad condition,” he said. “I sent it to Cartier in France for complete reconditioning, which took about three months, and now it works perfectly. I love its simplicity, and I got it for next to nothing.”

He still has a few watches on his bucket list, including a Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso, also known as the polo watch, and a Patek Philippe Nautilus.

“The intricacy of these handmade watches is so unbelievably complicated, and they require expert craftsmanship,” he said. “And what we do as opera singers also takes years to develop.

“A group of tenors can talk about one note or one opera for hours. I suspect it’s the same sort of thing among watchmakers.”

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