Collector and Philanthropist Franco Cologni on the Importance of Preserving the Next Generation of Artisans

By Rachael Sigee
As the upcoming Jewels and Watches Online sale features several pieces from the esteemed collection of Franco and Adele Cologni, we talk to Franco Cologni about what he looks for as a buyer, and his foundation dedicated to preserving arts and crafts and supporting the next generation of artisans, which will receive all the benefits from the sale of the Cologni-selected lots.
Franco Cologni

As a veteran of the watchmaking world, what advice would you give to new collectors?

"Roughly speaking, quality watch customers can be divided into three categories: amateurs or, as they say today, "aficionados", connoisseurs and collectors. The latter make it seem like an elitist world that requires (beyond a really deep knowledge) a good sense of investing. Collectors mainly invest in clocks and then eventually exchange them with other collectors, so that their collections become complete. The collector therefore needs time to look, inquire, and finally decide on the purchase. This purchase is not immediate but requires reflection. I would also add patience, in order to arrive at a choice. As we know, patience is a virtue and is quite rare."

What do you look for when you buy a jewel - the materials, the design or the manufacturer?

"When you buy a jewel, not only is the style or design is important, but also the brand: it is the Maison, after all, that guarantees the perennial appeal of the jewel. Of course, materials, including precious stones, also count, especially for Asian buyers. And let's not forget the stories! Each jewel contains stories of affection, love and passion, which contribute to its uniqueness."

There are a number of Cartier pieces for sale. As a former president of the brand, what's so special about their design?

"On one side are the Cartier jewels and the other, watches. In jewelry, creativity and know-how are the two fundamental components, but creativity must always be intimately connected to the historical, artistic and cultural moment in which they were created.

This also applies to watches, but with a clarification: Cartier, in its history, has always produced watches of an iconic form, which is unique. So Swiss style watches, with a round form, may seem less interesting; but beware: the value is not only linked to the form but also jointly to the quality of the movement."

Which watch style do you generally choose to wear?

"I choose a watch for the pleasure of wearing it, or for an occasion. Most of the time my choice is the Tank and the Santos, both by Cartier; pieces as much of yesterday as of today. Only on special occasions, I choose the Tortue complication."

Which of the pieces you have consigned was most difficult to part with?

"All the pieces I’ve given to the Jewels and Watches Online sale have a meaning of affection or gratitude, or a hold memory for me. This was a considered choice, but not without emotional difficulty."

How was the Cologni Foundation born and what is its goal?

"I began the Cologni Foundation’s métiers d’art in Milan in 1995 and is a private non-profit institution. Our initiatives, aimed at a "new Renaissance" of art professions, are aimed above all at young people. Training new generations of Art Masters and saving the excellent craft activities from the risk of disappearance that threatens them, is one of the goals that the Foundation pursues. To this end, it promotes, supports and carries out a series of cultural, scientific and dissemination initiatives. As part of its training and orientation activities, the Foundation actively collaborates with high profile schools and institutes, including the Milan Polytechnic, Bocconi University, Catholic University, Creative Academy, Domus Academy and EDC (Paris). In the framework of these relationships, we collaborate with the Michelangelo Foundation for Creativity and Craftsmanship, the Institut National des Métiers d'Art, and we partner in the international network of the European Days of Art Crafts."

What are some of the craft and specialist skills that are at risk of extinction?

"Above all, those that suffer from poor visibility, less generational turnover, and a more marked departure from the culture of the project."

Which young and emerging artists or creators do you appreciate?

"I appreciate all those who are courageous with their choices, to get out of marketing to pursue their identity. I don't know how to list young artists... contemporary art interests me, but it's not my greatest passion. However, I could mention one by one the young artisans who, like the Cologni Foundation, have selected over the years to participate in the project “A School, a Work. Paths of Excellence ". There are over two hundred by now, and each of them has proven to have the credentials to emerge, to represent a new look at the arts and crafts, to transfer centuries-old skills into the future."

What are the fundamental values of the Cologni Foundation?

"For us, it is urgent to enhance the culture of art professions. Promoting, protecting and preserving these high craftsmanship activities means making sure that more and more people understand its beauty and value; that more and more young people choose them as their own vocation; that more and more political agendas consider them essential, as a real competitive advantage that allows even small countries like ours to be competitive. Values like authenticity, originality, creativity, tradition, ability to interpret, innovation are the key words for us to define the DNA of artisan excellence."

What do you hope for future generations of artists and art masters?

"To put into practice the teaching of my patron saint, St. Francis: doing well and staying healthy. Being happy every day with their work, and transferring this happiness to the objects they create, to the techniques they master and to the relationships they create with clients and customers. In my opinion, making a young person understand that work can and must make people happy is an extraordinarily revolutionary message, and for this very reason it is authentic and sincere."

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