Mantiques: the new boys' toys

Women may not always share in the enthusiasm for old foraged pieces such as mechanical childhood toys, but increasingly masculine themes are coming up trumps in antique trawling.

Taking inspiration from restaurant and hotel interior design influences at large, the mood for gentleman's club accessories is being met by a less hostile welcome party. While taxidermy lovers should continue to tread with care, a male buyer could get away with impulse pieces like a Parker sideboard lugged home from a garage sale ("Lots of good storage space!") or an upturned steampunk rework of a boat's propeller, fashioned into a side table base.

Eminently placeable

Melbourne auction house Leonard Joel held its inaugural Sydney event, Jewels & Objets D'Art, at the InterContinental hotel in late August and managing director John Albrecht says: "I think what is trending for men are items they can incorporate into their worlds with little consultation from their partners. If it can work in the study or on the person, there is less impact on their surrounds and so less need for concern with how the acquisition will affect their interior or their partner's style, or raise any eyebrows."

Dapper timepieces

Paul Hoyt of US-based online watch retail site Connoisseur of Time reports a healthy interest in retro-era watches, at a time when earlier periods are making their mark on newer releases by the big watch houses.

"Both the toned-down watches that remain elegant and the bolder pieces are selling very well," Hoyt says. "The number of collectors, especially newer ones, gravitating to these watches has risen significantly. Once a specialised niche, retro has now gone much more mainstream."

A striking case in point is an Omega widescreen TV shaped De Ville mens retro dress gold plated and stainless steel watch from the early 1970s.

Hoyt advises buyers after entry-level retro watches to go with a watch with a look they like, and highlights Omega as a good place to start: "Collectors looking for the retro pieces by the finer Swiss firms will find that Omega made a very large selection of different retro models – I think probably more than any of the other of the high-end brands."

Other reasons Omega is popular in the vintage watch market are its variety of unique designs and the quality of the watches themselves.

It should go without saying that whatever the brand, the better condition vintage examples of watches will be more in demand. And in the higher price ranges, originality becomes more important. Original dials (those that have not been restored or refinished since leaving the factory) are preferable.


Albrecht vouches, too, for gold pocket watches by US maker Waltham. The company made watches from the 19th century until the late 1950s but its Prohibition Era pieces are particularly desirable and certainly recall Boardwalk Empire kingpin 'Nucky' Thompson's sartorial panache.

Grooming accoutrements from a lost era

There were a number of items with mantique appeal at the Leonard Joel auction including: a mid-20th century Dunhill aquarium table lighter, an early 20th century German silver and ivory Medieval knight by Wilhelm Weinranch and Fritz Schmidt, and a two-tone gold cigarette case with a secret compartment for matches by August Hollming, a Fabergé craftsman. But it was a gentleman's valise nécessaire from the art deco period by Louis Vuitton, with an estimate of $3000 to $5000, that created most buzz during the preview week.

Fitted with a French silver vanity set, the ultimate late 19th century gentleman's accessory would have been owned by a man of considerable means and overseen by a valet tasked to keep each component well stocked. In short, the listing guaranteed a contemporary dandies and bearded hipsters alert.

Templars and testosterone

There has been a growing interest in 'Gentleman's Library' artifacts that speak to the swell of fans of current knight and battle television series. Warrior figures are imposing items that would be at home on the desk of an industrialist, venture capitalist or tech entrepreneur (established or otherwise) looking to let whoever sits on the other side know exactly who's in charge. Ancient swords and other battlefield regalia can also cross in to this territory.

From here to antiquity

It might be surprising to hear Gen Y is discovering the ancient art of engraving with the release of cameo and intaglio collections in the auction market place. Bonhams' London office has a staggering collection of 101 such rings coming up at their fine jewellery sale on September 17. Valued as a whole at £100,000 ($178,000), The Ceres Collection is the most important collection of its kind to be offered in 100 years and was assembled by an American family between the 1930s and 1990s.

Emily Barber, Bonhams' director of jewellery, says: "The cameos and intaglios are very masculine and wearable. Collecting them was an intellectual, gentlemanly pursuit, especially in the 18 th century."

With pieces dating from the 4th century BC through to the 19th century, and some very historic tales to tell (some depict Socrates and Alexander the Great and the gods and mythological figures of Hercules, Medusa, and Zeus), is there any likelihood the pieces will venture beyond the safety deposit box? Apparently they are hardier than one would expect.

Last on the wish list

Albrecht similarly recommends small sculptures, miniature globes, and cufflinks as mantique musts. Full of nostalgia, history and style, the following items are also likely to get the tick of approval from both a female admirer and a discerning gentleman: writing and literary accessories that speak of more bookish times such as pens, inkwells and typewriters; decanters, hip flasks, bar glassware and cocktail sets; maps; wood furniture, pipes and lighters, and hats.


Leonard Joel

Sotheby's Australia


Australian Antique and Art Dealers Association

Ruby Lane (mainly US based)

1st Dibs (US based)