The name Gérald Genta immediately brings back memories for every watch enthusiast: Whether the Royal Oak by Audemars Piguet, the Omega Constellation, the Nautilus by Patek Philippe or the Rolex King Midas - Genta worked for all the major brands and was a crucial factor in ensuring that watch designers gained status and attention in the industry and themselves became stars.
Who was Gérald Genta?
Born on 01.05.1931 as the son of a Swiss mother and an Italian father, Genta completed an apprenticeship as a goldsmith and jeweller in 1951. However, it should be a while before he had his first collaboration with a brand. At that time, it was not common for watch brands to employ designers directly. On the other hand, brands commissioned design from suppliers, who in turn hired designers to present individual parts or entire models, which were then proposed to the brands.
Genta therefore began his career for Universal Genève, one of the most famous Swiss manufacturers, where he had already created designs for Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe or Omega, without these designs being directly associated with his name. Genta earned only 15 Swiss francs per design at the time, which led to a high output that he would maintain throughout his life: According to his own estimates, Genta designed around 100,000 watches over a period of 50 years. He made his breakthrough in 1954 when he designed an anti-magnetic watch that became the official watch of the Scandinavian airline SAS.
Breakthrough and Styling
From Omega to Audemars PiguetIn 1960 Genta received his first exclusive order for Omega. However, many people assumed that he didn't contract with Omega directly, but with Omega's suppliers. The result of this collaboration was the Omega Seamaster and the Omega Constellation for which Genta designed various cases and dials. The watch market lives from a certain humility, which is why Genta always focused on the product and never promoted it through its name. For this reason, many of the models designed by Genta were not attributed to him until later.
Gentas style is both: classic and confrontational. It reveals what has remained hidden until now. Gentas watches have hard edges and are not afraid to emphasize the mechanics of a watch. In his most famous designs, he turns the essence of a watch outwards. They are masculine watches that always reflect the work, technology and materials that have been invested in them. In none of his models does this philosophy become clearer than in the triumvirate of stainless-steel watches he produced in the 70s: the Royal Oak, the Nautilus and the Ingenieur.
Triumvirate of the Luxury Class
Due to the quartz crisis, Georges Golay, then head of Audemars Piguet, was aware that Audemars Piguet had to try something new. He had the idea for something that had never been done before: a luxury watch made of stainless steel. He called Gerald Genta to him the afternoon before the Baselworld 1971 started and explained that he needed a design for a steel luxury watch for the Italian market by the next morning. So Genta had only one night and came to Golay the next morning with the design of the iconic Royal Oak. His idea was to apply the design of the old diving suits to a case. The result synthesised many ideas that Genta had already played through in his earlier designs. The bezel is held in the shape of a porthole, which emphasizes the nautical element, but is shaped as an octagon. The screws are visible and no longer covered by the case. The bracelet is harmoniously integrated into the case, making it symbolically an equal part of the watch and no longer being limited to its function.
PATEK PHILIPPE NAUTILUS 5711/1A
The birth of the Royal OakThe Audemars Piguet Royal Oak was the first luxury watch made of stainless steel and started a tradition that still continues to this day. Not that this was recognised back then. As with many geniuses, it took a while until time caught up with Genta's most famous designs. At that time, the Royal Oak was too large at 38 mm and too distinctive for a market that specialized in models with an average size of only 34 mm. But as the trend slowly changed to larger, more distinctive watches in the 1970s, the Royal Oak was rediscovered and both, the Royal Oak and Genta, were recognized as pioneers like they deserved. In fact, the model's design was so popular that shortly after the release of the Royal Oak, the American luxury watch manufacturer Bulova unveiled an extremely similar model.
IWC's Ingenieur and its designer1976 was another decisive year for Genta. First, he designed the IWC engineer. Many of the characteristics of the Royal Oak can also be found in the Engineer. The screws are still naked and the bracelet remains integrated, but the round, voluminous bezel is not quite as iconoclastic as the octagon of the Royal Oak. In addition, the engineer is antimagnetic thanks to the built-in Faraday cage.
The Nautilus debuts in Patek's product rangeIn the same year Genta also designed the Nautilus for Patek Philippe. Genta said the idea for the Nautilus popped into his mind when he watched Patek Philippe's management eat at Baselworld. On the one hand, this idea may seem very arbitrary, but on the other hand, the end result is far from that. The bare screws of the Royal Oak and the engineer have disappeared and given way to a high-quality satin bezel. The shape of the bezel is similar to the Royal Oak and the Engineer's porthole of a ship, but in practice more oval. The most distinctive feature of the Nautilus, however, is the two "wings" on the side of the case.
Independence and Bvlgari Bvlgari
Shortly before Genta designed the Royal Oak in 1971, he also established his first own brand "Gerald Genta". This step evolved him from a designer to a producer and he started designing his own watches. In 1981, for example, he created an automatic movement with a minute repeater, which was fitted in a case only 2.7 mm thick.
In the 80s Genta also designed the Bvlgari Bvlgari for Bulgari. For the bezel, Genta was inspired by Roman coins in which the face of the emperor was surrounded by a double lettering. Also, the design of the case, based on a cylinder, refers to antiquity. Especially the columns, which were an important part of all Roman temples, should be represented here. Bulgari first reacted with scepticism to Gentas design, but the model quickly became a bestseller.
BVLGARI OCTO FINISSIMO BGO40C14TLXAUTO 102711
Highs and lows: the sale of the company and the grande sonnerieIn 1994, Genta designed a Grand Sonnerie for its own brand - a watch that strikes time every hour and repeats hours and quarters every 15 minutes without the wearer having to wind it up. For some it might be acoustic terror, for most a technical high performance. Genta sold the Grand Sonnerie Retro, the most complicated watch in the world, for one million.
Genta, however, saw himself more and more as an artist than a CEO and so it happened he sold his brand to an Asian bank in 1998 before it was later acquired by Bulgari. Genta then devoted himself to painting, which was always his true love and influenced his design accordingly. In 2001 Genta founded his own brand again, Gérald Charles, which he sold again a few years later.
The designer died in 2011 at the age of 80. However, his name and models have outlived him and continue to enchant the watch world to this day. Genta wasn't afraid of imitators during his lifetime, but indeed stated the contrary in an interview, "If you are not imitated, you are incompetent".
Other creations from Genta's pen
Genta's watches enjoy more popularity today than ever before. We've selected the following models as a compilation of his best watch designs. Iconic watches like the Nautilus, Royal Oak, and Ingenieur are among his classic designs, but here we'd like to turn our attention to other masterpieces by this watch designer.
- Rolex enlisted the help of the "Faberge of Watches" and asked Genta to design the King Midas. Now, one of the rarest Rolex watches, it was the most expensive watch in the Rolex product range at the time of its release, and its design, inspired by ancient Greece, won over watch wearers and enthusiasts such as Elvis Presley and John Wayne.
- At just 23 years old, Genta produced his first legendary design in 1954, the Universal Geneve SAS Polerouter. Commissioned by Universal Geneve, these watches were conceived to commemorate the historic flight from Copenhagen to Los Angeles via the North Pole and were given to the cabin crew of Scandinavian Airlines Systems (SAS) after landing in Los Angeles. Models such as the Polerouter Deluxe (Ref. 10357/1) continue to commemorate the event to this day.
- Cartier turned to Genta for a reinterpretation of the brand's popular Pasha model. Assigned the task of giving the watch a sporty touch, Genta designed a dial that was groundbreaking for the Parisian luxury brand. He kept the Vendôme pendant and the blue sapphire, creating a brilliant balancing act between luxury and sport.
Designs mistakenly attributed to Genta and other "Genta style" watchesOne of the biggest "misfortunes" in Genta's career, by his own admission, is having missed the chance to work on the Rolex Datejust. To him, the Datejust was the perfect watch. In fact, there are rumours that the designer may have worked on the Datejust Oysterquartz. But according to him, this isn't the case. He only worked on one Rolex model, which was the King Midas.
Likewise, Genta had nothing to do with the Tissot PRX – neither the "original" from the 1970s nor with the current reissue. However, the influence of his design work during that time remains undeniable, which is why so many models have been attributed to him, even if he didn't pen them, but merely reflect his style of design.