Architecture has Frank Gehry, fine arts has Pablo Picasso, and the watch world has Gérald Genta. Easily the greatest watch designer of all time, Swiss native Gérald Genta is behind some of the most iconic watches ever created. He singlehandedly pioneered the luxury sports watch.
Although he passed away in 2011 at the age of 80, Gérald Genta’s legacy lives on through his creations. Even if you don’t know his name, you certainly know the watches he designed. From the Nautilus to the Ingenieur to the Royal Oak, we take a look at some of his most famous creations.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak
Gérald Genta had been working with Audemars Piguet for about 20 years before he created the Royal Oak in 1970. The story goes that Audemars Piguet’s Managing Director at the time challenged him to design a waterproof watch completely different from anything on the market. So Genta obliged and designed the Royal Oak in one night.
With a vintage diving helmet as inspiration, the Royal Oak featured eight visible screws on a distinct octagonal bezel that sat atop what was considered an enormous case for the era—design elements that continue to define the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak today.
Patek Philippe Nautilus
Gérald Genta maintained that he created the Nautilus blueprint in five minutes at a restaurant while watching a table of Patek Philippe executives from across the room. This time, he used a ship’s porthole as inspiration for the Nautilus, complete with “ears” to represent the window’s hinges.
The Nautilus debuted in 1976. Aside from its famous case shape, other details such as the horizontal grooves on the dial and integrated bracelet are still alive and well in today’s versions of the Patek sports watch.
While the IWC Ingenieur had been around since 1954 as a timepiece for scientists, engineers, and medical professionals, it wasn’t until Gérald Genta put his stamp on it in the 1970s that it gained legendary status. IWC commissioned Gérald Genta to bring their Ingenieur timepiece into the modern era. Using elements found in previous designs, he did just that. The revamped IWC Ingenieur from 1976 included Genta hallmarks such as a large case, exposed screws on the bezel, and an integrated bracelet. Although today’s Ingenieur collection includes a variety of divergent styles and complications, there are still some models that clearly maintain the 1970s look of Gérald Genta’s design.
Gérald Genta admits that his design for the BVLGARI-BVLGARI watch for Italian house Bulgari did not meet with enthusiasm at first. The double engraving of the company’s logo on the bezel was deemed as “crass”. However, that very first BVLGARI-BVLGARI timepiece from 1977 not only enjoyed great success but also laid the foundation for one of the brand’s signature motifs. You can still find the double logo on watches, jewelry pieces, handbags, and other Bulgari accessories today.
In 1985, Genta designed the modern Pasha de Cartier from a vintage timepiece that Louis Cartier had designed in the 1930s for the Pasha of Marrakech.
That watch was water resistant enough to accompany the Pasha on his daily swims, but sophisticated enough to wear while attending to his stately duties. 50 years later, Gérald Genta’s reinterpretation with its round case, distinct lugs, and four numerals on the dial made the Pasha the go-to luxury sports watch for the jet set.
In an interview two years prior to his death, Gérald Genta proclaimed that he had designed at least 100,000 watches during his prolific career. Whether it’s true or not, Genta’s distinct aesthetic codes have shaped the look of modern luxury watches and will continue to do so for decades to come.
Images ©: Header; Audemars Piguet. 1-3; Crown & Caliber.