Who created the most iconic watches of the century
Friends! The term “cult” in the watch community has long been a cliché – it has been abuse too much. Nevertheless, there is a person in our favorite industry who deserves such a definition as no one else. I’m talking about the most influential watch designer of the twentieth century. Over the past couple of years, we have described many creators from watchmaking. It’s time to talk about perhaps the most important of them. About who was called Picasso watch design and Faberge in the world of watches. About the great Gerald Gent.
Gerald Genta was born on May 1, 1931 in Geneva, in the family of a Swiss and a Piedmontese (northern Italy). In his youth, he was educate as a jeweler, and at first he earn money by creating silver portraits of newborn babies. But such work did not bring much income, besides, the jewelry industry itself was not yet as developed as it is today. So the newly minted jeweler found himself in the related watch business, when the profession of a watch designer, in fact, did not yet exist.
If you think that designers are some bohemian creatures who work solely by inspiration, then the example of Gerald Gently will bring you back from heaven to earth. Before receiving his first major order, for several years he got into the car every day and drove around all the watch regions of Switzerland, from La Chaux-de-Fonds to Le Brassus, offering his sketches in whole stacks. We didn’t manage to sell much. For each sketch he was paid 15-20 francs, and he return home only when 1000 was collect.
The first recognized masterpieces
The first serious work in the biography of the designer was a collaboration with universal Geneve. In 1954, the SAS Polerouter watch was born. Which was intende for pilots of the Scandinavian airline SAS. Since the Scandinavians flew on transarctic routes. They needed a watch with high resistance to magnetic fields. Which was realize in the first recognize masterpiece of Gerald Gent.
In the 50s, the Swiss with an Italian temperament actively cooperated with the Omega brand. In those years, there was no cult of designers in the watch industry, and their names remained unknown to anyone. However, it is believe that the young Genta contributed to the redesign of the first Constellation models. It was he who gave “Connie”, as their loyal fans call this watch, characteristic hands, marks and a stylish bracelet with links in the shape of rice grains.
In 1964, with the light hand of Gerald Gent, the Constellation line was transform again. The famous Constellation C-Shape model enters the market. The watch got its name because of the shape of the case, which resembled a barrel with mirror-reflecting side faces in the shape of the letter “C”. From earlier copies of the Constellation, they were distinguish by a large diameter of 35 mm for those times and a flat dial with long thin indexes.
In the rock and roll 60s comes one of the most unusual models of the designer – Rolex King Midas. Creating sketches for new watches, Genta was often inspired by nature, but in the case of Rolex, the source of inspiration was the creation of human hands. In the unusual shape of the body of the model with a sharp angle protruding from the left, one could find similarities with the Greek Parthenon. The case was made of solid 18-carat gold, which, with a miniature format of 27.5 x 5 mm, gave an exorbitant weight – something between 150 and 200 grams. They asked for this bar of gold on the wrist as much as $ 3,000. An important feature of the model was the use of sapphire crystal, which Rolex will massively switch to only in the 80s.
The designer is also credite with the authorship of the Patek Philippe Golden Ellipse model, first introduced in 1968. That’s not entirely true. In an interview shortly before his death, Gerald Genta said that the design of the Golden Ellipse was create by a man name Rabley. Rabley himself claimed that the idea of the “Ellipse” would never have appeared without Mr. Gent. Understand what you want. Although these watches are mentione much less often than other models of the brand. They definitely have their own staff of fans. Is it possible not to appreciate the elegance of their unusual shape, which is based on the principle of the golden ratio?
Flourishing of creativity and the main works of the genius
Like many geniuses, Gerald Gently had an intolerable character. As an example, the story of the designer’s acquaintance with his wife Evelyn is suitable. The meeting took place at one of the dinner parties in London. As soon as he saw his future wife, Genta said something like “God! What an ugly watch you have!” Evelyn was then terribly upset, shoved the watch into her trouser pocket, and then, completely forgetting about this episode, washed it. Of course, the clock ordered a long life.
Gerald Genta with his wife Evelyn
Do you know what the irony of this story is? The fact that on that iconic evening, Evelyn Gentlyn had an Audemars Piguet watch on her wrist. I can’t vouch for the fact that these were the legendary Royal Oak, because I do not know the exact date of their acquaintance. But I know for sure that Gerald Genta has been working with Audemars Piguet since 1953, which means that Evelyn could well have a watch created according to his design on her hand.
Gerald and Evelyn Genta during a trip to Singapore, 1993
According to legend, gerald Genta created a sketch of his main masterpiece in just one night after a call from the then CEO of Audemars Piguet, George Golay. One of Golay’s requirements for the new watch was a waterproof steel case. In search of inspiration, Genta turned to his childhood memories. Taking as a basis for the sealed design of the watch a diving helmet with massive screws. As a result, one of the brightest legends of the modern watch industry was born. The first luxury sports watch. And the first example of how watch steel can be sold at the price of gold.
Gerald Gent’s first sketch for the Royal Oak model
Sketch, which formed the basis of the first models of Royal Oak
A characteristic feature of all Royal Oak models for 50 years is an octagonal bezel-nut. The geometry of which is emphasize by the mounting screws on display. This very nut will become the trademark of Gerald Gently and one of his favorite forms. Even the wedding ring of his wife Evelyn designer will turn into an octagon.
In 1972, when the presentation of Royal Oak took place in Basel. A sketch of another future legend appeared – Patek Philippe Nautilus. Since the design of the “nautilus” Gerald Genta originally wanted to sell patek Philippe, in his sketches the master started from the passion of the current CEO of the brand Thierry Stern for yachting. So the beloved octahedron of the sentry genius was transform into a porthole with all that entails. I mean the technical features of the hull design.
The idea with a porthole was supporte by side protrusions-hinges, which are equippe with these waterproof windows. A bright decorative element also performed a purely applied function: on the one hand. The side protrusions connected the parts of the case, on the other hand, they masked the connecting pins.
Between 1976 and 1977, Gerald Gent’s creative baggage was replenishe with such iconic models. As the updated IWC Ingenieur and Bvlgari Bvlgari after 20 years of production. In the first case, the designer again uses a trick with screws exposed on the bezel.
In the second, the bezel becomes the main element in the design of the model. Betting on the utmost simplicity in the design of the dial, Genta stylizes it as a Roman coin. The highlight of the watch is the brand name repeate twice on the bezel.
Own brand. Experimenting with materials, the Disney scandal on the dial and betting on a complex clock
Gerald Genta created all his main watches (painted, if you will) already under his brand. Which he launched back in 1969. Starting with a staff of 7 people, the Gerald Genta brand quickly grew into two factories employing 250 specialists.
Gerald Genta Manufacture in the 1980s
One of the first high-profile applications of the company for the right to exist on the watch Olympus was release in 1981 a minute repeater with automatic winding. The watch was enclose in a case with a thickness of 2.72 mm. Which became a real sensation in the industry. According to the memoirs of Genta himself. The success was huge – the company manage to sell more than 1000 copies of the model.
A distinctive feature of Gerald Genta are models with various kinds of complications. According to Evelyn Gent, who has been the brand’s CFO since 1983. Her husband was the first after the quartz crisis to return to the market a watch with a perpetual calendar. A watch with a retrograde indication. As well as a watch with the functions of a minute tutor and a big fight.
Gerald Genta Octagonal Skeleton Perpetual Calendar Moonphase, 1993
The brainchild of the great designer stood out not only with ultra-complex watches, but also with bold experiments with materials unusual for the watch industry. Gerald Genta was one of the pioneers in the use of ceramics, tantalum, wood and bronze.
Back in 1984, Gerald Genta Watches introduced the world’s first watch in a bronze case. Actually, it was not pure bronze, but a combination of bronze and steel. According to legend, the Gefica Safari model was create by order of 3 friends of the designer – passionate fans of African safari. The choice in favor of bronze was made by the maestro because it did not shine in the sun. Which means that 3 friends-hunters could not be afraid at the peak of hunting excitement to accidentally scare off prey.
Gerald Genta Gefica Safari
The slightly lived look, which the watch acquired due to the unusual material, caused an ambiguous reaction of the public. Bronze in the watch industry forgotten until 2011. When Panerai decide to be the first to demonstrate the advantages of this material in diver’s watches.
Another controversial project, which was implement under the Gerald Genta Watches brand, was a line of models with Disney characters. It all started with the Bambi watch, commissioned by the then chairman of The Walt Disney Company, Michael Eisner. The order was made as an exclusive gift to Eisner’s mother, but Gent liked the idea of Disney cartoons so much that with the permission of the company, he established a serial production of watches.
The presentation of the first models of the line was held with a scandal. At Montres et Bijoux 1984 in Geneva, gerald Genta’s stand was caught between Rolex and Vacheron Constantin. After seeing Genta pull out a watch with Mickey Mouse, his watchmakers called their design a disgrace to Switzerland. The stubborn nature of the designer immediately made itself felt. He countered something along the lines of “Walt Disney brought people more joy than your watch” and ran out of the exhibit, confronted on the way out with then-Cartier president Alain-Dominique Perrin.
Following Genta, Cartier and Ebel left in solidarity with the exhibition. All this happened live, and the next day the scandalous trio was on the front pages of newspapers.
Anti-advertising, as you know, is also advertising, and today watches with Mickey Mouse holding a club instead of a minute hand or with Donald Duck armed with a baseball bat have their share of popularity. By the way, for his wife Evelyn Gerald Genta made a unique watch with Scrooge, stressing that she is the financial strength of his project.
Around the same time, as part of a partnership between Gent and Cartier, cartier Pasha watches are released. As you know, the designer rethought the mythical clock for the Pasha of Marrakech, who was very fond of water procedures. In its version, the Genta retained the overall Style of the Cartier with characteristic body lugs (called Vendome lugs) and a sapphire cabochon on the crown.
Gerald Gently’s sketch for a Carier Pasha watch
In 1994, the master released the Grande Sonnerie watch, which for a long time held the title of the most complex watch in the world. The model was offered in two versions. The basic variant included the functions of a large and small battle, a Westminster carillon with 4 gongs and a tourbillon. In this version, the self-winding movement developed for the watch included approximately 800 parts. In a more complex version, a retrograde perpetual calendar and a second time zone were add, as a result of which the number of details exceeded 1000.
Complex Franck Muller Mechanisms.
The mechanism was develope by a stellar team of watchmakers led by Pierre-Michel Gaulet. The creator of the most complex Franck Muller mechanisms. Under the leadership of Gole then worked Demetrio Cabbido, best known for his work in Montblanc-Minerva. As well as the future creators of La Fabrique du Temps (Louis Vuitton) Michel Navas and Enrico Barbasini.
In the 90s, about two dozen copies of the model were released and all of them are unique in material and design of the dial. Most specimens were characterized by a multi-layered case of octagonal or round shape. In May 2019, at the Geneva session of Phillips, one of the early copies of the unique series went under the hammer for CHF 162,500.
Gerald Genta also came up with the idea of combining the “jumping hour” function and the retrograde minute indicator in one mechanism. Under the brand Gerald Genta Watches will be release many variations of this original combination. A few years ago, The idea of Gent was adopte by Chanel, implementing it in its first hours for men.
Unfortunately, the support of an entire brand at the expense of the creativity of one person cannot exist for a long time. At some point, the Genta couple were face with the need to sell the company. In 1996, the Gerald Genta watches brand came under the management of the Singapore watch retailer The Hour Glass, with the owners of which the couple had an excellent relationship. However, the deal took place at a bad time – the Asian financial crisis forced The Hour Glass to sell the brainchild of Gerald Gently to Bvlgari.
Gerald Gent’s sketches for a watch on the theme of equestrian sports. Photo: www.acollectedman.com
I don’t like watches! For me, watches are the opposite of freedom. I’m an artist, a painter, I hate time limits. It annoys me.
Paradoxical and at the same time quite understandable words of a man. Who has been developing the design of watches for 60 years. Having sold his company, Gerald Genta Watches did not retire. He devoted a lot of time to painting and constantly drew new sketches. As if asking himself: “What would I do if Patek Philippe or Audemars Piguet called me and ordered a new watch.” At the same time, Gerald Gent’s design interests were not limit to one hour. He also created cutlery, glasses, jewelry and other accessories.
Photo : www.acollectedman.com
In an interview shortly before his death in 2011, Genta said he created more than 100,000 designs in his lifetime. Neither confirm nor deny the words of the master today is impossible. And yet Evelyn Genta, together with their common daughter Alexia and the Gérald Genta Heritage Association created by them 3 years ago, managed to systematize more than 3,000 sketches of the designer. Including both those that were implement by well-known brands, and those that remained only on paper. The latter, Mrs. Genta, concurrently consul general of Monaco in London, does not give up hope of one day being release in the form of a watch. We do not know about you, but we would love to visit the exhibition of new models of the greatest watch designer of the twentieth century.