S otheby's is breaking new ground in the world of watch auctions, offering non-fungible tokens (NFTs) alongside design drawings and oil paintings by legendary watchmaker and designer, the late, great Gérald Genta.
“It’s wonderful to think Genta may well have had this Royal Oak on his wrist while he was creating some of his other great designs”
The avant garde creations of Genta, earned him the nickname the “Picasso of Watchmaking”. His imaginative, forward-thinking designs – such as the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, 1972, and the Patek Philippe Nautilus, 1976 – are considered among the most collectable wristwatches of the 20th century, and values have soared as a result.
It is fitting then that, in a first for a watch auction, 100 of Genta’s meticulously executed design drawings and four of his oil paintings are being offered at Sotheby’s each alongside its own NFT.
“Genta was always ahead of his time, so we decided to also set a precedent by using NFTs as a way of providing absolute authentication of the designs we are selling,” says Benoit Colson, Sotheby’s Paris-based international watch specialist.
The previously unseen archive of designs, split into a series of three auctions, has been consigned by his widow Evelyne, and will be highlighted by a fourth sale in Geneva on 10 May of Genta’s personal Royal Oak wristwatch, which is being offered to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the model’s release. It could realise in excess of CHF 500,000 (£400,000).
“Genta was a worldwide figure who collaborated with many different brands to produce watches the likes of which no one had ever previously imagined,” Colson explains. “Many are more sought-after today than when they were first produced. His work really has transcended generations.”
In the first sale, a watercolour painting of the original prototype design of the Royal Oak fetched a remarkable CHF 564,500. Colson expects Genta’s personal Royal Oak to be hotly contested.
“The watch is simply a dream piece, and possibly the most important Royal Oak in the world,” he says. “What is really fascinating about it is the fact that it was originally made entirely from stainless steel, but at some point Genta had the bezel changed to yellow gold, possibly because he wanted to use it to explore the potential of a bi-colour model in the US market.”
“It shows signs of having been worn and enjoyed, and it’s wonderful to think that he may well have had it on his wrist while he was creating some of his other great designs, such as the Cartier Pasha.”
Before the May sale comes an auction in New York on 13 April, led by a superb rendering of Genta’s landmark Mickey Mouse Fantasia jump hour watch.
The sale of the archive marks the 10th anniversary of Genta’s death. Some of the proceeds will go to the Gérald Genta Heritage Association, which Evelyne launched in 2018 with the aim of raising awareness of her husband’s work around the world and nurturing talented young watch designers.