Watch Icons: Gérald Genta

By Sotheby's

E very industry needs an innovator – someone who pushes ideas and design beyond the usual conservative constraints. The watch industry, notoriously cautious, owes much to one man, who single-handedly accelerated timepiece design and aesthetics beyond the conventional and archetypal. Gérald Genta is synonymous with some of the most iconic and enduring watch designs of the 20th century. Born in Geneva on 1st May 1931 he trained as a goldsmith and jeweler before joining Universal Geneva, an important watch manufacturer. At the age of just 23 he designed the SAS Polerouter, a watch that would become one of the brand’s greatest successes.

Universal Genève, 'SAS' Polarouter, Ref 20217-6 Stainless Steel Anti-Magnetic Wristwatch, circa 1954. Sold for CHF 12,500 at Sotheby’s Geneva in 2018.

Shortly after this his innovative talent for design had caught the attention of some of the most renowned watch makers. Omega made the first approach and asked the young Genta to refresh their Constellation collection. Next came Audemars Piguet, who wanted to shake up the very notion of what a luxury watch was; Genta designed the Royal Oak, the iconic octagonal timepiece and the world’s first luxury watch to be made of steel. Then a collaboration with Patek Philippe, which saw the creation of the Nautilus inspired by the lines of a transatlantic ship – a style that would cement Genta as the designer most able to blend the notion of luxury with a sporty aesthetic. The IWC Ingenieur would follow, and multiple collaborations with brands such as Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Chaumet, Hamilton, Bulgari, Seiko and Timex.

Gérald Genta, Retro Sport, Reference G.3694, A Stainless Steel, Rubber and Diamond-Set Wristwatch with Jumping Hour and Retrograde Minute, circa 2005. Estimate HK$20,000–30,000.

Genta also established his own eponymous brand in 1969 producing timepieces for a glittering roster of clients including the King of Spain, the King of Saudi Arabia and the Sultans of Oman and of Brunei. His Grand Sonnerie, with chimes that mimic Big Ben was completed after 5 years of research and development and is today still considered one of the finest achievements in watchmaking.

Genta died in August 2011 at the age of 80, and it’s thought that over his lifetime he designed more than 100,000 watches. Having stamped his indelible mark on timepiece design his legacy will live on.

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