Collecting Icons: the Watch Designs of Gerald Genta

Since I’m in the auction world, I have the unique opportunity to interact with all types of watch collectors. Some choose to build around a certain theme, whether it’s chronographs, dive watches or within a particular brand. But I offer up another alternative for your consideration. What if instead of hunting down certain types of watches, you put together a collection based upon a single man. Yes, one man. His name is Charles Gérald Genta.

If you were to track down the designs of Gérald Genta, you would have some of the most exceptional watches, many even icons in their class. Born in 1931 in Geneva, Switzerland, Genta was the man who invented the idea of the star watch designer. Prior to his entrance on the scene, designers were unknown, sequestered behind the brands, which took credit for their successes. Genta emerged from behind the curtain, gaining renown as he designed one watch success after another.

Genta entered the watch business at the age of 20 after he finished jewelry and goldsmith training. Universal Genève snapped him up and the result of that collaboration was the Polarouter, later renamed Polerouter, released in 1954. This was just the beginning of a fruitful career working with marques names including Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe, Bulgari and Cartier.

Here’s what a Genta-inspired collection would look like, though it’s just a sampling and doesn’t represent the breadth of his work.

Omega Constellation (1960-70′s)

Omega sought out Genta to freshen up the Constellation, a model in their ultra-precise watches collection. Symbolizing this line was the Cupola Observatory surrounded by eight stars, marking their greatest timing achievements in observatory contests. The brand has a great history in precision watches, one of the feathers in its cap the 1931 Observatory of Geneva “clean sweep” when Omega broke the record for precision in every category. To this day, Omega continues its pursuit of precision seen in its adoption of George Daniel’s lubricant-free co-axial escapement. Launched in 1952, the Constellation had a dial that looked like an upside down pie pan, thus giving it the nickname “Pie-Pan” still used to this day. The real name given to the dial was “douze ‘pans”, or twelve facets, and it came in a water resistant case with either a snap or screw back. It was produced into the mid-1960’s. To this day, Omega still produces the Constellation line of watches with chronometer-grade movements, though collectors usually go for those from the 1950’s and 1970’s. 2012 marks the 60th anniversary of the watch.

Omega Constellation courtesy of WatchesToBuy

Universal Geneve Polerouter 1954

Scandinavian Airline System (SAS) took the bold move of flying over the North Pole, opening up new and shorter routes from Europe to California. However, a watch’s mechanics are thrown off by the polar region’s strong magnetic fields. Pilots needed an accurate timekeeper during this daring flight and turned to Universal Genève to make them a certified chronometer. The young Genta was tasked with designing the Polarouter, equipped with automatic calibre 138 SS and containing a pendular mass oscillating between two shock absorbers. A new version was released in 1955 and renamed Polerouter, operated by calibre 215 “Microtor”. Through the 1950’s-1960’s, Universal Genève remained the official “timer” on all Royal Viking flights of SAS. The classic models contain “Bombe” lugs and an inner index ring along with an engraved screwed caseback with the sketched North Pole route, while crew watches additionally have the SAS logo on the dial. The Polerouter was made in steel, 18K yellow gold and pink gold.

Universal Geneve Polerouter courtesy of Blomman

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak 1972

What Genta did with the Royal Oak was a game changer. Prior to its release in 1972 there hadn’t been a haute horlogerie luxury sport market—let alone one cased in stainless steel! Audemars Piguet went to Genta to come up with something after they got wind the Italians might be interested in a steel luxury piece. The only reason Audemars Piguet considered such a risky move is because the company was in trouble, on the verge of financial collapse. In a last ditch effort to gain some traction Audemars Piguet made 1000 pieces of the octagonal-shaped Royal Oak (referred to as the Jumbo), committing 1/6th of their production to the upstart model. Inside ticks the thin as skin self-winding calibre 2121 based off a Jaeger-LeCoultre calibre, which is still considered one of the best movements ever made. As you know, Audemars Piguet is practically defined by the Royal Oak series and remains their best seller along with the younger even sportier brother, the Royal Oak Offshore. For collectors, the Royal Oak A series (the first 1000 models off the line) are the most coveted. The B and C series aren’t too shabby either.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak A Series

Patek Philippe Nautilus 1976

Patek Philippe saw the success of the Royal Oak and wanted in on the market. Known for its complications and dress watches, the brand was (and still is) considered the touchstone in horology, but they really didn’t have a presence in the sports watch category. It was high time to explore the possibilities. The natural go-to guy to design the watch was Genta. He had already racked up an impressive track record. His answer for Patek Philippe was the Nautilus Ref. 3700/1. Though it didn’t have the octagonal shape or screws on the bezel, like the Royal Oak, the Nautilus resembles a divers’ helmet too. Patek Philippe used caliber 28-255 C, also based on a Jaeger-LeCoultre movement. The “Jumbo”, as its also referred to, remained in production until 1990. Different iterations came over the years but collectors couldn’t get their minds off the original. Heeding the call, Patek Philippe updated and released the Nautilus Ref. 5711/1A in 2006.

Nautilus Ref. 5711/1A

Gérald Genta Mickey Mouse 1980’s

While designing for other brands, Genta also pursued his creative muse through his eponymous company established in 1969. In 1994, he debuted the Grande Sonnerie Retro, the world’s most complicated watch at the time. He also would take bespoke requests from private clients, hand designing the entire piece, including the movement, dial and case. It wouldn’t be a truly Gérald Genta collection without having a pure example, designed by Genta for his own company. During the 1980’s Genta showed his playful side when he got licensing from the Walt Disney Company to design limited editions of Disney character watches in 18K gold cases. The idea came from a client who suggested the piece for himself. Of course, Mickey Mouse, a pivotal character for Disney, got to star in his own watch. A fan of the retrograde and jump hour complication, Genta incorporated them into this one too, with Mickey’s hands indicating the minutes.

There are several ways to build a collection, only limited by your imagination and interests. Enjoy the journey!

Gerald Genta Mickey Mouse


Categories Audemars Piguet, Omega, Patek Philippe, Universal Geneve Tags , Bookmark