In the world of watches, it’s typically the brands that are the superstars. Think Rolex, Patek, AP, and RM. However, sometimes a person’s influence on the watch landscape is so broad that they become the talking point. Enter Gerald Genta, the most influential watch designer of the 20th century. If you know watches, then the late Gerald Genta is no stranger — after all, not only is he the man behind smash hits like the Royal Oak and the Nautilus but he’s also responsible for forming the now- exceedingly popular steel luxury sports watch category. However, if you’re a newer member of the watch enthusiast space, then you may not have yet grasped the significance of Genta’s contributions to the industry. Keep reading as we detail the history and evolution of Gerald Genta’s work, highlight some of his most important creations for renowned watchmakers, and discuss the origins and future of some of his eponymous brands.
Who is Gerald Genta?
Known as the Maestro by his friends and colleagues, Gerald Genta was a watch designer, active from the 1950s until he died in 2011. He was born in Geneva, Switzerland in 1931 and began his career at the Universal Geneve in the 1950s and continued to work with the watch brand until the mid-1960s. In addition to his designs for Universal Genève, Genta went on to design timepieces for Audemars Piguet, Omega, Patek Philippe, Cartier, Bulgari, Van Cleef & Arpels, Hamilton, and others.
In 1969, he launched his eponymous brand, Gerald Genta, to create exceptional pieces for his exclusive clients. In 2000, Bulgari acquired the Gerald Genta brand and continued to manufacture watches under the designer’s famous name. In 2023, La Fabrique du Temps, Louis Vuitton’s watchmaking manufacture announced that it acquired the Gerald Genta brand and will produce high-complication pieces under the brand name.
After the Bulgari acquisition in 2000, Gerald Genta launched yet another brand — Gerald Charles, this time using his middle name. In 2003, the brand was sold to a group of investors but Genta stayed on as designer-in-chief. Under the Gerald Charles marque, Genta unveiled the Maestro watch in 2006, playfully using his famous nickname.
Gerald Genta died in 2011 at the age of 80 and left behind a lasting legacy of iconic watches.
Gerald Genta-Designed Watches
In a fascinating interview Gerald Genta did in 2009, the prolific designer stated that he had created over 100,000 different watches during his five-decade-long career! And among that incredible number are plenty of standout pieces, many of which remain in production today.
Universal Genève Polerouter Watch
Founded in 1894, Universal Genève was a pioneer in the Swiss watchmaking industry during the early 20th Century, particularly with chronograph watches.
Back to Basics: What is a Chronograph Watch?
In 1954, Universal Genève introduced the Polerouter (originally called the Polarouter) watch for crewmembers of the Scandinavian Airline System (SAS) to celebrate the airline’s then-new “polar route”. The watch was designed by 23-year-old Gerald Genta and the Universal Genève Polerouter remains a darling in vintage watch collecting circles.
Omega Constellation Watch
One of Omega’s most important watch models, the Constellation has been a mainstay of the company’s catalog since its introduction in 1952. The Constellation was created to honor the two chronometer records and six first-place awards that Omega achieved, which was symbolized in the watch’s crest depicting eight stars floating above an observatory.
In 1959, Omega commissioned Gerald Genta to revamp the Constellation watch. He designed the Constellation ref. 14900, which included a “pie‑pan” dial (named so for its resemblance to an upside-down pie pan), hand‑rivetted gold hour markers, and gold Dauphine-style hands. Genta also designed the C-shape case variants of the Constellation, which went on to become very popular.
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Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Watch
In 1972, Audemars Piguet launched the Royal Oak, which would not only become the company’s flagship watch but also one of the most revered timepiece designs of the modern era. Famously designed by Gerald Genta in 1970, the Royal Oak drew inspiration from an old-school diving helmet, right down to the exposed screws.
According to Genta, Audemars Piguet wanted the design done in one night and requested “something totally new and waterproof.” The Royal Oak delivered on both those requirements and the introduction of the watch created an entirely new watch genre: the stainless steel luxury sports watch. Remember, prior to the Royal Oak debut, luxury watches were defined as small, slim, and crafted from precious metal. With its large case (nicknamed the “Jumbo”), bold design, and stainless steel construction, the Royal Oak was the antithesis of that philosophy and paved the way for all the sporty yet expensive models that would soon follow.
With the Royal Oak, we clearly see what would become signature Genta design traits: unconventional cases, distinctive bezels, patterned dials, integrated bracelets, industrial design inspiration, and above all else, a non-conformist attitude.
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IWC Ingenieur Watch
Created for engineers, scientists, and medical professionals, the antimagnetic IWC Ingenieur watch first came to market in 1955, featuring the company’s first in-house automatic movement and a soft-iron inner case for magnetic resistance.
By the end of the following decade, IWC wanted to refresh the collection with a new version of the Ingenieur so the company teamed up with Genta. Genta submitted his design in 1974, and IWC Ingenieur SL ref. 1832 launched in 1976. Here again, we see some quintessential Genta touches such as an angular case, a bezel with recessed plots, a patterned dial, and an integrated bracelet with H-links. By IWC’s own admission, the Genta-designed Ingenieur SL was not a commercial success, and only a little over 1,000 examples were made. However, the design did serve as the blueprint for the Ingenieur collection over the following decades.
In 2023, IWC announced the return of Genta’s Ingenieur to its catalog with a slew of new models.
Patek Philippe Nautilus Watch
A few years after the launch of the Royal Oak by Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe also wanted to offer its clients a sporty waterproof watch made in stainless steel. Naturally, the company reached out to Gerald Genta and he answered with the Nautilus. According to Genta, he drew the sketch on a paper napkin while he was in a restaurant during the Basel Trade Fair: “I designed the Nautilus while observing the people from Patek eating!… It was a sketch that I completed in 5 minutes.”
Named after Captain Nemo’s submarine in Jules Verne’s novel “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” Genta designed the Nautilus watch after a ship’s porthole, complete with the two “ears” on the case that mimic the hinges of the window. Aside from the unorthodox case silhouette, other classic Genta details found on the Patek Philippe Nautilus, which was released in 1976, include an eight-sided bezel, an integrated bracelet, a grooved dial, and a water-resistance rating of 120 meters.
More on the Patek Philippe Nautilus:
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Bulgari Bulgari Watch
In 1975, famed Italian jeweler, Bulgari, offered 100 of its top clients a gold quartz watch with a digital display that was emblazoned with “BVLGARI” and “ROMA” on the case — much like ancient Roman coins would feature the name of the current emperor.
Gerald Genta redesigned this well-received client gift and the Bulgari Bulgari watch was born in 1977. The watch, characterized by the double “BVLGARI” engraving on its bezel would become one of Bulgari’s trademark timepieces, which is still in production today.
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Cartier Pasha de Cartier Watch
Although Cartier has long claimed that the Pasha is inspired by a water-resistant watch made for Thami El Glaoui, the Pasha of Marrakesh, in the 1930s, the watch as we know it today was in fact designed by Gerald Genta in 1985.
Genta’s Pasha de Cartier watch flaunted the luxurious sports watch style that the designer was known for while also maintaining Cartier’s signature aesthetics. The yellow gold round case of the maiden 1985 Pasha featured ornate Vendome-style lugs while the crown was topped with a cap (affixed to the case via a small chainlink) for added water resistance. Its 38mm size was substantial for the era and it housed a dial decorated with a square track at the center. Emphasizing the Pasha’s water-ready capabilities was the rotating timing dive bezel on top of the case.
In 2020, Cartier revived the Pasha watch collection after a few years of absence and the modern models are still very much reminiscent of Genta’s original design.
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Gérald Genta Watches
Under his eponymous brand, Gerald Genta designed several notable pieces, including the Gefica Safari, unveiled in 1984 following a request from a trio of hunters (Geoffroy, Fissore, and Canali). Not only was this the world’s first bronze wristwatch (a material chosen specifically because it does not reflect light and therefore would not attract unnecessary attention from the hunters) but it also included calendar indications and a moon phase display on the dial and a compass attached to the strap.
Many Gerald Genta watches featured an elaborate octagonal case that the designer introduced in 1991. We can clearly see the influence of the Gerald Genta Octagonal watches on the modern Bulgari Octo collection.
The Gerald Genta Grand Sonnerie from 1995 was the world’s most complicated wristwatch at the time, boasting a minute repeater, Westminster four-hammer chime, perpetual calendar, and dual power reserve display,
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In 1996, Genta combined retrograde minutes and a jumping hour counter (two complications he had already featured separately) in one watch. This”Biretro” combo would eventually become a hallmark complication of the Gerald Genta brand.
The Maestro no doubt had a playful side too as illustrated by his Disney watch collection featuring the now-famous Gerald Genta Mickey Mouse watches. Bulgari reminded us of this novel partnership in 2022 with a limited edition Gerald Genta Arena Bi-Retrograde Mickey Mouse Playing Football watch.
Watches Incorrectly Credited to Genta
It’s clear that Gerald Genta was responsible for an incredible array of watch designs. However, there are a few watch designs that are often reported as designed by Gerald Genta but were, in fact, not. For instance, the Vacheron Constantin 222 (the precursor to the Overseas) is frequently confused as a Genta creation — particularly since it features a highly-stylized bezel, angular case, and integrated bracelet like so many Genta watches. But it was Jorg Hysek who designed the VC 222 sports watch.
Furthermore, there are several reports online that claim that Genta was responsible for the Patek Philippe Ellipse watch. Again, not true. Genta shared in the aforementioned interview that Jean-Daniel Rubeli designed the Ellipse watch. However, it’s also been reported that Georges Delessert may have been responsible for the design of this minimalist Patek Philippe dress watch.
As many of you may already know, the beefy Royal Oak Offshore is a spinoff of the Royal Oak model, introduced in 1993 to celebrate the AP RO’s 20th anniversary (one year late due to production delays). What you may not know, however, is Genta had nothing to do with the design of the Royal Oak Offshore — it was Emmanuel Gueit who designed it. And Genta was not a fan; it’s been widely reported that he stormed out of the ROO launch presentation and criticized Gueit for ruining his original design.
Finally, how about Rolex? Genta has gone on record saying that he designed a watch for Rolex–but didn’t specify which one except that it belonged to the Cellini collection. Some speculate that it’s the unconventional Midas while others theorize that it could be the Rolex ref. 5100 “Texan,” which was Rolex’s first quartz watch.
Gerald Genta’s Legacy
Almost 70 years after his first watch design for Universal Genève and a dozen years after his passing, Gerald Genta is still very much part of the conversation in the watch world. The Royal Oak and the Nautilus are the most coveted ultra-luxury sports watches in today’s market and numerous big-brand watchmakers are now proud to reveal that Genta once designed watches for them.
It’ll be interesting to see what the revamped Gerald Genta brand under the leadership of LVMH will unleash over the next few years.
The impact this freelance watch designer made on his industry is impressive, to say the least. He is among the most (if not, the most) recognizable names in the business and his legacy will no doubt continue to shape watches for the foreseeable future.
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