Just Because The Gérald Genta Nobody Knows
Top image, minute repeating, skeletonized perpetual calendar by Gérald Genta, circa 1990. ( Image: Phillips )
To a large portion of us, the late Gérald Genta, who passed away in 2011 at the age of 80 (nine years ago this month), is a man most popular for a few watches – the Royal Oak, obviously, the Nautilus, and a few others, similar to the IWC Ingenieur. Genta’s actual work was far more broad – and I mean far more broad. He planned, by his own estimate, something like a hundred thousand watches – so many that even he was unable to recall all of them. He is considered by many enthusiasts, on the strength of his work for AP, Patek, and IWC, as a sort of mandarin of minimalism, a model of horological restraint whose work oozes an air of classical harmony and balance – to such an extent that when Bulgari, who acquired Genta’s eponymous company in 2000, launched a new form of one of his Biretrograde watches earlier this month, there were a few readers who believed that Genta would have hated the watch. This is understandable as, on the off chance that you don’t know exactly how many various kinds of watches Genta created, you would will in general think, at least based on the Royal Oak and the Nautilus, that baroque complexity would be anathema to him. However, in reality, Genta’s incredibly ripe imagination gave birth to the absolute generally wacky and wonderful watches anyone’s ever made.
One of the best assets for understanding Genta in a smidgen more profundity is an interview distributed in 2009 on VeryImportantWatches.com ( viewable as a PDF ). The interview is loaded with quotable quotes and fascinating facts – at one point Genta remarks (after saying he doesn’t care for watches and won’t wear one), “As far as I might be concerned, watches are the antithesis of freedom. I’m an artist, a painter, I hate having to adhere to the constraints of time. It irritates me.” Given the conditions in Switzerland in the early 1950s, when Genta had recently completed his apprenticeship as a jeweler and was attempting to scrape a living as a creator to help his attempts to prevail as a painter, it’s sort of amazing he stayed with it at all. An individual could be pardoned for feeling that a watch creator in Switzerland in those days carried on with the existence of Riley, however it was certainly not all champagne at the Beau Rivage and apres-ski manicures in Gstaad – rather incredibly, the going rate was fifteen Swiss per design, Genta remembered.
The Gérald Genta Biretrograde Sport, 2020.
That meant that early on, Genta was planning for as many various customers as he could, including watch brands, yet additionally providers. He recalled, “By this I mean that, for example, my immediate customer wasn’t Omega, yet Omega’s providers, and it was in this manner that I participated in the creation of the Seamaster, or of the Constellation, for example by planning the case for the one, or planning a dial or a bracelet for another. Today, even within Omega itself they don’t know all that I have accomplished for them, yet regardless!” Over the course of his plan career, Genta had an incredible range of customers, including some rather surprising ones – he tackled job for AP, sure, starting in 1953, yet he also intended for Benrus, Hamilton, and Bulova in the USA, and he even intended for Seiko (the Seiko Credor “Locomotive” from 1979) and Rolex (the King Midas). And I know it’s a watch whose BVLGARI logo is an invitation for a few of us to drink the haterade, however indeed, he did the Bulgari as well.
In 1969, Genta started his own company, which delivered watches under his own name until he offered the firm in 1998 to commit himself to painting. During the time frame in which he owned and coordinated the company, it delivered watches that, as a rule, are so colorfully baroque as to make you wonder how they might actually have been created by the same person who gave us the Royal Oak. These included retrograde complications, Disney character watches with retrograde hands, and high complications – regularly in cases that looked ornamental enough for King Ludwig Of Bavaria.
Gérald Genta Retro Fantasy Mickey Mouse watch, 1996 ( Image, Christie’s ).
Gérald Genta, grande et modest sonnerie with Westminster chimes, perpetual calendar, power holds for development and striking train, digital minutes and retrograde hours, white-gold case. See you at the Leopard Lounge , baby.
The Retro Fantasy watches are actually a portion of my all-time favorite wristwatches from anybody, ever (I have a weakness for Mickey Mouse watches – as a matter of fact, in my pre-HODINKEE days, the main story I at any point wrote for Revolution was a past filled with Mickey Mouse watches. I pitched the story to Wei Koh as a joke during the launch party for Revolution USA, and he disclosed to me he wanted 3,000 words). There were a fairly large number of various models, and they were no limits extravagance watches – as a matter of fact, the Retro Fantasy Mickey in white gold was the most costly Mickey Mouse watch at any point made. I have not done much burrowing around for them lately, however I understand the Goofy Retro Fantasy watches are the hardest to discover, in case you’re in a gathering mind-set; and there is even an online manual for them on WatchUSeek (the author rather charmingly portrays the fact that his grail watch is a white gold Retro Fantasy Mickey as “immature and weird,” which may be simply the most aware thing any watch enthusiast has at any point said out in the open, ever.)
After all the expressive and occasionally ghastly overabundances in horology of the last twenty years, a Mickey Mouse extravagance watch seems like pretty small lager, however they actually got Genta kicked out of a trade show when he appeared them, in 1984.
EuropaStar archives, 1984.
Now, admittedly, “scandal capable of shaking the Swiss watch industry” isn’t setting the bar exceptionally high, however the way the organizers of the Montres et Bijoux trade show reacted, you’d think it was the Dreyfus Affair or something. Apparently, the show managers were a pretty humorless bunch in any event, for Swiss trade show managers – trade bar The Eastern Jeweler And Watchmaker wrote:
“They [the show managers] didn’t see things in this light. They were not prepared to leave themselves alone touched by such delicate memories. They declared it made no distinction that the models in question were made of gold and diamonds, adding briskly that such a genuine presentation as it was their advantage to administer had no space for mice, panthers (especially the pink variety) Popeye, and other unsuitable characters.”
Gérald Genta, with three of his better-known creations. Image, Genta Heritage Foundation.
Genta, whose reputation for being candid and opinionated was well-merited and hard-earned, reacted to the show’s demand that he eliminate his cartoon character watches from his corner window by leaving the show altogether. You have to wonder what it would take to get kicked out of a trade show nowadays, yet it was an alternate time (HODINKEE leader editorial manager Joe Thompson reveals to me the show, in New York, was held at the Metropolitan Club , which should disclose to you something about the normal tone … yet, you know, still).
There is much, much, much more to tell about Genta’s career, yet in the event that you have gotten this far, I trust you have delighted in discovering that the at some point Mandarin Of Minimalism was not above, at least occasionally, being the Mayor Of Crazytown as well. As his wife Evelyn put it, in an interview with EuropaStar last February , “You have to be allowed to create. That’s why he never worked for anybody.” I encourage everybody to give that interview, and the VeryImportantWatches.com interview, a read – both show that past the generalizations, there was a profoundly complex, apparently inexhaustible creative brain which, albeit Genta was a touch of artist manqué, was capable of finding almost boundless ways in which to communicate itself.
In request to increase awareness of Gérald Genta’s work, and to advance his values in current fine watchmaking, Evelyn Genta has established the Gèrald Genta Heritage Foundation.