From The Royal Oak To The King Midas, 10 Of Gérald Genta’s Most Iconic Designs
Inarguably one of the greatest—and most prolific—watch designers of all time, Gérald Genta’s creations have stood the test of time.
Those with even a passing interest in horology will have seen a Gérald Genta design. The legendary artist and designer is responsible for some of the world’s most covetable timepieces—counting the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and Patek Philippe Nautilus amongst his oeuvre—and is widely credited with saving the Swiss watch industry from the Quartz Crisis of the 1970s.
However, Genta’s body of work extends far beyond the almost unattainable duo of steel sports watches that dominate horological conversations, with the prolific designer having been responsible for a veritable profusion of timepiece designs. According to the Gerald Genta Heritage Association, the Swiss-Italian watchmaker designed over 100,000 watches over the span of his career.
With an unmatched ability to imbue horological designs with a sense of aestheticism, several of Genta’s designs have stood the test of time. A testament to his enduring style is the new IWC Ingenieur Automatic 40; released almost fifty years after Genta’s first Ingenieur SL, it combines the aesthetic codes of the original with contemporary ergonomics. And now, the Gérald Genta brand will be revived under LVMH, with Genta’s wife Evelyne granting the luxury conglomerate access to her late husband’s archives, which contain hundreds of designs that were never produced.
Herewith, the most iconic Gérald Genta designs of all time — plus, some underrated timepieces that deserve a look in.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak (1972)
A seminal timepiece, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak heralded the rise of the luxury steel sports watch category. In the early 1970s, Swiss watch manufacture Audemars Piguet commissioned Genta to design a luxury sports watch — primarily as a last-ditch attempt to turn the tide around following a downtrend in sales due to inexpensive quartz movements being exported from Japan. Characterised by its unconventional screwed-down geometric bezel (said to be inspired by the shape of a diver’s helmet), integrated bracelet, and steel—for the price of gold—construction, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak was a sleeper hit.
While its unprecedentedly high price and unusual aesthetics weren’t immediately well-received upon release in 1972, Audemars Piguet leaned into its unconventional price point in its marketing gaff and the Royal Oak quickly became a phenomenon.
Patek Philippe Nautilus (1976)
Not only did Genta design the timepiece that transformed perceptions of steel, he also conceived its greatest competitor. A commission by Patek Philippe in 1976 led to the creation of the Nautilus. Like the Royal Oak, the Nautilus derives inspiration from the nautical world—this time from the portholes of transatlantic ships—and is named after Captain Nemo’s submarine in Jules Verne’s novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. According to the Gérald Genta Heritage Association, Genta sketched the Nautilus in five minutes on a paper napkin in a restaurant.
Defined by its soft-angled bezel, integrated bracelet, and horizontal ribbed dial, the timepiece remained in production for 30 years and is considered one of the most desirable watches of all time to this day.
IWC Ingenieur SL (1976)
During the same year the Nautilus was released, Gérald Genta was tasked with refreshing the IWC Ingenieur, which first debuted in 1955. Initially taking on a dressier aesthetic, Genta’s revamped Ingenieur SL saw the timepiece forgo its classic round case and tapered lugs for a sporty rounded tonneau steel case with a five-screw bezel and an integrated profile; a design signature of the Swiss-Italian watchmaker.
Reflective of increased interest in Gérald Genta’s designs of late, IWC introduced the 2023 Ingenieur Automatic 40, which adapts the bold aesthetic codes of the Ingenieur SL for a contemporary audience.
Universal Geneve Polerouter (1954)
The first major design in what would become a heady body of work, Genta designed the Universal Geneve Polerouter in 1954 at the age of 23. Universal Geneva approached Genta to design a timepiece to commemorate the historic flight from Copenhagen to Los Angeles, with the first watches given to the cabin crew of the Scandinavian Airlines Systems (SAS) upon landing in LAX. The elegant multi-textured dial and streamlined case of the Universal Geneve Polerouter belie its functionality, with the timepiece equipped with anti-magnetic properties and a chapter ring designed for enhanced legibility in dark conditions.
Omega Constellation (1954)
Initially introduced in the early 1950s, the Omega Constellation was conceived as a dress watch. Stalling sales off the flagship model prompted the luxury Swiss manufacture to commission Genta to devise a fresh take on the line. Genta rid the Constellation of its pie-pan dial and tapered lugs, introducing a rounded C-case in its place; defined by integrated lugs and a tonneau shape, the design was emblematic of the space-age movement that reigned supreme at the time. The redesign also introduced baton indices and stick hands. The Constellation has since been iterated to the point where Genta’s design language is virtually indistinguishable, with the timepiece considered a rarity among the horological community.
Bulgari Bulgari (1977)
Simple yet impactful, the Bulgari Bulgari—first released in 1977—is modelled after an ancient Roman coin on which the effigy of the emperor was encircled by engraved inscriptions. Initially dubbed the ‘Bulgari Roma’ and designed solely for the Italian luxury fashion house’s Rome-based atelier, the name was changed after Bulgari noted its positive reception worldwide. The cylindrical case shape and understated lugs were also influenced by the columns of ancient Roman temples, imbuing the timepiece with a nostalgic feel. Over the past 36 years, the fundamentals of the Bulgari Bulgari have been left relatively unchanged, save for the transition from quartz to mechanical movements and the introduction of larger case sizes to suit contemporary tastes.
Pasha de Cartier (1985)
In the early 1930s, the Pasha of Marrakesh tasked Louis Cartier with creating a gold timepiece equipped with a level of water resistance uncommon to the time. The resultant solution was a watch with a comparatively large case size with a crown cover and a metal grid to protect the dial. Over fifty years later, the French luxury goods house enlisted Genta to create a new timepiece with a sporty (yet still elegant) aesthetic. Standing out from the plethora of rectangles, squares, and ovals in Cartier’s then-current lineup, the Pasha stood out for its large (for the time) 38mm case, Vendôme lugs, the screw-down crown cap complete with cabochon and a retaining chain, and the oversized 3, 6, 9, and 12 numerals on the dial.
Bulgari Octo (2000s)
The Bulgari Octo was released shortly after the Italian jeweller and watchmaker acquired the Gérald Genta brand in 2000. While there’s some contention surrounding whether Genta actually designed the Octo himself, his unmistakable design language is present in the timepiece’s integrated bracelet and the geometric case which juxtaposes rectilinear forms with curvilinear ones by positioning a round bezel on an eight-sided case.
Seiko Credor Locomotive (1979)
While the hexagonal bezel often draws comparisons to Genta’s most famous timepiece, the Seiko Credor Locomotive—designed in 1979—has its origins in locomotives rather than nautics. The angular bezel and integrated bracelet closely resemble that of the Royal Oak, however the Seiko Credor Locomotive subtly sets itself apart through a new shape for the intermediary links and the nature-inspired pattern on the dial.
Rolex King Midas (1964)
Perhaps the most unconventional of Genta’s creations, the Rolex King Midas sees the Swiss-Italian artist apply geometric forms in a new way. Steering away from his signature sporty aesthetic, the asymmetric case of the Rolex King Midas was inspired by the silhouette of a Greek temple. A solid gold timepiece—hence the name—the King Midas was one of the heaviest watches on the market, despite its modest 27mm proportions.
Subscribe to the Newsletter
Recommended for you
Kennedy, the fine watches and jewellery retailer with 10 locations around Australia, held a gala dinner at the new Ritz-Carlton in Melbourne last night to launch a new exhibition in partnership with Patek Philippe.
December 1, 2023
Celebs pulled out all the horological stops for the Las Vegas Grand Prix.
November 27, 2023