Watch list: Gérald Genta’s most sought-after creations to go under the hammer


Next spring, Sotheby’s will stage a trilogy of auctions in Geneva, Hong Kong and New York known collectively as the Gerald Genta Icon of Time Sale. In total, 100 of the original designs of the great watch designer, selected and coming directly from the domain, will be sold with the accompanying NFTs. As a bonus, Sotheby’s Important Watches Sale in Geneva in May will feature Gerald Genta’s Royal Oak Audemars Piguet, which perfectly coincides with the 50th anniversary of the launch of the famous octagonal watch.

If you know anything about wristwatches, you probably know that it’s impossible (or very, very, very expensive) to get hold of an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak or a Patek Philippe Nautilus. Genta designed them both and the original designs of these two trophy watches will be among the designs offered in the auctions.

In the world of watch collectors, that’s about as big as the case. (If you prefer handbags to watches, think of it as if you could purchase Jean Louis Dumas’ designs for the Birkin bag and acquire Jane Birkin’s own Birkin, with the topical addition of an NFT to complete the package.)

Sketch of Genta for a Pacha Cartier © Courtesy of Sotheby’s

A personalized design for a Middle Eastern head of state © Courtesy of Sotheby’s

The auctions were organized by Evelyne Genta, partner in life and in business, and posthumous champion of the man nicknamed the Picasso of watchmaking. “With this sale, and in particular on the NFT component, we are continuing Gérald’s legacy of innovation. He was always at least five or 10 years ahead of his time, even at seventy he loved rap music and he would have loved NFTs, ”she says.

Ambassador of Monaco to the court of Santiago and to Kazakhstan, Evelyne has a demanding professional life, but in the decade since her husband’s death, she has also taken care of protecting her husband’s inheritance. She has ensured the conservation of thousands of original drawings, watercolors and gouaches; she created the Association Héritage Gérald Genta (full disclosure – I am a member of the honorary committee); and in association with the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie, she is organizing an exhibition of her late husband’s work in Geneva in April. She hopes this series of auctions will put her late husband in the spotlight a decade after his death, on the 50th anniversary of his most famous creation.

The story of the birth of the Royal Oak is part of Swiss folklore. At 4 p.m., the day before the annual Swiss watch fair in 1970, Genta received a call from Audemars Piguet, to come up with a set of models for an exceptional steel watch that will be presented to French and Italian distributors the next day.

The result was a watch that impacted the New Look of Dior and the invigorating avant-garde aesthetic of Pierre Cardin. When it was launched in 1972, it was viewed with astonishment: octagonal rather than round and large by the standards of the time, it featured an intricate polished and satin-brushed link bracelet that was fully integrated into the head of the watch – it was impossible to tell where the bracelet ended, and the watch started. The octagonal bezel was punctuated with countersunk hexagonal screws in white gold: the only hint of precious metal on a steel watch that would be more expensive than many gold watches. Genta said his inspiration was a childhood memory of seeing a diver put on the helmet of a scuba-type scuba.

It was unlike anything else on the market. Fifty years later, the overwhelming majority of watches produced by Audemars Piguet are either Royal Oaks or the larger Royal Oak Offshore.

Four years later, Genta pulled off a similar blow by designing the Nautilus for Patek Philippe, another steel masterpiece that costs more than many gold watches.

If he had put his brushes and pencils away in 1976 and done nothing else, he would have secured his place in posterity, but his long career spanned six decades. His trajectory and importance in the industry is analogous to that of Karl Lagerfeld in fashion by his prolific production, his unique voice, and his virtuoso ventriloquist talent that allowed him to create in the idiom of any brand. that you wanted to mention.

Its first notable design was the Polerouter, a watch made by Universal Genève in the early 1950s to celebrate the polar flights between Europe and the United States by SAS. He then designed for Van Cleef & Arpels, Omega, IWC, Chaumet, Seiko and Timex. He worked with Cartier on the Pasha, and he created the Bulgari Bulgari with Gianni Bulgari.

Genta’s first draft for the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak © Courtesy of Sotheby’s

He launched his own brand, which turned the hi-lo concept of the high-luxury steel watch upside down, working with Disney to create Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse watches in precious metals – a move that outraged the watch industry. Swiss conservative in the 1980s. At its peak, the company he and his wife ran employed around 250 people in two factories.

But in addition to creating designs that have seen huge commercial success, he also enjoyed a reputation as a creator of unique pieces for wealthy patrons including the kings of Morocco, Spain and Saudi Arabia, the sultans. of Brunei and Oman and the Queen Mother.

His range was encyclopedic: he could turn his hand with equal ease towards erotic watches presented in a music box that played the score of Emmanuelle, or – well ahead of its time – a revolutionary bronze watch for a trio of hunters who wanted a timepiece that didn’t shine or sparkle in the sun as they stalked their prey.

But for a man who made such a shift in the watch industry and created some of the most important timepieces of the late 20th century, his wife had a startling revelation: “He thought watches were fascinating objects. ”, Says Evelyne,“ but he preferred not to wear a watch himself because he felt that watches were a detriment to his freedom.

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