In the 1960s, the pop artist Andy Warhol began a series of now famous silkscreen paintings.
The subjects he depicted were people who have become icons of popular culture, among them
Elvis Presley, Jackie Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe. The initial impact of these images was
extraordinary. Each of these individuals compressed a period of time, of social change and of
human history into their iconography. To that end, if Warhol were alive today, he would add
Gerald Genta to his list of silk-screened subjects. With his inborn charm and immense raw talent,
Genta single-handedly derailed watchmaking from its tracks and ushered in the era of the luxury
sports watch. Indeed, Genta is an icon.
The fact that three of the watches he designed in the early 1970s—Audemars Piguet’s Royal
Oak Offshore, IWC’s Ingenieur SL and Patek Philippe’s Nautilus—continue to be the most
dominant watches in the luxury sports watch arena speaks volumes for his talent. Genta’s designs
are mythical because they stay consistently relevant. Before Audemars Piguet tapped Genta to
create the Royal Oak in 1972, there was no such thing as a luxury sports watch. With the nib
of his pen Genta created a flashpoint that would forever change the watch industry and forge a
totally new genre for timepieces that enabled the industry to successfully tap an all-new generation
of consumers. The Royal Oak’s octagonal bezel with fixed screws has been such a success, that
to this day, it comprises more than 50 per cent of the manufacture’s production and is the most
Words: Wei Koh
recognizable sports watch on the planet. Genta, with his trademark Dali-esque moustache, is also
a master of recreating himself. He has gone from being a star designer to the owner of the Gerald
The Royal Oak past and present.
On top is Genta’s original design
Genta has been a creator of some of the world’s most exquisite the Royal Oak was introduced, the boss of Audemars Piguet,
haute de gamme complications, including the 1994 Grande George Golay told me, “This is not an Audemars Piguet!” Today
Sonnerie, and today spearheads Gerald Charles’ latest vehicle it has become their identity.
for artistic self-expression. At Gerald Charles, he launched the
Tourbillon Maestro, a watch with one of the most captivating The design was really radical for iTs Time, don’T
movement designs in modern watchmaking—its gear train is you Think?
mounted on thin cylinder rods like the tubular steel trellis frame Yes, it was quite shocking at the time to create exposed screws
of a Ducati motorcycle. Not to be left out of the current class of and exposed joints. But my thinking was that if you have a
hyper-aggressive products, Genta also introduced his ‘Turbo’, a beautiful car, then parts of the engine and even functional parts
sports watch with his signature exposed case screws and gaskets. like hinges become very beautiful.
Revolution discusses the impact of his designs on horology with
the great man himself. whaT do you Think enabled The royal oak To
become such a legendary design success?
The designs of your sporTs waTches have remained To be fair, it was not simply the design of this watch. There
as vibranT and relevanT as ever. whaT is The secreT was a good marketing campaign for the watch. Sure, it was an
To Their longeviTy? exceptional product, but there was also millions of dollars in
It is thanks to God that I have been given a bit of talent. What marketing behind it. I say this because there have been products
I really like best is when I’m given a project to discover a sense that were very strong but not as well publicized and that did not
of identity for someone who may not be aware they have this receive as much success.
identity. An example is when I designed the Bulgari-Bulgari
watch for Bulgari. The brothers who owned the brand were how do you feel abouT The modern waTches ThaT
absolutely shocked to see their named placed so boldly on the are builT upon your design?
bezel. They said: “This is impossible. It is a violation of our It is foundational architecture that has advanced successfully
identity.” But they eventually went ahead and now you see that into the modern world. I say this remarking that the people
this style of watch is a major part of their identity. tasked with the advance have done a good job. That said, I am
not a fan of the Royal Oak Offshores that have very loud dials
while manufacTures Today all look To Their pasT, and colors. I find them somewhat shocking.
whaT we admire abouT your designs is ThaT They had
no references; They were all new. was This more whaT were you doing before The royal oak?
challenging? I was on contract with several houses including Universal,
Absolutely. Many of my watches represent the rupture between Omega and Audemars Piguet. But at the time I worked in
a brand’s past and its future. Do you know that three years after obscurity because the manufactures did not disclose who was
working on their watches. You never gave credit to people with
ideas; it was always the idea of the manufacture. The designer
was never known by anyone.
Then how did you become known as The creaTor of
These famous waTches?
It was only as a result of Japanese collectors and watch
magazines that my name became known. When the Royal Oak
became a hit, the Japanese wanted to know who had designed
it. It was only as a result of their journalists that my name came
out. As such, to this day, the relationship between the Japanese
best-selling Royal and me is very strong.
Oak—an evolution of
the original design
that retains all of its
Many of Genta’s designs
have been updated, yet
not significantly changed
from the designer’s
original vision. To wit,
Patek Philippe’s Nautilus
by Genta and the new
3712 moon phase watch
updated by Thierry Stern
IWC specifically used
Genta’s 1976 design of
the Ingenieur SL as the
design inspiration for
their new Ingenieur line
were you ever asked To sign non-disclosure few people realize ThaT you were among The firsT
conTracTs? To use carbon fiber and TiTanium in your waTches.
When the news came out that Gerald Genta had designed the how did you discover These maTerials?
Nautilus, I couldn’t say anything because I was not supposed to I was at the stands at the Monaco F-1 and I saw carbon fiber
as part of my agreement with Patek Philippe. Again it was the and I loved it because it was such a real, legitimate performance-
journalists that established this. oriented material. It was also stunning visually. I used it for
some Genta watches, for the dial on some of my Quantième
when did people realize iT was acTually beneficial Perpetuals. Conversely, I didn’t like the tactile feel of titanium.
To be associaTed wiTh you? At the time you couldn’t polish it, so it looked poor, not warm
The funny thing was when IWC read that I had designed the and luxurious. But I did make a series of four very interesting
Royal Oak and the Nautilus, they immediately published my grande sonneries for Prince Jeffery of Brunei. One watch was in
name as the person who created the Ingenieur SL. So from there platinum, the other in white gold, the third in titanium and the
it became a good thing to be associated with me. And when fourth in iridium.
people worked with me, they were open about it.
aT The launch of The new vacheron consTanTin Yes, an interesting metal. But if you go in the sea with it, the
overseas in 2004, former ceo mr. proellochs ciTed watch will be destroyed. There will be no more watch. It’s funny;
your role in The design inspiraTion of The overseas' there was someone working for me at the time and he left
predecessor, The 222. how do you feel abouT This? Genta to head Mauboussin. There he decided to create iridium
Yes, I noticed that Mr. Proellochs mentioned my involvement in watches. But he forgot you can’t go in the sea with them. The
Vacheron Constantin’s 222. But I must say I am flattered today first customer went swimming with his and the watch was totally
when people mention me in conjunction with products. gone.
The 222 created by Genta is the
precursor to the Overseas
Gerald Charles’ Evolution
former CEO Claude-
Daniel Proellochs cited
Genta’s role in the
design inspiration of
the latest Overseas
describe a poeTic Timepiece.
In my new watch, the Evolution, when the minute hand passes
the 55th minute, it picks up the next hour and they move
together until the hour index is at the 12 o’ clock position and
then the hand continues on its own. I think this is quite poetic.
how did The movemenT of The Tourbillon maesTro
While I was looking at a traditional movement, it came to me
that the bridges and plates are essentially mounting points for
rubies. So I asked, “Why can’t we attach all these rubies together
using thin rods instead of bridges?” But I wanted each line to
have a meaning; I wanted each rod to exist for a purpose and to
attach functionally between two points to give the movement
a sense of legitimacy. The effect is to create something three-
dimensional that engages the viewer.
will you push This aesTheTic furTher?
Definitely. The next project is to make the dial side like the
movement. Even my own team doesn’t yet know, but I want to
create the case from sapphire crystal, so you will have a totally
three-dimensional and transparent sculpture for the wrist.
do you have a hero?
Yes, Raymond Loewy. He was a Frenchman who designed
America’s trains, the Studebaker and the Marlboro packets. He
was a man who attempted to create beauty in functional objects.
When he went to America he asked to design the trains. The
railroad office told him to design the trash cans instead. He
did, and because they were beautiful he eventually ended up
designing their trains. H