Masters of Design : Gerald Genta
Few designers can be credited with pulling their industry out of crisis but I consider Gerald Genta one of them. Gerald Genta’s work is almost exclusively consumed by the world elite so us mere mortals may not interact with his designs directly. Genta led the watch industry out of the quartz crisis.
Timepieces before 1970 were works of art, engineering and design. They were meticulously crafted, and the best of them best came from Switzerland where the various specialist required to make these pieces congregated and collaborated. These amazing pieces featured hundreds of polished mechanical bits springs and jewels to turn potential energy stored in a spring into predictable sweeping hands. They are things of beauty. Part of these watches charm is they relied on manual winding or your bodies movement to wind the spring and keep them running. If a watch wasn’t worn or wound for a day or two, it would stop and need to be wound and reset to be used again.
Seiko introduced the Astron in December 1969 amid what some called the digital revolution or the third industrial revolution. The traditional Swiss watch making industry was almost wiped out completely as Seiko, Casio, Timex and Citizen brought to market watches that were more accurate, and didn’t require any form of mechanical energy input outside of a small battery cell.
The start 1950s
Gerald Genta was already making a name for himself and was the go to guy for luxury watch makers having designed or redesigned time pieces from Universal Geneve and Cartier.
The Universal Geneve Polerouter was designed specifically as a response to the time keeping realities pilots faces as technological advances allowed for polar flights longitudinally over the poles. These routes, lacking navigational aids and reliable magnetic direction, require precise timing. Universal Geneve Polstar was designed with the accuracy required to make these excursions possible.
The Mechanical revitalization 70s
Genta came into his own style in 1972 when he designed the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. This departure from the norm revolutionized an industry. It was a stainless steel luxury watch which was unheard of as precious metal was the marterial of choice for horologist. The edgy faceted octagonal shape represents a diving helmet aesthetic. A unique lug pattern adorned the chunky bezel. Another Genta-ism was the integrated bracelet and to the watch body. This watched changed an industry and set the standard for haute couture watch makers making production flagship product and not small run timepieces.
On the heels of the Royal Oak came the Patek Phillippe Nautaulis in 1976. There’s a “holy trinity” of revered watch brands and Patek is in this fraternity. The Nautilus is the brand defining watch for Patek and guess who designed it? Like the Royal Oak, Genta brought a nautical theme to the bezel and the integrated band. This time the aesthetic was modeled after a porthole. It is said that Genta designed this icon in 15 minutes over dinner. He later built the first prototypes in his own lab.
Genta modernized the IWC Ingenieur in 1975 bringing his signature clean dial, chunky bezel with fasteners, and integrated band. A heavily textured dial with clean chamfered indexes round out yet another icon. Interestingly enough, the Ingenieur was designed for professional engineers with an integrated faraday cage to protect itself from highly magnetic environments.
Gucci, Hermès, Luis Vuitton all owe Genta. Brand logos as a design element are nothing new, but arguably the trend stared with the Bulgari Bulgari watch of 1977. Bulgari and Genta have a long lasting relationship and as of writing this blog, Bulgari has the worlds thinnest mechanical watch at just 2mm thick. The Octo Finnisimo uses a unique layout and a micro rotor to power the system. It is chunky, faceted, otaconal, and impossibly thin.