Gerald Genta is the name on the tip of everyone's tongue at the moment, and has been for quite some time.
Gerald Genta is the name on the tip of everyone's tongue at the moment, and has been for quite some time. The Swiss watch designer had a hand in some of the most iconic Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe watch designs of the 20th century, and his work helped shape the watch industry in a way that nobody could have predicted. Even today, his legacy is perhaps the most well-known in all of modern watchmaking history, largely thanks to his pioneering of luxury sports watches executed in stainless steel.
Genta worked with some of the top watchmaking brands during his career, beginning with notable designs for famous watches like the Omega Constellation in 1959 and the Patek Philippe Golden Ellipse in 1968. However, it was his design for the blue dial Audemars Piguet Royal Oak in 1972 that really put Genta on the map. The now-iconic Royal Oak is widely considered the precursor of the luxury steel sports watch category. Genta's somewhat revolutionary design used old diving helmets as the inspiration for the octagonal bezel shape, using the exposed bezel screws as a bold aesthetic choice — form as well as function. The Royal Oak was also one of the first watches to really popularize the integrated stainless steel bracelet.
Following the growing success of the luxury stainless steel sports watch for Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe decided it wanted a slice of the steel sports watch action, and a watch world design icon of its own. Patek Philippe's president contacted Genta and commissioned him to develop an exclusive luxury sports watch of the highest quality. Needless to say, Genta struck gold with this latest stainless steel luxury watch model, and delivered on the project brief, yielding the Patek Philippe Nautilus.
At a time when the rest of the industry was starting to feel the effects of the Quartz Crisis, it was a considerable risk for the brand to produce a luxury watch – powered by automatic winding, mechanical movements – so different from anything it had done before. After all, in releasing the Nautilus, Patek Philippe had to adjust its overall marketing strategy in order to refresh the brand image while upholding its traditional watchmaking values. By doing so, Patek Philippe hoped that it would help re-attract people's attention to high-end Swiss mechanical watches. The first Nautilus, reference 3700, was an oversized steel mechanical sports watch with a blue dial and an automatic movement, and it didn't come cheap either.
As the story goes, Genta famously designed the Nautilus while sitting in a restaurant at the Basel Watch Fair after asking a waiter to bring him a pencil and paper. While the visual heritage is evident, the Nautilus was very different from his Royal Oak. For the design of the now iconic luxury sports watch, Genta was inspired by the shape of portholes, like those found on transatlantic cruise liners. He eschewed the sharp lines and angles of the Royal Oak for luxurious curves and smoother transitions. The integrated bracelet, something of Genta's signature, formed a crucial part of the design by allowing the watch's subtle curves to flow uninterrupted, right around the wrist.
Over the years, the Nautilus has evolved in many new and unexpected ways, but it has always remained true to Genta's original vision. Notable examples include the reference 5712 Nautilus in stainless steel, featuring pointer date complication, displayed moon phases, small subsidiary seconds, and dial-side power reserve indicator. Also of particular note is the extremely rare reference 5740 Nautilus, sought after by many collectors for its status as the first Nautilus to incorporate a perpetual calendar and moon phase complication into its in house caliber. At the moment, Patek Philippe produces this perpetual calendar Nautilus exclusively with a white gold case and bracelet. It is fitted with a brilliant blue dial, featuring the model's signature horizontal lines.
Genta was responsible for two of the most iconic watches ever made in the Royal Oak and the Nautilus. Without the brilliant mind of Gerald Genta and his avant-garde designs, who knows where the watchmaking industry and watch market would be today. One thing is for sure, though, both the Royal Oak and Nautilus played a pivotal role in creating and defining the luxury steel sports watch, a category that is still one of the most popular in the world of luxury watches today.
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