Timekeepers Club / January 11, 2022

Gérald Genta's Original Watch Designs to be Offered at Sotheby's

Picasso of watches goes digital: Iconic and never-before-seen Gérald Genta designs, paired with unique NFTs, to be offered at Sotheby's to pay tribute to the World's most famous watch designer. One hundred of his original drawings, including Genta's designs for the Royal Oak and the Nautilus, each to be coupled with an NFT, in dedicated sales in Geneva, Hong Kong and New York starting early 2022. Followed by the auction of Gérald Genta's unique Royal Oak watch coinciding with its 50th Anniversary next year and four original oil paintings by Mr. Genta.

For me, watches are the antithesis of liberty. I am an artist, a painter, I hate having to adhere to the constraints of time. It irritates me.

- Gérald Genta

Gérald was always ahead of his time - it seemed only natural to continue his legacy of pushing boundaries in watchmaking, by reviving these revolutionary sketches with today’s most innovative artform: NFTs

- Evelyne Genta, Life and Business Partner of Gérald Genta

Set apart in the pantheon of great horologists, “the Picasso of watchmaking”, Gérald Genta (1931-2011), was to transform the future of the industry with his visionary designs that continue to set the gold standard today. The first true “watch designer” and acknowledged as the greatest ever in his field, Genta approached his work above all else through the eyes of an artist, spending more than 50 years at the drawing board, producing designs that later became the biggest bestsellers of watchmaking history.

Best known for introducing the first luxury steel sports watches onto the market with The Royal Oak for Audemars Piguet and The Nautilus for Patek Philippe, Genta’s contribution to the industry spreads far beyond this, as a pioneer who brought complicated wristwatches back into fashion, as well as through his designs for most fine watchmakers across the world.

For the first time, and on the occasion of 10 years since his passing, Gérald Genta’s personal archive is to be opened, with the sale of one hundred original designs at Sotheby’s starting early 2022, encompassing his most iconic timepieces, never-before-seen private commissions and a selection of innovative, forward-thinking, and unique watch designs.

The sequence of sales will culminate with the Auction of Gérald Genta’s Unique Royal Oak Watch in May 2022, an icon of modern watchmaking, estimated at $300,000-500,000.

A portion of the proceeds from the sales will also benefit the Gérald Genta Heritage Association, and their mission to encourage and reward the next generation in the watch industry, notably with the launch of the first edition of the Gérald Genta Prize for Young Talent.

Evelyne Genta, Gérald’s life and business partner, current owner of the portfolio of Genta designs, said: First and foremost Gérald was an artist. Every morning, he would sit down at his desk in his suit to draw, full of ideas, and we would never know where the day, or his imagination, was going to take him. As a Swiss artist living in Geneva, he felt that he must apply his art to watchmaking, and that is exactly what he dedicated his life to.”

“With this sale, we are continuing Gérald’s legacy of innovation. He was always at least five or ten years ahead of his time, working towards unprecedented ideas that radicalised - and sometimes scandilised - the industry, but ultimately transformed it. When Gérald started his career, there were no true watch designers, there were no steel sports watches, there were no complicated wrist watches. He was the very first to usher in this new era - always bringing his absolute passion as an artist to his work, and never compromising on his vision. This is what set him apart.”

Sam Hines Sotheby’s Worldwide Head of Watches said: “Gérald Genta will always be best remembered for initiating the now ubiquitous trend for sports-chic steel wristwatches. When the Royal Oak and the Nautilus were released, they were first received with skepticism and mixed reviews, today however they have become the hottest most sought-after watches on the market almost 50 years on. However, his legacy is much broader than this - touching almost every area of the watch industry, with his reimagination of watches from the inside out. Known as ‘the Picasso of watchmaking’, Genta was as superb in paint and canvas as he was at painting a picture through the medium of cool metal and delicate machinery.”

The Gérald Genta NFTs

Each watercolour painting on offer will be paired with a unique NFT, a non-fungible token, that will feature an artistic digital replica of Genta’s masterful design, with select pieces also including fascinating never-before-seen archive material and multimedia biographical content. Highly valuable in their own right, NFTs have become some of the most sought-after contemporary artworks of our time. By enabling buyers to own these one-of-a-kind designs in both digital and physical form, new value is being ascribed to Genta’s designs and broadening its reach to a new category of collectors.

The innovation of NFTs lies in the unique ability to ascribe credentials and authenticity to digital artworks and to create an irrefutable record of ownership—the ultimate testament to an item’s legitimacy. The Genta NFTs will also serve as a record of ownership and proof of provenance for each design, ensuring the value of each physical artwork is intrinsically connected to its digital counterpart which cannot be resold without the NFT that attests to the legitimacy of the piece. Through this duality, Sotheby’s is setting a precedent for how auction houses can couple physical artworks with a digital certificate of ownership, ensuring an item’s value long after it is sold.  The sale also demonstrates the utility of NFT technology in an enterprise setting and is poised to further the adoption of NFTs across various auction categories at Sotheby's.

To offer as many people as possible the opportunity to participate in the sales, bidding on the NFT lots will start at 100 CHF for the Geneva sale, HKD 1,000 for the Hong Kong sale, and $100 for the New York sale.

Sebastian Fahey, Sotheby’s Managing Director for Europe and Executive Sponsor of Sotheby’s NFTs, said: This sale continues Gérald Genta’s great tradition of innovation, by pairing his exquisite hand drawn designs with the newest and most exciting medium to appear on the market: NFTs. This time last year, we could never have envisaged the radical impact NFTs would have on our world, let alone when Gérald Genta began producing these designs more than fifty years ago, but they very much share the same pioneering spirit, making their inclusion a natural step. Altogether, the sale presents a unique opportunity to acquire these important pieces of Gérald Genta’s legacy, not only in their traditional watercolour form, but also in a way that speaks to the next generation of collectors, who are passionate about digital art and all the advantages NFTs have to offer.”

Gerald Genta, Sotheby’s Auction Highlights

1970: The Royal Oak for Audemars Piguet

In 1970, the House of Audemars Piguet approached Genta for a watch that would revolutionise the industry: The Royal Oak. The first luxury sports watch to be made of steel, this was the first time this material was elevated to the level of a precious metal in the watchmaking world. Genta designed The Royal Oak overnight, inspired by a childhood memory of seeing a man being sealed into an old-fashioned diving suit near the Mont Blanc bridge in Geneva. The revolutionary octagonal-shaped bezel mirrors the shape of a vintage diving helmet, with the eight hexagonal screws securing it to the watch as a helmet would attach to the diving suit.

Over the next two years, Genta followed the watch through each stage of the manufacturing process before its launch in 1972. The watch retailed at $4,000, an astonishing figure for a watch made of steel at the time. Always one step ahead, Genta’s design was not widely appreciated at first, except by the Italian market, and it took three years until the sales began to rocket. Fifty years on, the watch is still in production today and classed among the best-sellers of all time.

1976: The Nautilus for Patek Philippe

A few years later, in 1976, Genta was in the Drei Könige bar during the Basel Fair and the CEO of Patek Philippe, Philippe Stern happened to walk in. Genta asked himself how he would design a steel sports watch for the brand. The story goes that Genta sketched the watch in just five minutes on a paper napkin, when he was quietly observing the Patek Philippe team sitting in the opposite corner of the room. Not so long after, Genta was contacted by Patek Philippe to design a stainless steel luxury watch, for which of course, he already had the design.

Similar to the Royal Oak, The Nautilus too was inspired by the nautical world, but this time with the softangled bezel based on the portholes of the transatlantic ships. Mr Stern was himself a keen yachtsman, and the blue dial is in the same colour as the Swiss lakes where Stern would sail. The watch was named in tribute to Captain Nemo’s submarine in Jules Verne’s novel “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”. The new steel watch represented a subtle – yet at the time revolutionary – balance between a sports and luxury watch. It ushered in a new modern era for the traditional brand and is still in production today.

1984: The Gefica Safari

This watch was a request from three safari hunters in 1984 and is named after them: GEFICA is an aggregation of the first two letters of each of their names (Geoffroy, Fissore et Canali). This model, with moon phases and a compass, quickly became an icon in the world of watchmaking, eventually inspiring different versions. The first-ever watch with a bronze case, this solved the problem of hunting visibility as this material did not reflect the sunlight. When Genta first unveiled the watch it was criticised for using a material with a reputation for looking aged and dull almost immediately.

1985: The Pasha for Cartier

Fifty years after the original piece was made by Louis Cartier in 1931 as a one-off design for the Pasha of Marrakech’s swimming sessions and banquets, Gerald Genta reimagined the vintage men’s watch in 1985. Cartier was one of Genta’s absolute favourite brands, and the relaunch was the result of the personal relationship with Alain Dominique Perrin, former President of Cartier. Genta was commissioned to recreate the watch with a complication component, and the round watch positively broke boundaries for Cartier, opening a new era for them. Both Gerald Genta and Cartier are the two of only very few brands to produce the moons in gold and the sky in lapis lazuli, rather than painting them on. The movements for these very complicated watches were made in the Genta factory. Three designs are included in the sale.

1986: The Disney Collection

The Disney designs were born of a request from the CEO of Disney, himself a Gerald Genta watch collector, who wanted a watch for his mother based on her favourite character, Bambi. Genta delivered the watch and in return requested a license to make high quality and rare limited edition Disney watches incorporating the most beloved characters - Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck or Minnie Mouse - with the same high attention to detail and featuring the retrograde complication and confined to 18 carat gold and then steel casing. This range, entitled ‘Fantasy’, are still some of the most impressive — and expensive — Disney watches ever made.

1995: The Grande Sonnerie

In 1995, after five years of research and development, Gérald Genta unveiled the Grande Sonnerie, the most sophisticated and complex wristwatch in the world at the time. Perhaps Genta’s most important contribution to high watchmaking, this watch, which emulated the chimes of London’s Big Ben, was a first in many ways including more than a thousand spare parts. Minute repeater, Westminster four-hammer chime, perpetual calendar, dual power reserve display, this watch is a masterpiece of watch engineering. Before this, the Grand Sonnerie had only existed as a pocket watch. Genta made 20 in total, each of which is unique. Designs for three of these are included in the sales.

Private Commissions

For his exclusive clients, which include the Moroccan King, the Sultans of Oman and of Brunei, the King of Spain, the King of Saudi Arabia, the Queen Mother of England as well as leading businessmen, sportsmen and entertainers, Genta created unique, prestigious and audacious models, some of which took years to emerge.

Auction Details

Three dedicated “Gérald Genta: Icon of Time” auctions will be held in Spring 2022 across Sotheby’s global locations, presenting a survey of the greatest hits of Gérald Genta’s career. Approximately thirty designs will be offered in each of the sales.

Gérald Genta: Icon of Time Sale, Geneva, 10-24 February 2022

Featuring Genta’s original designs for the first luxury steel wristwatch Audemars Piguet’s The Royal Oak

Including his never-before-seen unreleased first design for the legendary timepiece

Gérald Genta: Icon of Time Sale, Hong Kong, 10-24 March 2022

Featuring Genta’s original design for Patek Philippe’s The Nautilus

& Three designs for the most complicated wristwatch in the world: The Grand Sonnerie,

Comprising 1000 parts, this watch took five years to develop

Gérald Genta: Icon of Time Sale, New York, 13-27 April 2022

Including Genta’s original designs for the most impressive and valuable Disney watches ever made

Important Watches, Sotheby’s Biannual Auction in Geneva, May 2022

Including Genta’s unique Royal Oak, coinciding with the fiftieth anniversary of its release

And four oil paintings by Gerald Genta, paying tribute to the Nautilus and the Royal Oak.

About Gérald

Genta Born on May 1 1931 in Geneva, to a Swiss mother and Italian father, Gérald Genta was always a designer at heart. He said that if he had been born in Italy he would have turned his designs to cars - indeed, he drove a Ferrari - but as a Genevese he felt destined to enter the great Swiss national calling of watchmaking.

A prolific painter from his teenage years, Gérald Genta would produce at least one watch design every day, amounting to 100,000 timepieces throughout his career, many of which have now been lost or destroyed. Pablo Picasso was Genta’s absolute favourite artist and someone he looked to as a mentor, once refusing to answer a VIP client’s phone call because he was preoccupied admiring painting from the artist’s revered Blue Period.

Each drawing would begin with a single circle drawn with Genta’s compass, to the exact size of the watch, and then developed with extremely fine pencils and paintbrushes. Testament to Genta’s profound understanding of watchmaking, when the final watches were released by the brands, they were identical to his original ‘scaled-to-size’ designs.

After concluding his studies as a goldsmith and jeweller, in the early years, when the role of a watch designer was virtually non-existent, he would drive from Geneva to where the watch manufacturers were located in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Le Locle and La Côte aux Fées, and pitch his designs for 10 Swiss francs apiece. He would return home when he’d earned 1,000 francs.

However, it was at the young age of 23, that he made his breakthrough while working for Universal Geneve, with his design for the SAS Polerouter, a watch which commemorated the polar flights of the Scandinavian airline and which became one of the brand’s greatest successes. From then on the Swiss watchmaking firms began to call upon the young designer themselves, and launched him on a path which would see him design for the likes of Omega, Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe, IWC, Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Chaumet, Hamilton, Bulgari, Seko, Timex and more. Gérald Genta’s career meant that he practically invented the concept of being a “Watch Designer”.

He created his own company in 1969 and developed his eponymous brand with his wife and business partner Evelyne Genta producing exceptional pieces for unique clients. Constantly creating and innovating, he combined new shapes and materials with major watchmaking complexities, and reimagined traditional mechanisms, such as the perpetual calendar, for the modern day - reminding the industry of the importance of fine watchmaking, at a time when the quartz crisis loomed large in the 1970s.

After the sale of his company to an Asian corporation in 1999, Genta could fully dedicate himself to his life as an artist and designer. His vision lives on today in the 3,500 or so beautiful sketches, gouaches and watercolour designs that survive in his family’s collection.


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