Who was Gérald Genta

The world of horology would not be the same without Gérald Genta (1931-2011). He was a sort of wunderkind of modern horology and has been one of the most influential professionals of all time. He both invented the profession of watch designer, and at the same time, he was also a technical master of the craft of watchmaking.

He was born in Geneva. His mother was Swiss and his father came from the region of “Piemonte”, in Italy – and let me tell you, my family comes from the same place as well.

He studied watchmaking all his life: at age 20, after the school, he was recruited by Universal Genève, at the time one of the best manufactures for its chronograph models.

Genta worked in the technical department, and designed Universal’s Polerouter Microtor in the 1950s, as well as the Golden and White Shadows during the mid-1960s.

Between the innovations he pioneered, the most notable and widespread is the off-centered rotor of automatic watches, first installed in the Universal Geneve Polerouter.

This solution has permitted to reduce the thickness of movements, and eventually, create modern designs such as the Bvlgari Octo Finissimo, a timepiece based on his late work.

A modern edition of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, originally designed by Gérald Genta in 1970

Genta has been the creative mind that has designed two of the modern icons of horology, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak (picture above) and the Patek Philippe Nautilus (picture below). And in the meanwhile, he has created a completely new category of watches: the luxury sports, characterized by their use of stainless steel in the case and bracelets.

The Nautilus by Patek Philippe, from 1976, another design by Gérald Genta

Genta as an independent designer

After he left Universal Geneve, he pursued his career as an independent designer – and he worked for the best manufacturers, for whom he designed some models that became icons of horology. Between them we can cite:

Universal Geneve’s Polerouter (1954);

Omega Constellation (1959);

Patek Philippe Golden Ellipse (1968);

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak (1970);

IWC Ingenieur (1976);

Patek Philippe Nautilus (1976);

Cartier Pasha de Cartier (1985).

Patek Philippe Golden Ellipse (1968)

Genta as a watchmaker

He then started his own company, where he specialized in complicated watches such as the Sonneries. He created the Gérald Genta Octo Granda Sonnerie Tourbillion, which contained four gongs and an emulated Westminster Quarters bell ring at each quarter and on the hour, “the same melody rung out by London’s Big Ben”, and then, the Grande Sonnerie Retro, the (back then) world’s most complicated wristwatch of the time, priced at approximately $2 million.

A modern version of the Omega Constellation, designed by Genta in 1959

During the 1980s, he showed his most creative and quirky spirit: through an accord with The Walt Disney Company, he made a series of watches featuring limited editions of the Disney characters, between which Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Scrooge and Goofy, with cases made of 18 carat gold.

Eventually, he sold his eponymous company, which was later bought – brand and technical contents – by Bulgari.

Genta died in Monaco at age 80.


You can find much more about horology and its fascinating history in The Watch Manual, a thorough e-book that explains all the basics about watchmaking and its protagonists.

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