With the launch of the “Gérald Genta: Icon of Time” sale series at Sotheby’s, Évelyne Genta spoke to Marc André Deschoux at WATCHESTV on the life and times of the prolific watch designer. We have distilled three key takeaways from this landmark interview.
A visionary ahead of his time
Opening the interview, Mrs. Genta dives into Gérald’s heritage and little-known anecdotes from his early years. As with the origin story of many avant-garde artists of their time, rising from adversity shapes unique perspectives and strong independent characters. Perhaps more so than his contributions to watchmaking, Gérald Genta may well have proliferated the modern gig economy as we know it.
Set in today’s context, the successful application of his signature style into apparel, jewel crafting, sculpture and ultimately watchmaking could only be matched by contemporaries like Jony Ive and the late Virgil Abloh. His entrepreneurial spirit and fervor for independence would likewise be celebrated alongside Elon Musk. There are startling parallels between his success as a relative outsider in Swiss watchmaking and the unicorns of the startup boom of the early 2000s. As a freelancer, he left his influence across the gamut of Swiss maisons – a legacy that is certain to endure.
A beautiful mind
Évelyne continues with the story of the Royal Oak, recounting Gérald’s creative process as well as his relationship with then-chief executive of Audemars Piguet, Georges Golay. He visualised his creations to the most minute detail before committing them to drawings – forgoing the need of iterative sketches. The process of manufacturing these pieces always guided his design direction. Maintaining this steadfast vision while taking into account the hundreds of components that may make their way into production takes awe-inspiring focus. Completing the Royal Oak in only two drafts is a testament to his genius.
Gérald did not simply stop at the design phase. He would often follow through with the manufacturing process to ensure the components (dials, case, bracelet, etc.) remain true to his vision. His knowledge of materials and craftsmanship was instrumental to this endeavor. This deep involvement throughout the process of watchmaking also forged strong bonds between Genta and his partners, Mr. Golay included. Having worked with the best of Switzerland, Gérald developed an instinct for how well a watch would perform in the market. He would come to leverage this instinct in his own foray into watchmaking.
“He exactly knew how the watch could be made and never allowed himself to design an amazing design that couldn’t be manufactured.” – Évelyne Genta on Gérald’s creative process.
Gérald Genta: The independent watchmaker
Before F.P.Journe and Akrivia, there was Gérald Genta. Following Swiss intervention preventing a collaboration with Seiko, Gérald set about producing watches under his own name. The barrier to entry in Swiss watchmaking is as high as the alps themselves and an arduous journey lay ahead. An all too familiar road walked by today’s success stories in independent watchmaking. This chapter of Genta’s story was one of perseverance and grit.
He would come to rely on his instincts to stay ahead of the curve, reviving the perpetual calendar and minute repeaters before they became popular among more established Swiss manufactures. During this renaissance, Genta would come to produce some of the most complicated masterpieces of its day including the Grande Sonnerie. Gérald Genta showed pioneering spirit and determination that would become hallmarks of today’s independent ateliers.
With the sale of Gérald Genta’s designs and NFTs at Sotheby’s, a portion of the proceeds will benefit the Gérald Genta Heritage Association to fund the first edition of the Gerald Genta Prize for Young Talent. Through this prize, Évelyne hopes to inspire the next generation of watchmakers and continue Gérald’s legacy of innovation.