No name looms larger in watch design than Gérald Genta‘s.
The prolific designer—who many credit with saving the Swiss watch industry from the Quartz Crisis of the 1970s thanks to penning popular designs such as Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak, the Patek Philippe Nautilus, and the recently revived IWC Ingenieur—will soon have his timepieces produced anew thanks to LVMH.
La Fabrique du Temps, Louis Vuitton’s watchmaking manufacture, announced this week that it had acquired the Gérald Genta brand, and will be producing “high complications made in small quantities.” Bringing the story full circle, Fabrique du Temps founders and master watchmakers Michel Navas and Enrico Barbasini have the blessing of Evelyne Genta, the late Gérald’s widow and business partner. (The two worked together for Genta in the 1980s and ’90s on complicated watches.) Further, Evelyne is granting Louis Vuitton access to her late husband’s archives, which contain hundreds of designs that were never produced.
Ever since LV’s acquisition of Fabrique du Temps in 2011, the brand has refocused itself on high watchmaking: Following the subsequent purchase of dial-maker Lémain Quadrant in 2012 and the opening of a new 4,000-sq. meter facility in Meyrin in 2014, the LVMH-owned company is in a position similar to that of Bulgari to become one of the most exciting watchmakers of the 2020s. And though it’s anybody’s guess which designs will be brought to fruition first, access to the Genta archives mean that collectors may see watches unlike any they experienced while Genta was still active.
Genta, who was born in Geneva in 1931, was a larger-than-life character from the start, famously tossing his jewelry-making tools into the Rhône after getting fed up with his original vocation. As a young man in the 1950s, he designed the Polerouter for Universal Genève, and his career as a watch designer was off to the races. He continued this success with the Constellation line for Omega, and worked at such a furious pace that it’s said his watch designs numbered in the thousands by the time he passed away in 2011.
In the early 1970s, Genta was commissioned by Audemars Piguet to design a next-generation “luxury sports watch” that would reverse the company’s ailing fortunes during the trying Quartz Crisis. His 1972 Royal Oak wasn’t a hit at first—it was almost laughably expensive, and unusual in its aesthetics and construction—but rather quickly became a phenomenon. In fact, the model was so popular that none other than Patek Philippe requested a similar watch just a few short years later, resulting in 1976’s Nautilus. IWC’s beloved Ingenieur—revived just this year—and Bulgari’s Octo also sprang from his brilliant mind.
Later in life, Genta would establish his own eponymous brand, working with master watchmaker Pierre-Michel Golay to develop highly complicated pieces that celebrated his meshing of more conventional and unusual geometric shapes. His 1984 series of Disney wristwatches cut against the grain of his more serious work for AP and Patek, but he cared not a whit; his Grand Sonnerie of 1994, meanwhile took five years of R&D to bring to fruition. Cartier later came calling for a complicated version of the Pasha, as did many clients seeking pieces unique and ambitious commissions. Genta’s intellectual and creative aspirations seemingly knew no bounds.
In 1996, Singapore-based The Hour Glass acquired a majority stake in the Gérald Genta brand, which was later purchased by Bulgari in 2000. Though the Italian-founded luxury goods supplier produced Genta-branded Mickey Mouse watches from time to time throughout the years, it also used the savoir faire from the Genta brand to design its own line of extraordinary wristwatches in the form of the Octo and Octo Finissimo lines. One look at these award-winning timepieces leaves no doubt that Genta’s designs of the 1970s clearly inspired Bulgari’s contemporary collections to great effect.
With Navas and Barbasini—who together have decades of experience designing and fabricating complicated pieces—at the helm of its revival, the sky truly seems like the limit for the future of the Gérald Genta brand, and the oeuvre of the most celebrated watch designer in the world.