Gérald Genta reinvents itself

Gérald Genta will be revived at Louis Vuitton’s high watchmaking atelier, La Fabrique du Temps, under the aegis of respected master watchmakers Michel Navas and Enrico Barbasini, with the blessing and cooperation of Evelyne Genta.

Born in Geneva in 1931, Gérald Genta studied jewellery-making but found the work unappealing and, in a typically flamboyant and independent gesture, hurled his jewellery tools into the Rhone. He considered a career in couture but was hampered by the fact that Geneva was not the capital city of fashion, nor one of its regional towns. Instead, as Geneva was the city of horology, he set out to establish himself as time’s couturier.

He first found success with Universal Genève, for whom he designed the Polerouter (known first as the Polarouter), a watch celebrating the trans-arctic flight route linking the USA and Europe recently opened by SAS. Omega was another early client, and his input can be found in the Constellation collection, which launched in 1959.

His best-known designs for other makers came in the 1970s. During this period, he designed the Royal Oak for Audemars Piguet, its unique screw-punctuated octagonal bezel inspired by a childhood memory of a diver in Lake Geneva being sealed into an old-fashioned scaphander diving suit; the porthole-inspired Patek Philippe Nautilus; the IWC Ingenieur; and the Bulgari Roma.

By then he had also opened his own company and, although he would continue to design for many famous brands, henceforth his most representative work was issued under his own name.

The brand established an aesthetic identity predicated on the interplay of circular and rectilinear geometric shapes, articulated through a series of core collections. He was one of the early pioneers of post-quartz high-complication watchmaking. Developed with the complicity of master watchmaker Pierre-Michel Golay, his first skeletonised self-winding minute repeater wristwatch appeared in 1980. He was a rule-breaking watchmaker who mastered the minute repeater with an utmost attention, ensuring that the case provide an exceptional sound. Later, he would create the most elaborate wristwatch with the Grande Sonnerie in 1994, which required five years of research and development. He was unafraid of wit and whimsy; his Disney watches of 1984 outraged conservative Geneva watchmaking circles. He manufactured complicated movements for other brands, including minute repeater and perpetual calendar calibres for the Cartier Pasha, plus the unique scoreboard-on-the-wrist Golf Pasha. He also became a one-stop-shop for late 20th century plutocrats and potentates from around the world for whom he manufactured unique objects; from large scale automata to gem-set erotic watches; limited only by his clients’ imaginations.

Asian watch retailer The Hour Glass purchased a majority stake in Gérald Genta, in 1996. In 2000, the house was acquired by Bulgari, which episodically produced Gérald Genta watches, most recently a small series of Mickey Mouse watches.

In April 2023, the brand will be revived by la Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton. Production is to be concentrated on high complications made in small quantities. Evelyne Genta, Gerald’s widow and business partner, has given the project her blessing and has allowed La Fabrique du Temps full access to her late husband’s archives, which includes many hundreds of designs that were never realised. In addition to this priceless resource, La Fabrique Du Temps founders Michel Navas and Enrico Barbasini bring the unique experience of having worked together for Gérald Genta during the 1980s and 1990s in overseeing the minute repeater, tourbillon and high complications workshops.

This gives the Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton a considerable advantage in creating exceptional watches under the Gérald Genta brand.

May 25, 2023