Modern Royal Oak Chronograph, inspired by the original design by Gerald Genta

Here’s a name you’ve heard thrown around if you spend any time on our (or any other) watch blog: Gerald Genta. You may have gathered that he’s had something to do with the Royal Oak and the Nautilus, two of history’s greatest steel sports watches, but why has his name endured as a talking point on contemporary watch design? Today, we’re taking a brief look at the man, his work, and why his name is worth remembering.

Gerald Genta had a prolific career as a watch designer. His work spanned over 40 years and includes some of the most recognizable names (both brands and models) in the business. His most influential designs came in the form of steel sport watches in the 1970’s. Many of these designs remain unchanged to this day and have come to be seen as hallmarks of their respective brands. These models include the Nautilus of Patek Philippe, the Royal Oak of Audemars Piguet, the Ingenieur of IWC, the Bulgari of Bulgari, and the Constellation of Omega.

Modern IWC Ingenieur, originally designed by Gerald Genta

Arguably the two most famous watches to come from the mind of Gerald Genta, the Royal Oak and the Nautilus, have the most humble of beginnings. The Royal Oak design was done in a single night at the request of  Mr. Georges Golay, the Managing Director of Audemars Piguet at the time, who needed a waterproof watch in short order. The resulting design birthed the watch that looks largely the same (in 15202 form) as the original. And for good reason, the Royal Oak is the most iconic of all AP watches, and its shape underpins an array of their best-selling models.

Better yet, the Nautilus, so the story goes, was drawn out on a napkin in 5 minutes at dinner across the bar from a handful of representatives from Patek Philippe. The design is of this watch also holds true to the original after many years, though it’s evolved a fair bit to offer complications of all sorts, it can be bought in time-only form, with a deep blue dial, just like the first one. The issue here is finding one. The modern incarnation of the original Nautilus, the 5711, doesn’t last long on the shelves of authorized retailers, and if you’re lucky enough to snag one at retail, which is $24,800, you’ve got a long list of Bids well over $30,000 waiting for you.

Original Gerald Genta designs, the Royal Oak and Nautlius
Gerald Genta sketches of the Royal Oak (left) and Nautilus (right) – courtesy veryimportantwatches.com

Let these stories be an insight into the man driven by creative inspiration of the spontaneous kind.

The Influence of Gerald Genta designs persists across a very modern landscape of watch designs from an increasing number of brands all looking to differentiate themselves. But Gerald Genta the man more than the sum of a few steel sports watches. He was a passionate artist, and according to one interview, didn’t even like watches because of what they represent, he says, “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.” With his passing in 2011, the watch industry lost one of its most prolific, but the world lost a more nuanced man and artist.