Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak and Patek Philippe Nautilus sports stainless steel watch series ignited the watch industry's pursuit of luxury sports watches.
Since their debuts in the 1970s, both watch series as mentioned above are still very popular. In 2021, a watch from either series could fetch more than US$128,000 dollars.
Both were conceptualised by the late Swiss watchmaker and designer, Gerald Genta – known as the Picasso of Watchmaking. During this spring, Sotheby's will hold a trilogy of auctions called Gerald Genta: Icon of Time in Geneva, Hong Kong and New York. 100 original watch designs will be sold accompanied with non-fungible tokens (NFTs).
In addition to these three sales, the Important Watches auction will be held in Geneva in May. It will feature Genta’s personal Audemars Piguet Royal Oak watch – coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the timepiece’s launch. It is estimated between US$300,000 and 500,000 dollars.
Genta’s personal Audemars Piguet Royal Oak watch | Estimate: US$300,000-500,000
Gerald Genta is known as the Picasso of Watchmaking
Born on 1 May 1931 in Geneva, Genta was always a designer at heart. And as a Genevese, he felt destined to enter the world-renowned Swiss watchmaking industry.
A prolific painter from his teenage years, the Swiss watch designer produced at least one watch design every day. This amounted to more than 100,000 designed timepieces throughout his career, many of which have now been lost or destroyed.
100 original designs by Gerald Genta will be auctioned with accompanying NFTs
At 23, he made his breakthrough while working for Universal Geneve, with his design for the SAS Polerouter – a watch which commemorated the polar flights of the Scandinavian airline company and became one of the brand’s greatest successes. The late martial arts superstar, Bruce Lee, once owned one and was sold at Phillips Hong Kong for HK$225,000 (around US$28,860) dollars in May 2019.
Since then, Swiss watchmaking firms began to call upon the young designer and propelled him to later design for brands such as Omega, IWC, Cartier, Bulgari, Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe.
In 1969, Genta established his own company and created pieces for exclusive clients such as the Kings of Spain, Saudi Arabia and Morocco; as well as the Queen Mother of England. The brand was eventually acquired by Bulgari in 2000.
A Polerouter watch, once owned by Bruce Lee, was sold for around US$28,860 dollars | Phillips Hong Kong, May 2019
(Left to right): Original designs of Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, Patek Philippe Nautilus and Gerald Genta Disney watches
The legendary watchmaker passed away in 2011, leaving his legacy to his wife and business partner, Evelyne.
“Gerald was an artist. Every morning, he would sit down at his desk to draw – full of ideas, and we would never know where the day, or his imagination, was going to take him. As a Swiss artist living in Geneva, he felt that he must apply his art to watchmaking, and that is exactly what he dedicated his life to,” said Evelyne.
“He was always at least five or ten years ahead of his time, working towards unprecedented ideas that radicalised, but ultimately transformed the industry. When Gerald started his career, there were no true watch designers, there were no steel sports watches, there were no complicated wrist watches. He was the very first to usher in this new era – always bringing his absolute passion as an artist to his work, and never compromising on his vision. This is what set him apart,” she added.
Genta's wife, Evelyne
Genta’s original 1970 sketch for Audemars Piguet Royal Oak
Genta’s most renowned designs are Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and Patek Philippe Nautilus – two sports watches born in the 1970s.
In 1970, Audemars Piguet approached Genta for a watch that would revolutionise the industry: the Royal Oak. The first luxury sports watch to be made of steel, this was the first time this material was elevated to the level of a precious metal in the watchmaking world.
Genta designed the Royal Oak overnight, inspired by a childhood memory of seeing a man being sealed into an old-fashioned diving suit near the Mont Blanc bridge in Geneva. The octagonal-shaped bezel mirrors the shape of a vintage diving helmet, with the eight hexagonal screws securing it to the watch as a helmet would attach to the diving suit. With its octagonal design, the Royal Oak created a model for high-end sports watches with its unique design of the octagonal-shaped bezel.
After its launch in 1972, the Royal Oak immediately attracted many watch brands to follow suit.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak’s final sketch
Early design of Patek Philippe Nautilus
Similar to the Royal Oak, the Nautilus was also inspired by the nautical world.
Comparing Royal Oak with the Nautilus, both also have a one-piece steel strap. The Royal Oak has an octagonal design, while the Nautilus has a soft-angled bezel – based on the portholes of transatlantic ships. Another unique feature is that the dial is decorated with horizontal relief pits.
In addition to sports watches, another well-known creation by Genta is the Disney cartoon character-themed watches.
In the 1980s, the Swiss watchmaker obtained the copyright from The Walt Disney Company and produced a limited number of watches with cartoon characters, such as Mickey, Minnie, Donald Duck and Goofy. In the 1990s, Genta introduced a retrograde complication function for Disney watches – turning the hands of cartoon characters into hands that point to the hour markers to show the time.
Gerald Genta Disney watch's original design
The Gerald Genta: Icon of Time sale series will include 100 design manuscripts – including the above three timepieces. They will be sold with accompanying NFTs, which will consist of digital versions of the corresponding design manuscript. Some also contain unpublished archival material and multimedia content.
To attract more collectors to participate in the bidding, Sotheby's will set the starting price of NFT lots at CHF 100 for the Geneva sale, HK$1,000 dollars for the Hong Kong sale, and US$100 dollars for the New York sale.
Genta’s personal Audemars Piguet Royal Oak
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Reference 5402 from Genta's personal collection will be sold at the Important Watches auction in May. Made in the mid-1970s, this model's stainless steel case and bracelet, with an 18K yellow gold bezel, is a unique configuration.
In general, the Royal Oak watch has a two-colour configuration. In addition to the gold bezel, the bracelet also uses a gold connecting buckle to form a two-colour effect. The case and bracelet of Genta’s version are all made of stainless steel, but this watch's bezel comes with 18K gold. The dial is also a shade darker than that of the Royal Oak produced during that time.
A portion of the sales’ proceeds will benefit the Gerald Genta Heritage Association. Their mission is to encourage and reward the next generation in the watch industry – most notably with the launch of the first edition of the Gerald Genta Prize for Young Talent.
Auction House: Sotheby’s
Sale: Gerald Genta: Icon of Time
Sale Date: 10-24 February 2022
Highlight Lots: Genta’s original designs for the first luxury steel wristwatch – Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak – including his unreleased first design for the timepiece
Sale Date: 10-24 March 2022
Highlight Lots: Genta’s original design for Patek Philippe Nautilus and three designs for the most complicated wristwatch in the world: The Grand Sonnerie. Comprising 1000 parts, the latter watch took five years to develop
Sale Date: 13-27 April 2022
Highlight Lots: Genta’s original designs for Disney watches
Sale: Important Watches
Sale Date: May 2022
Highlight Lots: Genta’s unique Royal Oak, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of its release. Four oil paintings by the Swiss watch designer, paying tribute to the Nautilus and Royal Oak watches