Few people have left their mark on watch design like Gerald Genta. Throughout his storied career, Genta designed unique watch after unique watch, with many becoming icons in the industry. Today, we’re going to take a look at three of those icons: the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, IWC Ingenieur, and the Patek Philippe Nautilus.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak
Though already boasting a stellar portfolio of designs, it’s the Royal Oak for which Genta is best known. According to legend, Genta was given a deadline of 24 hours to come up with a steel sports watch to the likes of which had never been seen. Although it wasn’t an instant success, one could say the Royal Oak was a “mission accomplished”.
Created in 1971, the Royal Oak re-defined the steel sports watch. Originally outfitted with the Jaeger-LeCoultre ultra-thin caliber 920, the Royal Oak featured a sleek case and integrated bracelet, with extremely high-end finishing throughout. It seems as though every edge on the case and bracelet is beveled and polished to a mirror finish. However, if one aspect of the Royal Oak were chosen to identify it, it would be the octagonal bezel and exposed screw heads – the influence of a diving helmet. The Royal Oak was so decidedly unique that anything afterward which came close to its design could be viewed as homage.
Since the Royal Oak’s release, Audemars Piguet has taken full advantage of the design, spawning countless variants and successors. The original reference 5402 has evolved only slightly into the current reference 15202, which still uses the same JLC caliber 920 and the beautiful tapisserie dial. There’s also a base model Royal Oak that looks quite similar to the 15202 at first glance. But this model includes a seconds hand and utilizes an in-house movement which is higher than the JLC. Beyond those two Royal Oak references, you’ll find an array of complications, from power reserve indicators, to chronographs, and to perpetual calendars.
Looking to further build off of their horological icon, AP launched an offshoot line of bulky sport watches in 1993, known as the Royal Oak Offshore. With the Offshore, you’ll find a similar variety of complications and metals. All said and done, there are dozens of possible choices of Royal Oaks and Offshores across the AP lineup. To put things plainly, the Royal Oak dominates Audemars Piguet’s production. And given the history and unique design, I see nothing wrong with that.
Following the Royal Oak, Genta went on to help IWC breathe new life into the Ingenieur. What had been a simple, classic looking watch for 20 years, was about to receive a 1970s makeover in the vein of the Royal Oak. IWC was clearly attempting to capture some of the popularity of the Royal Oak, but were stymied by the “Quartz Crisis”, which was in full swing by 1976.
While the Ingenieur SL wasn’t a commercial success, it was an impressive watch nonetheless. The 40mm tonneau-shaped case was imposing, highlighted by an integrated bracelet, and a round bezel held down by five exposed screws. Further setting apart the Ingenieur from its predecessors was the detailed guilloché pattern on the dial. However, for movement junkies, it’s what was inside that really impresses. There were a few references in the new Ingenieur line, but the flagship variant carried the in-house caliber 8541 ES, an anti-magnetic movement able to withstand magnetic fields up to 80,000 A/m.
As mechanical watches were re-branded as luxury items, the Ingenieur adapted and is now a staple in the IWC lineup. Like the modern-day Royal Oak, you can now find a plethora of Ingenieurs to choose from. Though many of the current Ignenieurs have less of a focus on anti-magnetism – which is more or less the origin story – the base level Ingy is a great tribute to Genta’s creation. The 40mm reference 3239 has many of the same design cues, and is a great entry to the mechanical watch world in the $6,000 range.
Patek Philippe Nautilus
Right around the same time Genta developed the updated Ingenieur, Patek Philippe enlisted his help as well. Like IWC, Patek was looking for a steel sport watch to compete in this new market created by Audemars Piguet. What came of it was the Nautilus, a familiar Genta design, yet with its own character.
To get Patek what they wanted, Gerald Genta went back to the sea for inspiration. Where the Royal Oak was modeled after the faceplate of a diving helmet, the Nautilus was shaped like a porthole. The rounded square face with a flat bezel is flanked on either side by what appears to be a handle and hinge. Like both the Royal Oak and the Ingy, the Nautilus utilizes an integrated bracelet, which is arguably one of the finest and most comfortable on the market. Also like the Royal Oak is the JLC caliber 920 ticking inside, allowing the Nautilus to achieve an incredibly thin profile, adding to the comfort of the bracelet. If the Royal Oak and Ingy were large for their time at 39mm and 40mm, respectively, the Nautilus was a giant at 42mm.
Since the Nautilus was such a departure from the existing Patek lineup, it unsurprisingly took some time to catch fire. Eventually, the 1980s brought on more excitement for the Nautilus, so Patek brought on more variety. Two new references – a ladies and a smaller men’s version – hit the market, and the rest is pretty much history. It would take until 1998 for Patek to add a complication, but now the lineup is quite diverse. What was originally not widely accepted by Patek enthusiasts is now an absolute staple for the haute horology company.
Side by side, the three brothers from other mothers are undeniably of the same creative mind. Previously, passionate design had been more focused on movement geometry and finishing, but was now brought to the surface by Genta. Like other great artists, his work wasn’t always appreciated until years later, effectively creating his own trends from scratch. Many brands have gone on to copy the designs of the Royal Oak, Ingenieur, and Nautilus, but there’s nothing like the real thing. With over 40 years of references and variants to choose from, every collection can benefit from one of Genta’s unique steel sport watches.