This spring, Sotheby’s welcomes “Gérald Genta: Icon of Time», a series of sales taking place in Switzerland, Hong Kong, New York and online with 100 original designs by the legendary Swiss watch designer.
Genta is known as the “Picasso of watchmaking”, credited with modernizing the industry and introducing the first luxury steel sports watches. Less known is that he was also an artist.
“Genta was as superb in paint and canvas as he was in painting a picture using cold metal and delicate machinery,” Sam Hines, global head of watches at Sotheby’s, said in a statement.
“As a Swiss artist living in Geneva, he felt he had to apply his art to watchmaking, and that’s exactly what he dedicated his life to,” added Evelyne Genta, widow of the creator and former partner.
She owns the portfolio of his creations and participated in the organization of the Sotheby’s sale which, a decade after his death, opens his personal archives to the public for the first time.
A prolific painter since his youth, Genta created drawings as well as oil and watercolor paintings of his watch designs using super fine pencils and brushes, producing one every day and eventually 100,000 throughout his career, many of which have been lost or destroyed.
Now 100 of them are hitting the auction block. The inaugural sale took place in February in Geneva, where Genta was born in 1931, and included 30 never-before-seen watch designs, from his original Royal Oak for Audemars Piguet, the first luxury steel wristwatch, to a watch commissioned for a Middle Eastern Head of State with a Gaugin painting on the dial. All have been sold.
The second auction is currently taking place in Hong Kong (until April 19) and features 34 drawings and watercolors, including his original 1976 drawing for another icon of the watch world: the Patek-Philippe Nautilus.
The Swiss brand’s first luxury sports watch started with a quick sketch on a paper napkin in a Basel bar. Genta had spotted Patek Philippe CEO Philippe Stern and started doodling. Shortly thereafter, by coincidence, the company asked him to design a stainless steel watch, and he was set.
Named after Captain Nemo’s submarine from Jules Verne’s novel 20000 Leagues Under the Seathe Nautilus has a soft-angled bezel inspired by the portholes of transatlantic ships (Stern was a yachtsman), while its blue dial is inspired by the color of Swiss lakes.
Other highlights of the Hong Kong sale included Genta’s designs for watches incorporating Chinese zodiac signs as well as the Grande Sonnerie, which, with over a thousand pieces including a perpetual calendar and a four-hour Westminster chime hammers imitating London’s Big Ben, was called the world’s most complicated wristwatch when it was released in 1995.
Each drawing or painting comes with a unique, non-fungible token that includes a digital replica and archival material. The NFT also serves as a record of ownership and proof of provenance for the design.
Part of the proceeds from the sale will be donated to the Association Héritage Gérald Genta, which supports the next generation in the sector with the Gérald Genta Prize for Young Talent.
“With this sale, we are continuing Gerald’s legacy of innovation,” said Evelyne. “He was always at least five or ten years ahead of his time, working on unprecedented ideas that radicalized – and sometimes outraged – the industry, but ultimately transformed it.”
As Genta once said, “To me, watches are the antithesis of freedom. I am an artist, a painter, I hate having to bend to the constraints of time.
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