The watch that was never made

Dubbed “the Picasso of watches”, Gérald Genta lives on through his visionary designs

By Debbie Hathaway
The watch that was never made

In watchmaking, 2022 will be remembered for the auctions and exhibitions in honour of the late Gérald Genta’s visionary designs for sought-after watches like the Royal Oak, which celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. Some of his drawings and emblematic pieces were featured at the annual Watches and Wonders’ Time Design exhibition, which focused on the evolution of wristwatch design.

During a guided tour with IWC Schaffhausen (IWC) Museum curator David Seyffer, he revealed what he called “a kind of sensation”: a drawing of an IWC chronograph before the company made them, complete with a new logo. Seyffer revealed that the sketch could be from as early as 1967. 

David Willen_Tania Willen_Studio Willen

Research from the IWC Museum indicates that the company was considering adding a chronograph timepiece to its catalogue, which could have inspired Genta’s drawing. The sketch is a testament to his ability to innovate ahead of his time. It is the only one that still exists from his IWC archive. The artwork went under the hammer at a Sotheby’s New York auction in June and reportedly sold for $40,320 (about R710 000) . 

According to Sotheby’s, it predates the iconic Royal Oak, the world’s first steel timepiece designed for Audemars Piguet in 1970. Genta, dubbed “the Picasso of watches”, also created the Nautilus for Patek Philippe and the Pasha for Cartier. He reinvented the Ingenieur SL Ref. 1832 for IWC. The latter was launched in 1976 and is still part of the collection. The IWC Ingenieur Double Chronograph Titanium was revealed when IWC revamped the collection in 2013, with a more retro design launched in 2017. 

The historic drawing includes elements seen in the Royal Oak and the Nautilus, such as the stainless-steel bracelet and screws on the bezel. Genta’s design of the Ingenieur SL features five visible screws on the watch’s bezel. However, what differentiates it from the others is that this piece was envisioned as a chronograph from the start. 

Benoît Colson, director of Sotheby’s Watches, said in a statement: “The creation belongs to Gérald Genta’s golden era of stainless-steel sport pieces, a period of only a few years that absolutely revolutionised the horological world and our perception of watches. Should it have gone into production, this watch would no doubt have been a great success.” 

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