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Gérald Genta: a visionary designer
March 3, 2012 Royal Oak 40 Years

Gérald Genta: a visionary designer

Tribute to the legendary designer who sparked a watchmaking revolution that forged an iconic collection. It all began with a sleepless night 40 years ago…


On the eve of the 1971 Basel Fair, Gérald Genta received a phone call at 4 pm from Audemars Piguet’s Managing Director at the time, Georges Golay. The Italian market was expecting an “unprecedented steel watch”, he said, for which he needed a design by the following morning. A sports watch for all occasions with the most beautiful finishes ever seen.

At the time, Audemars Piguet was producing mechanical watches, often exceptional models including jewelry and extra-thin watches. This was a period when the tidal wave of quartz was substantially affecting the industry. To remain true to its convictions, Audemars Piguet needed a new idea.

  • Original Royal Oak sketch from Gérald Genta
    Original Royal Oak sketch from Gérald Genta

Genta had just one night ahead of him to design a watch that would ordinarily take several weeks and call for hundreds of sketches. By early morning, the drawing perfectly conveyed his first idea: that of a diving-suit helmet featuring all the details of the watch that was to become the Royal Oak, a design that would in fact never be fundamentally altered.

A steel sports watch went completely against everything that had been created up until then, and was the start of a revolution that transformed the international watchmaking scene and contributed to reaffirming Audemars Piguet’s unmistakable spirit of independence.

Gérald Genta passed away at the end of summer 2011. As the creator of the “watch stylist” profession, he founded a brand under his own name and never stopped drawing watches. Responsible not only for the Royal Oak revolution, but also some of the greatest designs in 20th century watchmaking, he should above all be revered for the avant-garde nature of his dynamic vision of “revolutionary” watchmaking.

An authentic, original, innovative creative talent and “gentleman” in the true sense of the term, Gérald Genta will be remembered for his colorful personality, generosity, innovation, visionary spirit and passion for watchmaking tradition, to which his contribution is unparalleled. He will be sorely missed by all lovers of Fine Watchmaking. This 40th anniversary celebration for the Royal Oak would not be complete without a resounding tribute to an authentic 20th century genius.

- More information about the 40th anniversary on our dedicated section.