August 26, 2020
by Ariel Adams
Reported on aBlogtoWatch earlier in 2020, and made official today, the Gerald Genta brand is making a comeback, under the stewardship of Bulgari (owned by the LVMH Group) which owns the rights to the brand and name. The timepiece itself is the lovely reference 103448 Gerald Genta Arena Bi-Retro Sport watch, with its yellow-accented dial and brushed titanium case. First, some history and background.
Gerald Genta (now deceased) was a watch designer responsible for today’s most popular types of luxury watches (by the numbers). These are the so-called “integrated bracelet” watches that do so well for brands such as Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe. Both the Royal Oak and Nautilus watches (respectively) were originally designed by Mr. Genta. (I wrote an extensive discussion of the “Gerald Genta effect” on today’s watchmaking industry here.) Later in his life, he finally set out to create his own Gerald Genta brand, which was active mostly in the 1990s and early 2000s. There, he designed some of his most eccentric (and, in my opinion, ionic) watches, including those such as the Gefica, Octo, and the Arena collections.
In the early 2000s BVLGARI (prior to it being acquired by LVMH) acquired the company that owned the Gerald Genta brand (as well as Daniel Roth). This acquisition was less about the brand appeal at the time and more about the technical know-how and watchmaking assets that would not be available to them. BVLGARI (Bulgari) had wanted to be a much more high-end watchmaker, known for more than Italian designs and precious materials. The acquisition of the talent led BVLGARI on a truly prolific path of haute horological innovation and investment. In 2010, BVLGARI made the decision to more or less end the independent Gerald Genta and Daniel Roth brands, and instead roll them into BVLGARI products. This created some strangely branded watches whose dials read both “Gerald Genta (or Daniel Roth)” and “BVLGARI.” My guess at the time (which later turned out to be correct) was that BVLGARI might continue to produce some of those products, but sans the other brand names on the dial. This turned out to be correct. While there isn’t much Daniel Roth in the BVLGARI product collection today, the popular Octo models, which do so well for BVLGARI right now, all began life as Gerald Genta brand products.
The Octo isn’t likely to get Gerald Genta branding on it ever again, but clearly, that isn’t the case for many of Genta’s other models, including the Gefica and Arena. There are a lot of models ripe for BVLGARI’s team to re-explore and render into fully new Gerald Genta-branded timepieces — and that all starts with the 2020 Gerald Genta Arena Bi-Retro sports watch. Both the case and movement in this watch are not substantially new. So, what is the biggest deal here? Probably the logo on the dial actually.
The timepiece — though openly produced by BVLGARI (and probably directly sold by them, as well) still lacks any BVLGARI branding on the dial and has only a Gerald Genta logo — not only that but a brand new Gerald Genta logo that has never existed before. Why? Well, you don’t invest in a new logo if you don’t intend on using it for a while. That is exactly what is going to happen. The Gerald Genta brand is about to get a reboot of sorts, and I believe it will take the form of BVLGARI exploring a lot of the 1990s-era Genta watches as novel pieces today. My sincere hope is that they explore the Disney relationship again. Yes, Gerald Genta watches are, to this date, the most luxurious fully licensed “Mickey Mouse” (and Donald Duck) watches that have ever been commercially released, as far as I know.
Now, let’s talk about the Gerald Genta reference 103448. The Arena Bi-Retro Sport name is quite simple and merely speaks to the case and movement that the piece uses. The “Sport” moniker likely suggests that this collection will get more pieces soon, and probably a matching bracelet (finally) at some point. The case is 43mm-wide and 12mm-thick in well-machined and brushed titanium. The Arena case (as the name suggests is actually inspired by the shape of Roman arenas. Italians really do love being inspired by their history and backyard more than any other “design culture” I know.
Years from now, all of this still will be more popular, but in a lot of ways the “late-era” Gerald Genta work isn’t as appreciated as his early-to-mid-career work. It is my opinion that watches in the larger Gefica and Arena watches are going to have their hey-day. As it is, prices for the vintage Gerald Genta watches can go for a lot of money these days, but just a few years ago, you could get any number of incredible and highly complex Gerald Genta watches for a relative bargain. I believe that increasing such times of “great Genta” values might be a thing of the past as a larger pool of timepiece collectors find themselves interested in his work and name. BVLGARI certainly stands to benefit, as its CEO (Mr. Jean-Christophe Babin) is also the person running Gerald Genta at this point.
The Arena watch has always been interesting, and in this sporty titanium with black and yellow (a color tone I happen to really admire), it is matched to a matte-black alligator strap. The dial is highly reminiscent of previous Bi-Retro watches but with some visual tweaks to keep things fresh. While the design is not by Gerald Genta himself, you can easily spot a lot of highly particular design DNA being adopted for this slightly new look. I also happen to admire the new Gerald Genta logo. It has a sort of late 20th-century futurism to it, and I think it faithfully represents the kinds of values and aesthetics that Mr. Genta held dear.
Inside the Arena Bi-Retro Sport is the in-house made caliber BVL 300 automatic movement. This movement concept goes back to the 1990s or even late 1980s, but I believe has been given few upgrades over the years. The movement operates at 4Hz (28,800 bph) with 42 hours of power reserve. It features the time with hours and minutes only (no seconds). The lower part of the dial is reserved for a retrograde date display. Thus, because of the minutes and date indicators, the watch is “bi-retro,” or rather “bi-retrograde.” Hours are indicated “digitally” via a jumping hour window under the 12 o’clock position on the case.
Little is currently known about BVLGARI’s plans with the newly relaunched Gerald Genta brand. It is possible that the watches will be sold right alongside BVLGARI timepieces, via the same retail channels but with a different brand on the dial. It is also possible that BVLGARI will set up new teams for Gerald Genta — even though I don’t think that type of investment will be on the LVMH Groups’ radar for quite some time. What is also unknown is how Mr. Babin plans to market and position the Gerald Genta watches. These are clearly going to be positioned as serious luxury watches, as this titanium model with an existing movement has a price near $15,000. The Gerald Genta name is clearly hot and while Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe have appealing watches the famed designer was responsible, it is BVLGARI that actually owns the likeness and much of the work Gerald Genta himself.
My guess is that we are going to see two or three new Gerald Genta watches per year, each being closely connected to BVLGARI for the time being. Depending on the success and sales on those pieces, the brand could very well split off on its own a bit, and perhaps even see more independence of design. These days, quite literally anything is possible. Price for the reference 103448 Gerald Genta Bi-Retro Sport watch is $14,800 USD.