September 25, 2011
by Ariel Adams
I continue to lament the loss of watch industry design and figure-head Gerald Genta who died this year. People tend to remember him most for his classic contributions to the industry – which include 1970s’ designs for the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, Vacheron Constantin Overseas, IWC Ingenieur, and Patek Philippe Nautilus. Granted these were all amazing and endearing designs – though they were however obvious siblings of one another. My colleague at Fratello Watches discusses those here a bit. Personally, I am a bit more interested in his later work. All that is summed up and epitomized in the Gefica Bi-Retro.
The modern interpretation of the Gefica concept is a watch I dearly want to add to my collection (and I rarely say things like that about watches that are no longer being made). As time goes on the leadership Genta took in terms of design risk and innovation is clear. For example, right now bronze watches are all hot and in. The Gefica was mostly in bronze when most people laughed at use of the metal. The case was (is) 47mm wide and almost 20mm thick – even in the early 2000s when people thought this was a crazy size. It showed the world that a true modern watch incorporated both an innovative layout of telling the time as well as case design. It relied heavily on titanium, and it has a serious personality all to its own.
On top of that the design is emotional. Rumor has it that Genta was inspired during a safari in Africa before designing the watch. The Gefica Bi-Retro often has “Safari” in the name and combines a series of design features that have an almost tribal look to them. It is like modern art meets ritualistic drum circle – who else can pull that off?
For years I have admired the Gefica almost as an icon. The design was so vivid to me I almost didn’t want to disgrace it by wearing it. While the case was designed from the ground up to be ergonomic, you rarely see people wearing these. It really takes a strong personality to match wits with this watch. The classic Gefica from the 1980s was impressive for its design, but this 2000’s era Gefica Bi-Retro is a landmark.
A few years ago I first encountered a Gerald Genta Gefica Bi-Retro at a watch event and got to put the watch on my wrist for the first time- it was amazing. I was stunned at the quality and level of detail. A watch design like this is really not easy to manufacture. Not only is the dial very complex with many colors and levels, but the case is literally made out of two materials. Most of the case is finely cut bronze, and all the little “balls” around it are applied individually and in titanium.
Genta chose bronze because of its patina developing properties. This is a metal that you want to look aged. It goes with the design of the watch and is part of its character. This piece has the charm of aged jeans. Designing a dial to go with this was not likely an easy task. The amazing thing is that the dial of the Gefica doesn’t look like the case at all, but still seems to go with it. Here Genta called upon his love for art deco and clean lines. 1920s futuristic and rugged outback never did go together so well (or at all). Over the years the dial of the watch was available in a range of colors (with matching alligator strap). The fold-over titanium clasp is also a nicely architected thing of beauty.
Going along with his love of retrograde hands and jumping hour complications, the Gefica Bi-Retro has both. The name itself basically is short for “bi-retrograde.” The hour is told digitally through a window close to 12 o’clock, while the minutes are expressed on an arched scale with a hand that moves across it and then jumps back to the first position. Seconds are displayed via a traditional hand that goes around the entire dial. A second retrograde has is used on the lower half of the dial to indicate the date. I love those hands that look like bubbly magnifying lenses (the large opening in the hand is also done to prevent obstruction when reading the hour) . In my opinion the Gefica Bi-Retro dial design is an incredible item of beauty and genius.
When you turn over the Gefica you see an amazing looking movement, and it looks unlike anything else you’ll see. Most brands try to visually separate the automatic rotor from the rest of the movement. Not here. Both the movement parts and automatic rotor are applied with micro-perlage polishing. It looks incredible as well as unique. The movement is called the Calibre GG 1004 automatic. It is a base Girard-Perregaux automatic with a special retrograde module built by Gerald Genta. A great combo if you ask me.
You can look online for additional pictures of the Gerald Genta Gefica Bi-Retro watch. A few years ago the Gerald Genta watch brand died before the man himself did. It was engulfed by owner group Bulgari. So no more of these Gefica watches will ever be made. The good news is that Bulgari has continued the Gefica Bi-Retro using Bulgari branding. The case is the same but they changed the dial. I personally like the Gerald Genta version a bit better, but the Bulgari model will suffice as well. Price for the Gefica Bi-Retro retailed for about $18,000. Fair, but still really pricey. The good news is that prices on the pre-owned market are a bit more reasonable. Like this one for example available on James List that is just under $7,000. For me, this is a piece that WILL be in my collection sooner or later.