Ask any enthusiast to name one watch designer, and the answer will almost invariably be Gérald Genta. Over the course of his decades-long career, Genta designed watches for a dizzying variety of brands from Audemars Piguet to Credor, launched multiple brands of his own, and arguably created the entire genre of integrated bracelet luxury sports watches singlehandedly. Still, even over a decade after his passing, Genta remains a monolithic figure in the watch community, and no designer before or since has garnered nearly the same sort of reverence among fans. What is it, then, that makes Gérald Genta such a unique focus for both enthusiasts and high-dollar collectors? Perhaps the best way to explore what makes Genta a cult figure in the watch community is to contemplate one of his designs – in this case, the late ‘70s IWC Yacht Club II. Slender, elegant, and bursting with understated complexity, the IWC Yacht Club II distills many of Genta’s favorite design cues into a clean and restrained package, without the baggage of many of his more famous designs.
Introduced at the height of the Quartz Crisis in 1977, the Yacht Club II was the second integrated watch Gérald Genta designed for IWC after 1974’s more famous Ingenieur. The previous C-cased Yacht Club had been a perennial bestseller for the brand through much of the ‘60s and ‘70s, but like the rest of the industry, it had suffered substantially from cheaper, more accurate Japanese quartz competition. Rather than vehemently rejecting the idea of quartz and moving as upmarket as possible, à la Audemars Piguet, IWC instead settled on a hybrid strategy, creating world-class mechanical timepieces and supplementing them with luxe takes on still-innovative quartz technology. The Yacht Club II was the lynchpin of this new strategy, offered with both an in-house IWC Caliber 2250 quartz movement and an ultra-thin JLC 889 automatic and presented as a more casual, lifestyle-oriented alternative to the more seriously sporting Ingenieur or Aquatimer. Genta’s design for the Yacht Club II reflects this philosophy, with a softer, less utilitarian silhouette than the Ingenieur, multiple strap and bracelet options, and an emphasis on slimness.
The IWC Yacht Club II’s case sits at the heart of this design concept. This reference 3312 “Jumbo” model measures in at 38mm wide, but much of the overall form emphasizes this watch’s low, broad stance on the wrist. The stout, squared-off integrated lugs play a major part in this stance, barely extending beyond the bezel and tapering only gently from the case’s widest point. Like many other Genta designs, the overall case shape is roughly octagonal, anchored by a wide octagonal bezel, but in this case, the geometric form continues uninterrupted into squared-off, vertical potions of the case sides at 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock. Rather than coming across as brutish or heavy, however, these segments instead work to emphasize just how slender the Yacht Club II is on the wrist, particularly thanks to the even slimmer lug profiles on either side. In true Genta fashion, however, the geometric bezel forms the centerpiece of the case. Rather than Genta’s most famous models, which either define this bezel in harsh polished angles or smooth curves, the Yacht Club II combines both into a broad, intriguing shape defined more by finishing than crisp, distinct planes. The uppermost surface of this bezel is circular and fully flat, crowned with smooth, understated radial brushing. Between this top layer and the octagonal bezel edge is an exceedingly gradual sloping polished chamfer, which contrasts dramatically with both the flat circular bezel top and the sheer, vertical planes of the bezel edge. Genta confidently left this chamfer as the only brightwork anywhere on the Yacht Club II’s exterior, with both the rest of the case and the bracelet finished with restrained, gentle brushing. That’s not to say the watch isn’t excellently finished, however, and the vertical brushing on each side of the octagonal bezel — over a surface barely more than a millimeter high — reinforces the ultra-premium feel of the watch overall. In order to preserve the strength of the shape on the wrist, the crown is small and deeply recessed, and the crystal is completely flush with the bezel.
Of course, any discussion of a Genta watch design isn’t complete without its bracelet, and the IWC Yacht Club II’s is a suitably crisp and restrained affair. The defining characteristic of this integrated stainless steel bracelet is its broad, oversized rectangular end links. While they may not be as distinctive a visual hallmark as the Royal Oak’s twin polished end links, these links reinforce the simpler, more subdued geometric character of the watch overall, and help the bracelet wrap impressively well around the wrist. From there, the bracelet takes on a flat tapering H-link shape, but without the rounded, raised center links of the Ingenieur or the Patek Philippe Nautilus. This flatter form and the fully brushed finishing here resonate well with the Yacht Club II’s quieter, more gentlemanly approach to integrated design, but some fans might find it oversimplified compared to Genta’s more famous integrated bracelets.
Like the case and bracelet, the dial of the IWC Yacht Club II takes on many of the hallmarks of classic Genta design in a quieter, subtler way. For example, the black dial here is textured, but in a far less overt way than the Royal Oak’s tapisserie or the Nautilus’ “deck planks.” Instead, IWC uses a complex, slate-like naturalistic stone texture, allowing for a myriad of minute highlights and shadows across the matte surface. The rest of the dial is elegantly straightforward, with pointed applied indices matched by sharply faceted pencil hands. While the tritium lume application here is minimal, it has aged to a creamy light khaki tone that suits the off-black hue of the dial handsomely.
Like most examples of the IWC Yacht Club II, this particular reference 3312 example is equipped with the brand’s own Caliber 2250 quartz movement. At the time of its introduction, quartz was still a novel, high-tech segment of watchmaking, and Caliber 2250 models actually retailed for more than their automatic-powered counterparts. Even today, the Caliber 2250 is an excellent example of early Swiss luxury quartz horology, with quality construction and respectable accuracy.
There has never been, and there might never be, another watch designer who commands the kind of reverence from both enthusiasts and industry insiders that Gérald Genta does. While multitudes of other designers and brands have taken their attempts at the sort of integrated sports designs he helped to pioneer, few of these show the same effortless balance and fanatical attention to detail that Genta’s work portrays. The late ‘70s IWC Yacht Club II is stylish, gentlemanly proof of this “Genta magic” in action, with a more relaxed, subtle flair than many of his more industry-shaping works. Even in quartz guise, it’s a highly sought-after piece among vintage collectors, and it’s a powerful reminder of the joys to be found by looking beyond Genta’s biggest icons.