High up in London’s Science Museum, Evelyne Genta is discussing her late husband, Gérald Charles Genta. “At one point, he became obsessed with rap,” she says of the 20th century’s most celebrated watch designer, eyes sparkling. “When he was designing, there was always loud music in the house. My daughter thought it was fantastic. I considered seeing a lawyer to divorce.”
Gérald Genta died in 2011. During his lifetime, he designed thousands of watches, some of which became Swiss watch industry icons. His Audemars Piguet Royal Oak of 1972 created the luxury stainless steel sports watch category, while the Patek Philippe Nautilus of 1976 continues to define it today. The third of Genta’s 1970s sports watch trilogy is the lesser-known IWC Ingenieur SL, also of 1976, and it is this design that Mrs Genta has come to discuss, ahead of its return at Watches and Wonders Geneva this week.
“He would have designed it in one go,” she says of IWC’s highly collectible Reference 1832 ‘Jumbo’ version of the watch, distinguished by its five exposed bezel screws and integrated metal bracelet — adding that Genta thought of his watch designs as “applied art”. “He thought IWC were particularly serious, Suisse-Allemand, and that’s why they did things well,” she says. “He loved IWC and designed for them what he considered a really serious watch.”
The mystery behind the Ingenieur SL is that it has been missing from IWC’s collection for so long. Genta’s 1970s design was a modernisation of an antimagnetic piece released in 1955, which IWC has been using as its Ingenieur template since 2016. In the time since, steely, angular 1970s sports watch designs have skyrocketed in popularity, leaving IWC behind.
Mrs Genta, who lives in London and is Monaco’s ambassador to the UK, appears to believe the trend is vindication of her husband’s work. As a freelance designer, Genta worked for countless brands, including Cartier, Omega and Bulgari, often uncredited. But that has changed since his death.
“Suddenly, everybody has got their memory back,” says Mrs Genta. “Gérald deserved more recognition because he had done so much for the Swiss watch industry in the 1970s when things weren’t so good. Now, we have companies saying Gérald designed their watches, when he didn’t.”
The new IWC Ingenieur Automatic 40 collection is a sympathetic update of Genta’s original design. Mrs Genta was not involved in its development, but is happy to give it her husband’s seal of approval. “I know what Gérald would have thought,” she says. “And he would have thought it was very good.”