Dialing into the Future with Gérald CharlesBy Revolution
One of the most influential design titans in the watch industry, Gérald Charles Genta ushered in the concept of a luxury sports watch in steel with the Royal Oak in 1972. Genta’s big, bold and outrageously expensive watch — at least 10 times the price of a Rolex Submariner — with its octagonal shape and integrated steel bracelet, eventually became one of the most defining timepieces of the century.
Speckled with many such outstanding innovations, Genta’s career transcended his eponymous company, trademarks, patents and designs. After Bulgari acquired the Gérald Genta brand in 2000, the man revealed a new version of himself with another venture called Gerald Charles. Using his first and middle name, Gérald Charles demonstrated the profound bond he had established between himself and his latest production of timepieces.
Reflecting Genta’s quintessential sophistication in design, Gerald Charles marked a turning point for independent watchmakers at the time. Three years after its inception, Genta sold the company to a group of investors that included the Ziviani family, who appointed Giampaolo Ziviani as the general manager of the brand. With Genta still on board as its chief designer, Gerald Charles started rolling out its sporty yet elegant timepieces. Genta continued his contribution to the company until his death in 2011.
After Genta’s passing, the company continued making watches on demand for his solid niche of international collectors. These timepieces were based on Genta’s original watch designs preserved in the Maison’s archives.
In 2018, Federico Ziviani, Giampaolo Ziviani’s nephew, took over as the brand’s head and gradually brought it back into the news with the introduction of the Maestro Anniversary collection last year. Despite the pandemic, the limited-edition series was sold out in less than a year.
First revealed in 2006, the Maestro was one of the last designs from Genta. It was conceived as an elegant take on sporty timepieces. With an asymmetrical case that seems to fuse an octagon and a square, the multi-faceted design was inspired by Rome’s baroque architecture, and prominent architect Francesco Borromini who, like Genta, was half Italian and half Swiss.
“This was the first Maestro in steel. It also featured natural vulcanized rubber straps with the original clous de Paris motif designed by Monsieur Genta exclusively for Gerald Charles. The water resistance of the Maestro Anniversary watch was also radically improved from [the original] 30 meters to over 100 meters — a new must-have standard for every Gerald Charles watch of the future,” said Federico Ziviani.
The 39mm case with a “smile” at the six o’clock position is the signature Gerald Charles design that blew the market wide open in 2020. Each watch had its own unique shape, personality and look — and it appealed to a much larger audience with its gender- neutral size. The Anniversary collection celebrated the brand’s international community of collectors with a total of 252 limited- edition pieces — one for each month of Gerald Charles’s existence from the years 2000–2020. They established a special connection with their collectors through this series — and not only because it was a Genta design. Each timepiece came engraved with a unique month-year combination on its caseback and the brand allowed its collectors to choose the number they wanted.
What also elevated their reach was the launch of a digitally transformed marketing strategy that included a new website and a new Instagram handle dedicated to their community of watch collectors. At the age of 26, Federico Ziviani helped redefine a whole new era in the history of Gerald Charles with a digitally inclined network. This new approach reportedly resulted in the sale of more than 50 percent of the Maestro Anniversary series through their website, email and over the phone.
The new “upgraded” version offered a fresh, modern palette of high-end horological designs that carried the legacy, and the artistic and technical value of the original company through its new and well-engineered timepieces. However, from a communications perspective, Ziviani has opened the doors for collectors around the globe to rediscover the last brand and unedited designs of Monsieur Gérald Charles Genta in an entirely new way. With the aid of social media, the new brand strategy was simple: to inform, educate and interact with collectors on the values behind Gerald Charles.
“We took the approach opposite to what traditional brands usually do. We first engaged with a wide number of our end- customers and only then did we go to traditional retailers,” commented Ziviani. “Even when it came to our selected retail partners, we wanted to cultivate long-term relationships with them rather than cutting them off at a certain point of time. We are a family and, as a family should do, we always support those who have supported us while demonstrating our gratitude.”
Having a digital-first, data-driven approach seems to have worked for the brand. Gerald Charles currently boasts of 40,000 followers on Instagram — an ingenious strategy that allowed the company to engage and cultivate a sustainable relationship with their community by putting their customers and collectors first. This new approach also introduced a dynamic way of distribution for their watches in countries where they do not have retail partners.
However, a brand cannot survive simply on its social media presence, and the young general manager is wise to be wary of a digital-only scenario. “Trying on a watch physically and talking about watches with real people in real life are pleasures we need to preserve as much as possible. The mix of digital and in-person represents the ideal scenario, and it needs a distinctive, high- quality, mechanical timepiece that meets certain quality standards,” says Federico Ziviani who launched the Premier 2021 collection this year with a similar approach — a dynamic communication strategy combined with sophisticated engineering, which forms the core of traditional Swiss watchmaking.
The Premier marks the dawn of a new generation of Maestro timepieces: Maestro 2.0 and 3.0. The case has been slimmed down to 8.5mm, housing a new Vaucher-based manufacture automatic caliber with a 50-hour power reserve. Limited to 25 pieces each, the Maestro 2.0 and 3.0 Premier 2021 are but a preview for the next line of Gerald Charles watches. The Maestro 2.0 ultra-thin and 3.0 chronograph will be available in 18K rose gold and vivid emerald-green dials.
As the Premier 2021 continues to maintain the balance between artistic creativity and technical mastery, the next chapter of Gerald Charles will no doubt seek to sustain its integrity to its founder. Taking a leaf out of the declaration Gérald Genta wrote for the brand’s catalog in 2005, Federico Ziviani aspires to grow the Gerald Charles family with partners who will continue to deliver the best-in-class product, service and experience to the collectors’ community. “Watch collectors and enthusiasts around the world are starting to recognize and appreciate our work ethic, our precision, our flexibility and our professional approach. Whatever we do, we do it with passion and we put the best of us into every single timepiece that we manufacture. Each customer is a part of the Gerald Charles story,” says Ziviani.
Owning a Gérald Charles Genta timepiece is a special emotion. Flaunting a Nautilus or a Royal Oak from the ’70s is one thing, but owning a Gerald Charles piece today could very well add to the Genta collectibles of the future.