Come spring 2022, 100 never-before-seen designs from the “Picasso of watchmaking,” Gérald Genta, will be up for grabs at Sotheby’s. These hand-drawn designs will go under the hammer as part of a series of dedicated sales — Gérald Genta: Icon of Time — that will take place from February to May 2022 in Geneva, Hong Kong and New York.
This will be followed by a bonus auction of Genta’s unique Royal Oak watch, estimated at a value of between USD 300,000 to USD 500,000, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of its release. Four oil paintings by Gérald Genta, paying tribute to the Nautilus and the Royal Oak, will also be up for sale.
A portion of the proceeds from the sales will benefit the Gérald Genta Heritage Association, and their mission to encourage and reward the next generation in the watch industry, notably with the launch of the inaugural Gérald Genta Prize for Young Talent.
While the auctions will be a showcase of some of the greatest horological hits in the watchmaker’s career, including never-before-seen archive material and multimedia biographical content for select pieces, what’s interesting is that every Gérald Genta watercolor painting on offer will be paired with an NFT or non-fungible token.
This means collectors can now acquire actual Gérald Genta drawings not only in their traditional watercolor form but also its digital replica. These range from Genta’s original design for Patek Philippe’s 1976 Nautilus showcasing the side profile of the watch to an early drawing of Cartier’s Pasha, which was never presented to Cartier for production, and the design of the Grande Sonnerie World Time Repetition Montres Tourbillon Minutes.
In Honor of Gérald Genta, Watchmaking Visionary
Evelyne Genta, life and business partner of Gérald Genta, explains why the watch brand is dipping its toes in crypto: “Gérald was always ahead of his time — it seemed only natural to continue his legacy of pushing boundaries in watchmaking, by reviving these revolutionary sketches with today’s most innovative art form: NFTs.”
Indeed, it might have been 10 years since his passing, but Genta has left an indelible stamp on the watch world. His designs have become some of the biggest bestsellers in watchmaking history, including the first luxury steel sports watches in the market, notably the Nautilus for Patek Philippe and the Royal Oak for Audemars Piguet.
Indeed, how Genta came up with the Royal Oak is the stuff of legend: he designed the Royal Oak overnight, inspired by a childhood memory of seeing a man sealed into an old-fashioned diving suit at a bridge in Geneva. The revolutionary octagonal-shaped bezel mirrors the shape of a vintage diving helmet: eight hexagonal screws secure it to the watch like a helmet attached to the diving suit.
“With this sale, we are continuing Gérald’s legacy of innovation,” says Evelyne.
In a nutshell, every Gérald Genta design sold at the upcoming auction will be accompanied by a “digital twin.” The NFT would be a record of ownership and proof of provenance for each accompanying Genta design, ensuring the value of each physical artwork is intrinsically connected to its digital counterpart, and thus a testament to its “legitimacy” and authenticity.
NFT: Digital Twin
NFTs are essentially cryptographic signatures; entries recorded and stored on digital ledgers on the Ethereum blockchain. As they cannot be copied or replicated, these digital tokens are used to represent ownership of one-of-a-kind items. Literally anyone can take a real-world object ranging from art and real estate to a luxury timepiece, and mint a digital twin. This is how they end up becoming a symbol of authenticity: nobody else has a copy.
But surely NFTs aren’t just exploding simply because of authenticity. Maybe this new form of market ownership is just … à la mode? Over the past year, things have been getting pretty wild in this realm of cryptocurrency: in March 2021, an NFT of a piece of work from digital artist Beeple sold for USD 69 million at Christie’s; in December, the world’s first SMS text message, “Merry Christmas,” was sold as an NFT for a whopping USD 150,000.
Meanwhile, in the business of luxury fashion, everything’s getting NFT-ed ranging from Gucci’s Virtual 25 sneakers to Rimowa’s “Blueprints from the Metaverse,” a series of remastered airline memorabilia/digital artwork.
Horology is no exception. A major horological milestone was set this year with the first-ever NFT luxury watch to hit the blockchain marketplace — the auction of Hublot’s Bigger Bang All Black Tourbillon Chronograph Special Piece; the NFT was modeled after the original owned by industry veteran Jean-Claude Biver. Then there was Jacob & Co.’s sale of its first watch NFT — the SF24 Tourbillon for USD 100,000 through NFT auction start-up, ArtGrails.
In November, Patek Philippe too waded into the NFT fray with the auction of the now-discontinued steel Nautilus, one of Genta’s best-known watch designs featuring a soft-angled bezel and inspired by the portholes of the transatlantic ships.
Notably, many NFTs in the crypto marketplace to date are sold on a virtual-only scale: the digital twin minus the physical asset. Through the duality of offering — the purchase of an NFT tied to a physical asset — at the upcoming Gérald Genta: Icon of Time auction, Sotheby’s might be setting a precedent for how auction houses can couple physical artworks with a digital certificate of ownership, ensuring an item’s value long after it is sold.
Time will tell.
Three dedicated “Gérald Genta: Icon of Time” auctions will be held in Spring 2022 across Sotheby’s in Geneva, Hong Kong and New York. The sequence of sales will culminate with the auction of Gérald Genta’s Unique Royal Oak Watch in Geneva in May 2022.