Bulgari By Gérald Genta Octo Quadri-Retro Chronograph From 2011: Embodying The Past And A Possible Future Of A Once Imperious Haute Horlogerie Leader
by Tim Mosso
What’s the difference between a gadget and a watch? Can they be one and the same? Gérald Genta – the brand, not the man – certainly thought so. Between the departure of its eponymous founder in the mid-1990s and its subsummation into Bulgari in 2010, Gérald Genta’s Le Sentier factory issued an impressive run of time-telling wrist gadgets.
The Bulgari Octo Quadri-Retro Chronograph – née Genta – sports a gaggle of gratuitous gadgets that chart the passage of time while raising a riot.
Gérald Genta: parting of man and brand
In 1996, watch designer Gérald Genta sold 51 percent of his eponymous brand and its facilities to Singapore-based retailer The Hour Glass. Although the Genta brand had flourished under its founder from 1969 to nearly the new millennium, its new owner was forced to sell under duress after only four years. Then-independent Italian jeweler Bulgari purchased Gérald Genta SA and sister brand Daniel Roth SA in June of 2000.
The 2000s were an awkward period for the Genta brand as a succession of Bulgari-appointed executives attempted to bridge the culture gap between Italy and the Vallée de Joux. It didn’t help that Gérald Genta – the man, not the brand – continued to design watches under the newly struck Gérald Charles imprint.
From Le Sentier to Rome
What happens to a drifting niche-watch brand two degrees removed from a famous founder? In the case of Gérald Genta, the brand – initially – stayed true to the irreverence and haut-de-gamme focus of its salad days in the 1980s and ’90s. Retrogrades, jumping hours, tourbillons, and quirky case designs helped to keep the Genta name firmly anchored in the realm of haute horlogerie through the go-go mid-2000s.
In 2004, Gérald Genta’s designers updated the company’s decades-old octagonal case design with the Bi-Retro Octo, a double retrograde minute/date complication with jumping hours. Late the following year, Genta watchmakers released the Arena Sport Quattro Retro, a chronograph combining jumping hours, retrograde minutes, a retrograde date, and two retrograding displays for chronograph hours and minutes. The two came together in the subsequent Octo Quadri-Retro Chronograph. And, amid a decade preoccupied with excess, that was enough to keep the lights on – for a while.
The United States’ financial convulsions that began in 2007 hit their stride in 2008 and reached the wider world in 2009. In advance of Baselworld 2010, Bulgari announced its intention to consolidate the Gérald Genta and Daniel Roth brands into the Bulgari watch collection – initially as sub-catalogs retaining their old names. The 2010-2011 Gérald Genta watches were officially “Bulgari for Gérald Genta.”
Blink and you’ll miss it
The year 2011 witnessed the arrival of the Bulgari by Gérald Genta Octo Quadri-Retro Chronograph. In short, it was a repackaging of the 2006 Arena Sport Quattro Retro chronograph movement into the 2004 Bi-Retro Octo case. By 2012, even the muted “Gérald Genta” dial subtext of the Octo series had vanished.
At 45 mm in stainless steel and black ceramic, the 50-piece Octo Quadri-Retro (OQR) is a product of its times. Bigger was better and biggest was best during the late 2000s, and the fever hadn’t quite broken by 2012. Nevertheless, the OQR makes good use of its sprawling geography. External features include layers of curves, creases, steps, and planes; Bulgari subsequently claimed more than 100 distinct surface facets for versions of this case. The bezel is crafted from black ceramic, and the beaded crown is topped with a cabochon of black onyx.
The dial side of the Bulgari OQR is anything but bashful. Champlevé creates hollows in the watch face and then fill them with lustrous lacquers. The paints were cured with heat and polished by hand across multiple applications. Bright rhodium-plated metal grilles impart an inescapably interwar Art Deco punch.
Mechanical spec is just as dynamic. Four retrograde displays and a jumping hour ensure that the owner of a Bulgari OQR is never more than a few moments removed from a crowd-pleasing payoff. Even more than the shape, the Octo Quadri-Retro’s strongest link to its Genta past is the crossfire of snapdragon displays on its sectored face.
Heart of gold
Bulgari retired the Gérald Genta brand name in 2012, but its presence lingered on the Octo Quadri-Retro. Strap, clasp, and dial are bereft of Genta branding, but backside signatures endure. The octagonal co-branded case back frames a Gérald Genta-blazoned Caliber GG7800.
This movement is gorgeous. Genta and Bulgari have described the engine-turned yellow gilding as “old gold” or “potter” finish, and it looks like money. Fundamentally, the traction engine of this modular movement is a Frédéric Piguet 1185 automatic chronograph, and that’s a beautiful foundation for an haute complication. The same movement undergirded generations of Audemars Piguet and Vacheron Constantin chronographs.
Salient features of the GG7800 include clean bevels, black polished screws, a visible column wheel, and handsomely tiered bridges. Not all automatic chronograph movements are a pleasure to view, but this one’s star power is self-evident. Five-position adjustment implies rapt attention to positional timing deltas, and a vertical clutch ensures seamless chronograph engagement.
Unseen topside, the Gérald Genta complication module is a true work of art. Instantaneous jump mechanisms are the specialty of a bare handful of master watchmakers. The craftsperson works to balance the need for a precise jump, resistance to shock-induced jumps, and durability to avoid damage during normal use. On the Bulgari OQR, the need for simultaneous jumps by several of the indicators complicates the process of tuning these devices. The finish of these unseen parts is excellent, and it compares favorably to the Frédéric Piguet base.
Return of the king?
Gérald Genta – the man – has never been more prominent to watch collectors than he is right now. The insatiable demand for Genta-designed sports watches and Genta-like sports watches remains on boil even as prices have ebbed from their spring 2022 peak. Breathless commentary on the greatness of the Patek Philippe Nautilus or the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak is never more than a click removed from any wristwatch social media feed.
But interest in Genta – the brand – is only dawning. Bulgari’s platinum Gérald Genta 50th Anniversary Arena Bi-Retro was one of the most unexpected new watches of 2019. As a half-century tribute to the ostensibly defunct Genta brand, the new Arena Bi-Retro heralded an annual trickle of new Gérald Genta watches from the still Le Sentier-based Bulgari watch manufacture such as 2020’s Arena Bi-Retro Sport.
While watch collectors await the future of the Gérald Genta marque, its rich past remains a rewarding visit. The Bulgari Octo Quadri-Retro Chronograph embodies both the past and possible future of a once imperious haute horlogerie leader.
For more on Bulgari and Gérald Genta, please visit www.bulgari.com/en-int/watches/gerald-genta.
Quick Facts Bulgari by Gérald Genta Octo Quadri-Retro Chronograph
Case: 45 mm, stainless steel and black ceramic
Movement: automatic Caliber GG7800 (based on Frédéric Piguet 1185), 38-hour power reserve
Functions: jump hours, retrograde minutes seconds; retrograde date, chronograph with retrograde displays
Limitation: 50 pieces
Price in 2011: CHF 25,000
Year of release: 2011
* Tim Mosso is the media director and a watch specialist at Watchbox.
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If I had a big fat wrist and a big fat bank account , I would actually buy this one. That red is just fire !