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That's Not an Ordinary Watch, It's a Ritz by Genta

Gerald Genta's creativity was the fountainhead for an astonishing array of watch designs.
Gerald Genta's painting of a watch design, one described further below
Many of his compositions of complications, bezel, dial, case and bracelet have stood the test of decades. Take, for example, Genta's vision for the Nautilus, which Patek Philippe introduced to the world in 1976. Almost a half century later, there is a nearly insatiable demand for this watch.

The enduring popularity of Genta's Nautilus stands in stark contrast to then-contemporaneous fashion trends. As noted on Debbie Session's web page Vintage Dancer, the Nautilus was born alongside
70s disco dudes built on the Peacock Revolution of the 1960s, strutting the dance floor in all the trappings of the neo-dandy. Long hair, ruffled shirts, and gold jewelry were cultural mainstays. Jumpsuits and platform boots were popular with both sexes. Even hot pants were a perennial favorite.
While 1970s clothing trends may presently have a cadre of adherents, it would be fair to say that the Nautilus outperformed ruffled shirts and platform boots in the long run.

Perhaps due to the unmatched timelessness of Genta's watches, much of his oevre is known in great detail. For this reason, I was surprised when I learned of relatively recent Genta designs that were new to me. It would be one thing if these designs only existed on canvas. However, it appears they were actually manufactured and sold, which means they may be in collections scattered around the globe.

I discovered these designs following a remark made by the man behind IG account @scaramanga during a Clubhouse discussion. He noted that intellectual property records for designs such as the Nautilus do not mention Genta. The likely reason: Genta created his designs independently and sold them to either brands or to component manufacturers who supplied parts to brands. These transactions likely involved the transfer of all intellectual property rights to the party who bought Genta's design. In addition, it is possible Genta signed some kind of non-disclosure agreement so that all the "credit" for the design would accrue to a brand.

Out of curiosity, I went to a WIPO online database of design registration and searched for Genta's name. Sure enough, it did not return results for the Royal Oak, Nautilus or Octo Finissimo. It did return some results which were extremely puzzling. Ten watch designs appeared which I had never seen before. For each design, Gerald Genta was listed as "creator of design" and Ritz Fine Jewellery, with an address of the Ritz Hotel, was given as the design's holder. This second fact was very puzzling.

I didn't understand why the jewelry store in a hotel would own watch designs by Gerald Genta. Jewelers often do have relationships with watch brands, but that relationship typically extends no further than retail. Now and then, stores might collaborate with a brand to design a special version of an existing design. That was not the case here, though. There was no indication, anywhere, that these timepieces were associated with a watch brand of any sort.

I decided to spend some time researching the store. Google indicated that the store was in the Ritz Hotel London, but it was "permanently closed."
A jewelry display case from the shuttered Ritz Fine Jewellery store. Credit: Danda
One of the store's jewelry display cases was listed for sale in England. The display was oval in shape and capped by the Ritz' hallmark royal blue color. Unsurprisingly, Ritz Fine Jewellery seemed to primarily sell rings and necklaces. It began operating in the early 2000s. In the aughts, Chloe Sevigny performed in a short promotional video for the store styled as a series of film noire vignettes taking place in Ritz hotel rooms.

Apparently, Ritz Fine Jewellery (RFJ) entered into a multifaceted commercial relationship with Genta. This included design of the store's showroom itself. According to an article in The Telegraph, the store resembled a jewel box. It was outfitted with dark "Ritz blue" granite, matching silk damask on the walls, mirrored panels and a downstairs "VIP area" with silver upholstered armchairs and a concealed bar. There, customers could imagine and commission bespoke jewelry and, it turns out, Genta watches. More on that later.

The layout of the Ritz Fine Jewellery store was certainly emblematic of Genta's design language. The store was octagonal in shape. Genta employed an octagon on many of his most famous designs. These include the Royal Oak, the Octo Finissimo, and many of the watches made by his eponymous brand, such as his perpetual calendar dating from the 1990s. In fact, the Gerald Genta brand launched a model called The Octogon in 1991 which featured a skeletonized movement, perpetual calendar, and a minute repeater.

My interested in the Ritz X Genta collaboration, though, primarily involved the line of watches designed by the maestro. Fortunately, I had a lucky break while conducting my research. It allowed me to fill in almost all of the blanks regarding the Ritz Gentas.
The cover of the Ritz X Genta watch "lookbook."
I found an oversized book listed for sale by a shop nearby. The book had a fabric cover in a Ritz blue hue. An outer box was marked"Ritz Fine Jewellery - London" in gold lettering. The book itself repeated this embossing on the cover along with the word "Timepieces." On the very bottom of the book was embossed "by" and a reproduction of Gerald Genta's signature.

I could not believe my good fortune. Inside, the book had full-bleed, high quality pictures of many of the same watches I found in the WIPO design database. In addition, there were narratives describing the timepieces and their features. I decided that this book was the only avenue by which I would learn more (a LinkedIn message to the former manager of Ritz Fine Jewellery remained unanswered to this day). So, I bought the book and, much to my surprise, it arrived the next day.

When I first inspected the book, a detail I'd missed became apparent. Also embossed on its cover, in large type, were the Roman numerals "XV," or fifteen. This corresponded to the count of the references which Genta designed for RFJ. The opening paragraph to the book read as follows:
Within these pages you will discover some of the most exclusive wristwatches in the world, inspired by the elegance and luxury of The Ritz, London. Few in number, they have been designed by one of the greatest of all contemporary horologists, M Gerald Genta. Made from the finest available materials, each will be finished to the personal specification of the individual purchaser. Dazzling in their perfection yet discreet in their appearance, these watches are truly timekeepers for the connoisseur.
On the opposite page was a picture of Genta at work. He was apparently painting one of the Ritz watch designs. Next, there was an extended quote from Genta which details the source of his inspiration for the watches. He began, "... when it came to designing The Bespoke Watch Collection by Ritz Fine Jewellery, I thought of The Ritz, London; I closed my eyes and let the images run through my mind." He described sitting in the Ritz Hotel Palm Court, where guests enjoy a famous serving of "afternoon tea." Genta noted that he, "sat for hours in the Palm Court admiring the attention to detail; the beautiful flower arrangements, the incredibly fine china, the refined couples." He noted that the official name for his collection of designs was "The Bespoke Watch Collection." He concluded: "Of course these watches will never stop time running away from you. But at least when you glance at your Ritz Fine Jewellery watch, you will know that it's running away with style and elegance.'"

The book then offers some details about The Bespoke Watch Collection. It noted
By assimilating architectural, cultural and social elements from The Ritz, London [Genta] has created three ranges, each comprising a date model, a chronograph model and tourbillon model. Available in a choice of precious metals, the entire collection amounts to just 15 watches, each of which will be limited to a numbered edition of one. The dial of each watch has purposely been left blank, free of any form of branding. This allows the collector to personalise the piece with his or her initials, crest or any other motif - including one designed on their behalf, if required, by M Genta himself.
Given that only 15 watches were produced as part of The Bespoke Collection, these watches may count among the rarest of the maestro's watches in history.

Genta's erasure of any branding on the watch dials, with the exception of the customary "Swiss Made" mark, was somewhat jarring when I first encountered it.
A detail of the customization available to a buyer, raising the possibility one of the watches was bought by a collector with the initials "NK."
This design choice was a bold one, placing the owner's customization as a priority above the branding that watch manufacturers typically employ. We can think of this as a gesture from Genta that says "you are the brand" to the buyer.

There are a few other characteristics serving to unite the Ritz designs. The first is lugs which, head on, appear straight. From the side, though, they feature a design element which I will describe in detail below. Second, there is the use of baton hands and indices which bear a striking resemblance to those used on Genta's Royal Oak design from Audemars Piguet.
Similitude between the Royal Oak batons (top) and the Ritz X Genta batons (bottom).
Third, the dials are adorned with a "railroad" style minute scale decoration. Slightly inset from the railroad, Genta drew a fine circular mark. Unlike many executions, Genta chose to place this detail at a radial distance only slightly greater than the length of the hour hand. Although Cartier has done similar with some of their designs, traditionally, a railroad scale is placed on the outer radius of the dial. All watches were offered on straps (apparently leather or crocodile) . Naturally, all blue-dialed versions employed the Ritz blue hue.

Let's next step through each of the three designs.

Rotunda

The Rotunda design (left) and Ritz Hotel rotunda (right).
These were circular watches inspired by the "Rotunda" atrium gallery at The Ritz. The correspondence is clearest in the design for the Rotunda with date complication at 6 o'clock. The circular case, railroad scale and date indicator form concentric rings which evoke the atrium's appearance from above.

The Rotunda Date (pictured just above) featured an automatic movement, eight cabochon pink sapphires set in the bezel and a pink sapphire in the crown. It was offered in white gold with a 40 hour power reserve.
The Rotunda Chronograph in white gold.

The Rotunda Chronograph in yellow gold.
Two versions of the Rotunda Chronograph were offered, both with an automatic movement and three sub-registers. The chronograph pushers here, and in the full line, appear as unadorned hemispheres. The white dial Rotunda Chronograph was produced in white gold and offered 46 hours of power reserve. It was paired with blue sapphires inset to the bezel and crown. The Ritz blue dial version of the Rotunda Chronograph had the same power reserve but it was produced in yellow gold with amethysts inset to the bezel and crown.

The Rotunda Tourbillon offered a clue about the identity of the watchmaker who manufactured these timepieces. The tourbillon complication in the manual wind movement was described as an "Antoine Preziuso" tourbillon. Preziuso is a Geneva-born watchmaker who graduated top in his class from the Geneva Watchmaking School. His career includes working for Patek Philippe, the auction house Antiquorum, and Breguet. He has also produced watches under his own brand. Roughly eight years after Genta's Bespoke collection was registered in the WIPO design database, Preziuso took home the 2015 GPHG Innovation Watch prize for his "Tourbillon of Tourbillons" watch. None other than Philippe Dufour presented the prize to Preziuso. Clearly, the Ritz tourbillons had a strong pedigree.

The Rotunda Tourbillon movement offered a lengthy 72 hour power reserve.
The Rotunda Tourbillon in platinum.
Here, the bezel and crown were inset with diamonds. The case was made in platinum and included a display back, for good reason. The movement was adorned with ornate floral engravings. Screws and chatons play the role of a flower's pistil in these arrangements.
Detail of engraving on Rotunda Tourbillon movement.
There is some chance this design was the engraver's nod to France's King Louis XIV, aka "The Sun King." The engravings resemble sunflowers, the official flower of Louis XIV. Interestingly, the Ritz' decorative style is in the tradition of Louis' grandson (the last King of France).

Rivoli

This line of watches features tounnaeu - shaped cases. For these timepieces, Genta was inspired by the Rivoli cocktail lounge at the Ritz. Tounneau translates to "barrel" in English, and there may be a clever pun here given that certain bar refreshments are delivered by the barrel.

The Rivoli lounge was refashioned by interior desinger Tessa Kennedy and reopened in 2001.
Rivoli bartop (top) and lug profile on Rivoli watch (bottom).

The common lug profile on 1905 (top) Rivoli (bottom left) and Rotunda (bottom right).

Another possible inspiration for Bespoke Collection lug shapes: the end of the handrail leading into the Palm Court (top).
Kennedy was inspired by the Art Deco cues in the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train. Genta seems to have inherited this inspiration, particularly in the side profile of the lugs on the Rivoli. Indeed, the gentle arch of the lugs, bending towards a wearer's wrist, was something Genta created for all of the watches in the Bespoke collection. The Rivoli's lugs are aethetically similar to the curve at the very end of the Rivoli bartop (it is possible that this lug shape was also inspired by the curve at the end of the handrail in the steps leading up to the Palm Court). In addition, the three-piece "sandwich" side profile of the Rivoli design echoes the side profile of the bar itself.

Blue dial version of Rivoli Tourbillon.

White dial version of Rivoli Tourbillon.
Let's begin our detailed exploration with the Rivoli Tourbillon. One version was offered in rose gold with a Ritz blue dial. The tourbillon itself was described as an "Antoine Preziuso." It was manually wound and offered a 72 hour power reserve. The Rivoli Tourbillon shares a number of features with the Rotunda Tourbillon, including a diamond-capped crown and caseback display of the movement's floral engraving. The second version of the Rivoli Tourbillon is in white gold with pave diamonds set into the sides of the bezel, perhaps a nod to the sparkling crystals in the cocktail lounge chandeliers. The dial in the gemset Tourbillon was a shade of white.

The blue dial version of the Rivoli date.

The white dial version of the Rivoli Chronograph.
For the Rivoli Date, Genta chose a self-winding movement offering a 40 hour power reserve. The crown here was set with a sapphire. The Ritz Date blue-dialed version was in white gold while the white dialed version was in yellow gold. The Rivoli Chronograph was also encased in yellow gold. Three registers were presented on a white dial; the chronograph offered a 46 hour power reserve and an automatic movement.

1905

The 1905 line seemed less directly inspired by interior design cues from the Ritz itself and more inspired by the Ritz' history and ambiance. The hotel was built in 1905. Genta intended that the watch would be, "equally at home whether the wearer is behind the wheel of a classic sports car or cutting a dash in a bespoke dinner jacket."

The 1905 (top) and the Nautilus (bottom).
Here, the case is cushion-shaped. There is no denying that the 1905 is reminiscent of one of Genta's design masterstrokes: the Nautilus. Both cases appear as a square which is "rounded" in the corners and along the sides.

1905 Date, white dial.

1905 Date, blue dial.

1905 Chronograph.

1905 Toubillon.
The remainder of the 1905 design elements and choices closely match the Rotunda and the Rivoli line. The 1905 Date was available with a Ritz blue dial / white gold case or a white dial / yellow gold case. These were self-winding with a 40 hour power reserve and a sapphire set crown. The 1905 Chronograph was available in a Ritz blue / white gold combination or a yellow gold / white dial pairing. The chronograpah movement was self-winding with a 46 hour power reserve and sapphire set crown. Last, but definitely not least, the 1905 Tourbillon was produced in platinum with a Ritz blue dial. It had identical specifications to the Rotunda Tourbillon and Rivoli Tourbillon. The familiar floral engraving was visible through a caseback.

The book offers one more detail about these watches. At least one watch, likely the 1905 in white gold, had a number of engravings on the caseback. These included "Ritz Fine Jewelery - London" and a "by" line with an engraved reproduction of Genta's signature. It was also marked "No. 1" and "RCDW - 1."

Conclusion

The Ritz Fine Jewellery Bespoke Collection, at fifteen pieces, is most certainly one of the most scarce runs of Genta watch designs. We are fortunate to have a unique insight into the designer's inspiration for these timepieces. Such details are frequently lost to history, particularly when we consider the depth and breadth of the maestro's work. However, many questions remain. Who owns these timepieces? What were their prices? Who manufactured the cases and movements? We can only hope to learn more with the passage of time. In the meanwhile, it is fun to think about someone literally "putting on the Ritz" when they choose a watch at the start of the day.

Comments

  1. Wow, what a treasure you’ve found and reshared with the world. I can only hope some of these pieces re-emerge to the public someday.

    ReplyDelete
  2. You have done great work by publishing this article here. It is useful and convenient info for us. Keep upgrading our knowledge by share articles like Buy vintage IWC watch.

    ReplyDelete

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