Watch Homage – Bulova, Breitling and Genta

Gerald Genta – Design Deity

There’s no doubt that sometimes a single person can have a monumental impact in their field. It’s almost like they have been embedded with some ability to see and do what others cannot. Giorgetto Giugiaro being named car designer of the century after influencing such classics as the Detomaso Mangusta, the Maserati Ghibli and the Delorean. Claude Debussy composing ballets, operas, orchestral and arguably some of the best solo piano music ever heard. Pablo Picasso for developing analytic and synthetic cubism – a completely fresh take on modern art.

In this instance we are talking about Gerald Genta. You might not have even heard of this half swiss half italian designer – but you will have seen his work.

Genta - Oak Nautilus
Audemars Piquet Royal Oak (left) Patek Phillipe Nautlius (right)

Genta has had a long and successful career working with companies such as Universal Geneve, Omega, Patek Phillipe and Audemars Pigeut. It’s fair to say that the watches he influenced now make up some of the most desirable on the planet.

Sometimes I find myself reading about certain models and realising they have been designed by Genta – things not initially obvious as the two mighty steel units above.


At the age of only 23 Genta was asked to design a watch to commemorate the polar flights from the US to Europe by Scandinavian Airlines Systems. SAS were the first commercial airline to have flown over the geographical north pole and it was regarded as quite spectacular – it dramatically reduced flight times from LA to Copenhagen by 24 hours.

Flying over the North Pole did present issues as strong magnetic fields can disrupt the accuracy of wrist watches. Universal Geneve was the official watch supplier of SAS and produced the Polarouter to remain accurate under magnetic stress. Shortly after the model was renamed to the Polerouter and this design classic was released to the world in 1954.

Universal Geneve Polerouter

Humble Pie

We have Genta to thank for the “pie-pan” dial so sought after by Omega enthusiasts. During this period of time freelance designers were not to be credited with the overall look and design of watches. However in 2009 Genta did state that his direct client wasn’t Omega, but Omega’s suppliers and it was in this manner that I participated in the creation of the Seamaster, or of the Constellation, for example by designing the case for the one, or designing a dial or a bracelet for another.’

This was probably his last conventional design before moving into more avantgarde styles.

1959 Omega Constellation
1959 Omega Constellation

Cast a Shadow

One watch I have always sought after is the Universal Geneve White Shadow. It uses one of my favourite movements of all time developed by Buren and is simplistic design excellence.

In a lot of Genta’s design its clear he has an obsession with ultra-thin elipitical cases. This being the first of many. There is something exquisite about the overall proportions with the slightly hidden crown and lack of running seconds to busy the dial.

1965 Universal Geneve White Shadow

Royal Oak

One of the most influential and often copied designs is the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. Released at the Annual Swiss Watch show in 1972 it was heavily criticised and came with a price tag of 3300 Swiss francs – at the time this was more than ten times the cost a of Rolex Submariner. It was completely different to previous AP designs and did not follow the usual This was the world’s first steel luxury sports watch. This was a complete wild card and has been attributed with saving AP and being the best selling collection they have ever released.

The name is taken from the many British Navy ships called the Royal Oak.

The difficult specifications and high quality finish required by Genta’s design meant it was cheaper to produce from white gold rather than stainless steel.

Many imitators

One thing I look out for on auction sites are listings for the infamous Bulova Royal Oak. Sometimes these are listed quite simply as ‘Bulova watch’ with a starting bid of about £10. Within a matter of hours the bids have been rolling in and it’s now up to £500. I often imagine the unaware seller to be genuinely thrilled by the interest in their watch but also – why are people willing to part with an unexpected amount of money to get one.

The legend is that Genta actually came up with the Royal Oak design whilst working at Bulova in the 60s. It was shown to Bulova executives and they hastily turned it down and scrapped the designs. If this were true then all designs after this would be a copy of the Bulova.

It’s not true and never has been.

However – this does not mean you can’t enjoy some Genta design at a fraction of the cost of an AP Royal Oak. The designs are essentially the same – if the Bulova actually a little smaller and refined making wearing more accessible. They both have quartz and automatic variants. They both basically look the same from 6 feet away.

The biggest difference is the dial – the Bulova has a fabric style finish where the AP has Grande Tapisserie.

Modern Bulova has always been a split personality company – outrageously original designs and copy cat homage pieces. There’s the Super Seville emulating the Rolex Day Date. The Bulova Trident pretending to be a Rolex Submariner. The Marine Star range scraping the barrel of IWC and Tag Heuer.

Bulova Superior 2000

I came across an odd little combination of design cues in a Bulova Superior 2000. I did not understand if it was based upon something and couldn’t fathom why the elements were combined together. It looked too deliberate to just be random design elements slapped together.

The most obvious homage feature was the 3 flat link bracelet which was very Royal Oak. Even the case has the same 45 degree angle with a brushed finish. Except this was in a two tone setup.

Next up was the bezel. It’s a unidirectional with a gold finish. Unlike normal divers it displays degrees and compass headings.

The date sits in a little circle magnified by an external cyclops atop the crystal. It even features a tiny screw down crown with built in angular crown protectors.

And finally the size. This is considered a small watch. 32mm case – squeezing to 36mm including the crown! But this isn’t a ladies watch and it acts so much larger than it’s real dimensions.

It’s a fantastic combination of elements. But is this a Bulova original or does it taste like something else?

I was on a completely different tangent when I realised what this watch was based upon. When writing the article about the the ETA 251.262 I came across many yachting and sailing watches. And something caught my eye!

Breitling Eric Tabarly

This is it! The homage of a Royal Oak that inspired the homage of this… it’s a watch produced by Breitling that was tested and designed the famous French sailor and yachtsman Eric Tabarly. It even says it on the back!

A skilled nautical man – Tabarly won the 1964 single handed transatlantic race and many other genuinely grueling sailing competitions. He was also a French naval officer gaining ranks up to commander.

This was a serious watch for a serious guy, yet it remained at a smaller dimension of 35mm.

It might look like the Breitling anchor is the seconds hand counter weight but it’s actually on the crystal – an odd choice but a neat feature. But the main noticeable feature is the Royal Oak style bracelet for all to see in two tone glory. Genta’s influences seeping into the designs of watches he would never have seen.

These are relatively uncommon and fetch a pretty penny in good condition – a lot seem to suffer with loss of gold plate. I’ve seen listings between £700 and £2,000 at time of this post. That’s a lot for a quartz watch that could be considered suitable for a lady in 2020.

Mystery Solved

I like falling down rabbit holes and learning all sorts of different things. I hope you have learnt a little and have gained an appreciation for all things Genta and Tabarly.

Click here for more adventures!

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