Watches: The Straight Man
Throughout his 25 years in the watch industry, Gérald Roden has been a huge fan of legendary watch designer Gérald Genta. Today, as president of the brand bearing Genta’s name, Roden is intent on creating watches that complement the master’s legacy. This goal has involved the less glamorous tasks of improving the watches’ reliability and the company’s corporate infrastructure, two areas where Genta was lacking when its namesake was at the helm.
Under Roden’s direction, Gérald Genta has evolved into a modern manufacture equipped with the latest watchmaking technology, where cutting-edge design does not overwhelm more practical concerns of performance and service—a distinction that the 50-year-old Roden believes differentiates it from many of the independent watchmakers now occupying the limelight.
During the 1980s, Gerald Genta was the prototypical independent watchmaker. Genta not only projected a visionary design sensibility, he also developed an impressive volume of complicated movements at a time when high-level mechanical watchmaking nearly had vanished. Problems, however, plagued some of these complex movements. “Many pieces, such as the grande sonneries, were made too thin and continually failed,” explains Roden. “And if you wanted service, it was practically nonexistent.” Such drawbacks hindered the brand’s growth throughout the 1990s.
In 1994, Genta sold his company to the Hour Glass, a watch retailer and wholesaler owned by the Tay family of Singapore. A year later, the Hour Glass acquired the Daniel Roth brand from its namesake founder and hired Roden to oversee its operations. In 1998, the Tays merged the Genta and Roth brands into a single entity based in Le Sentier, Switzerland, and appointed Roden as managing director, a position he maintained after Bulgari Group took over the firm in 2000.
For Roden, who once considered working for Gérald Genta himself, the task at the Genta brand was to bring order to the chaos. “Genta was an extremely creative man who sometimes produced 25 designs in a single day,” he says. “The company had literally hundreds of plans for movements, but only drawers of spare parts and just two watchmakers.”
With the assent of Bulgari CEO Francesco Trapani, Roden built a contemporary manufacture, redesigning many of the calibers for modern, computerized production. His strategy, which applies to both basic and complicated models, eliminated the company’s reliance on supplied movements, instituted high-grade hand-finishing standards, and, more important, created a service department.
Roden also has tackled the equally formidable job of bringing focus to Genta’s wide-ranging design oeuvre. Instead of simply reinterpreting Genta’s flagship models, Roden draws upon his avant-garde repertoire for innovative concepts. The recent Octo collection, for example, features red-and-black roulette-patterned dials employing a new ceramic compound that evokes cloisonné.
Pieces such as the new Octo Minute Repeater combine complicated watchmaking with unorthodox design, as do the colorful avant-garde pieces from Alain Silberstein and other modern independent watchmakers. Roden, however, believes his approach, which underscores style with substance, will resonate with collectors who appreciate functionality and performance as well as bold design. “The creativity in watchmaking today is unbelievable,” he says. “But if you have a problem and then have to wait a year to get the watch back, you’ll never want to buy one again.”