Bulgari Gerald Genta 50th Anniversary Arena Bi-retro 103191
The Bulgari Gerald Genta 50th Anniversary Arena Bi-retro features a blue lacquered dial with a sunray motif and is housed in a 41mm platinum case. Its functions include a jumping hour, retrograde minutes and retrograde date. This model, produced to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Gérald Genta establishing his eponymous brand, perpetuates the legacy of arguably the greatest watch designer of all time.
Ask any watch journalist to name a famous designer of timepieces and, with few exceptions, each one will proffer the same name, Gérald Genta (1931-2011). The Swiss design genius is synonymous with the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak (1970), the Patek Philippe Nautilus (1976) and the IWC Ingenieur SL (1976). He designed all three models and despite the passage of time, they continue to be held in the highest esteem.
But Gérald Genta’s life’s work was not limited to designing merely three sports watches. He was an accomplished watchmaker and over his lifetime he designed numerous watches. In 1969, he established his own company.
Genta’s first taste of success was in 1954 when, aged just 23, he designed the Universal Genève SAS Polerouter, his first commission. Thereafter, he conceived an array of different watches, including the Omega Constellation, the Bulgari Bulgari, the Patek Philippe Golden Ellipse, Cartier’s Pasha de Cartier as well as a host of models bearing his name.
During the 1980s, Genta obtained a licence from the Walt Disney Company to design a series of limited edition watches featuring an array of Disney characters, including Mickey Mouse. These models were housed in 18-carat gold or stainless steel. While some models were round, others were presented in octagonal cases, a shape Genta famously made his own.
Genta’s watches were not merely about style, they incorporated much horological substance. For example, in 1994, his company made the incredibly complex ‘Grand Sonnerie Rétrograde’ which was endowed with an exquisite mother-of-pearl dial. This model featured a grand and petite sonnerie, minute repeater, perpetual calendar, tourbillon, Westminster chime, power-reserve indication and a retrograde date display. It was produced to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Gérald Genta company.
Genta also had a penchant for retrograde indications. In 1996, his company launched the original Arena Bi-retro watch. It featured jumping hours, retrograde minutes, small seconds and a retrograde date. Some models also featured additional functions.
In 2000, Bulgari acquired Gérald Genta’s business and continues to make watches bearing the name of the great man. Last year, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Gérald Genta brand, Bulgari released a gorgeous model endowed with a blue dial and a platinum case. It is this model which is the focus of this review.
The Bulgari Gerald Genta 50th Anniversary Arena Bi-retro 103191 is endowed with an enchanting blue lacquered dial, enriched with a sunray motif. This latter detail suffuses the dial’s membrane with contrasting areas of light and shade.
A curving minute track arcs 210° around the upper dial area and features large double-digit Arabic numerals positioned at 10-minute intervals with smaller numerals located in between. An openworked hand sweeps left to right. On reaching ’60’ it returns to its point of origin, ’00’, and commences a new journey.
Just below the minute track is a circular aperture, revealing the prevailing hour. The numerals share the same typeface as the minute values albeit, in this instance, they are depicted in blue and set against a white disc. As the minute hand steps back to ’00’, the hour disc jumps forward, displaying the new hour value with breathtaking alacrity. A silvery circlet frames the hour display, matching the hands, minute track and associated numerals.
At the base of the dial is a second curved track, this time arcing 180°, marked with 31 date values. These values are denoted using a combination of dots and odd-numbered dates depicted with Arabic numerals. Once again, an openworked hand imparts meaning. It sweeps clockwise and, on reaching its ultimate destination, ’31’, it waits in a state of readiness until the day concludes and, thereafter, springs back to the first value on the track.
There is a distinct absence of Bulgari branding on the dial. Instead, Gérald Genta’s timeless logo sits above 6 o’clock, crisp and stylish.
Despite the dial breaking with convention, eschewing the usual coaxial hour and minute hands and date aperture at 3 o’clock, it proves effortless to read with virtually no assimilation required.
The Bulgari Gerald Genta 50th Anniversary Arena Bi-retro 103191 is housed in a 41mm platinum case. On this occasion, a plump round case supplants Genta’s beloved octagonal form.
The domed sapphire sits flush with the bezel which in turn is wide, smooth and gently curved. The bezel reaches outwards, sitting flush with a fluted caseband. This motif encircles the whole of the case save for those areas where the lugs project from the case.
When appraising the composition of the case, there is a notable sense of grace and refinement. The right flank of the case incorporates a crown-protector, retained with two pentagonal bolts. Usually, a crown protector would be found on sports watches, not a timepiece which has an overtly ‘dressy’ nature. However, somehow the presence of the crown-protector works, sitting in harmony with all of the other design elements.
Bulgari has chosen to equip this model with a castellated crown featuring two discrete rows. The crown projects from the crown-protectors and incorporates a domed head.
The caseback is secured with six pentagonal bolts and incorporates a pane of sapphire crystal, affording views of the self-winding BVL 300 Calibre.
A blue alligator strap, paired with a white gold folding clasp, provides an attractive and secure means of affixing the watch to the wearer’s wrist.
The Manufacture movement, the BVL 300 Calibre, contains 33 jewels and, assuming it is fully wound, it will run autonomously for 42 hours. This latter figure is particularly impressive because both the jumping hours and retrograde indications quaff energy every time they spring into life.
The balance has a frequency of 28,800 vph (4Hz). The rate is adjusted using an index adjuster or raquette. This is the only detail I found a tad disappointing. Considering Bulgari’s vast watchmaking expertise and the price of this watch, I would have expected to see a variable inertia balance. This would have enhanced precision and will always be the preferred choice of any self-respecting purist. Nevertheless, this omission does little to diminish my overall fondness for this model. The balance bridge is secured at two points, providing superior stability to a simple cock.
Côtes de Genève motif adorns the bridges, while the oscillating mass is straight-grained and embellished with the Gerald Genta logo.
When Bulgari acquired Gérald Genta’s business, they took on the guardianship of one of the most revered names in watchmaking. Indeed, Bulgari assumed responsibility for designing future models worthy of the great man’s name.
In my opinion, the stylish Bulgari Gerald Genta 50th Anniversary Arena Bi-retro 103191 is a gorgeous timepiece which surpasses the beauty of the original Arena Bi-retro watch, released in 1996. It has a clean aesthetic with just the right quotient of detail without appearing fussy. The dial indications serve the wearer with optimally-sized morsels of information that can be readily digested.
Furthermore, the blue lacquered dial exudes luxury courtesy of its rich appearance and sunray decoration. Each time the hour advances, jumping to the next value depicted on its white disc, there is a sense of theatre. This theatrical performance also encompasses the rapid gestures of both retrograde displays. I suspect many owners will find it difficult to resist manually adjusting the time, merely to observe the watch perform its bewitching spectacle.
In some ways, I am not surprised by the excellence of this watch. Unknown to many, Bulgari is a vertically integrated Manufacture of the highest order. It has its own dial making facility, case making operation and crafts its own movements. Furthermore, at its Le Sentier Manufacture, Bulgari creates some of the finest chiming watches I have ever heard.
On reflection, there would be no reason to doubt that Bulgari could perpetuate the work of Gérald Genta, its track record demonstrates a degree of expertise few brands can rival. With this in mind, I suspect the Maison will unveil more magnificent Gerald Genta creations for many years to come.
- Model: Bulgari Gerald Genta 50th Anniversary Arena Bi-retro
- Reference: 103191
- Case: Platinum; diameter 41 mm; water resistance 10ATM (100m); sapphire crystal to the front and exhibition caseback.
- Functions: Jumping hours; retrograde minutes; retrograde date
- Movement: BVL 300 Calibre; automatic movement; frequency 28,800 VpH (4Hz); contains 33 jewels; power reserve 42 hours
- Bracelet: Blue alligator leather strap with white gold folding clasp.
- Price: £53,000 (RRP as at 4.8.2020)