Bulgari Gérald Genta Arena Bi-retrograde Sport
The Bulgari Gérald Genta Arena Bi-retrograde Sport was undoubtedly one of the stars of Geneva Watch Days 2020. Produced by the luxury house of Bulgari, this outstanding timepiece pays tribute to one of the most revered names in the history of watchmaking, Gérald Genta. In this review, Carl Eady finds much to admire about this vibrant, sporty timepiece.
Gérald Genta (1931-2011) is widely recognised as the one of the world’s most prolific and successful watch designers. His initial success crafting the ‘Polerouter’ watch at Universal Genève led to collaborations with some of the world’s leading watch brands. During his remarkable career, he created three of the most iconic and enduring sports watches, namely, Patek Philippe’s Nautilus, IWC’s Ingenieur and Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak.
Genta enjoyed the creative freedom that success brought him and was able to let his imagination run wild. In 1969, he started his own highly successful ‘Gérald Genta’ brand. He developed exceptionally challenging and sought-after complications, including his famous Grand Sonnerie, considered by many at its launch (1994) to be the most sophisticated watch in the world. Alongside his masterpieces, he often revealed a more light-hearted side to his character. For instance, after obtaining a special licence from the Walt Disney Company in the 1980s, he conceived collections that celebrated Disney’s famous cartoon characters.
In 1994, Genta made the inspired decision to combine two complications to dramatic effect, pairing a ‘Jumping Hour’ with a ‘Retrograde Minute’ indicator for the first time. It was an instant success and acted as a springboard for numerous iterations, including the original ‘Arena Bi-Retro’ watch (1996). His brand and eminence went from strength to strength and his growing list of patrons included numerous Royal households and prominent members of high society.
In 2010, Bulgari’s admiration for Genta, coupled with its desire to position itself as a top tier horology brand, led to it acquiring the assets of the Gérald Genta brand and integrating the firm into its Manufacture at Le Sentier in the Vallée de Joux.
Last year (2019) marked 50 years since Genta launched his eponymous brand and Bulgari celebrated the occasion with the release of the platinum ‘Arena Bi-Retro 50th Anniversary Watch, previously covered by Escapement. Enamoured with the piece’s popularity, and recognising the market’s increasing appetite for sports watches, the luxury Maison has now released the ultra-modern, Bulgari Gérald Genta Arena Bi-retrograde Sport
The Arena case has long been a signature of the brand and was designed to symbolise the imposing architecture of ancient theatres, home to epic gladiatorial battles. Fashioned from titanium, the 43mm case is bold and imposing, yet well proportioned. Perfectly executed brushwork follows the curvature of the bezel, whilst linear brushing adorns the lugs and crown guards. The crown has a smooth rounded matte exterior adding to the watch’s luxury credentials.
In stark contrast to the elegant brushwork, the dramatic deep fluting around the case band conveys a masculine, almost industrial identity that perfectly suits the sports theme of this watch. Perhaps surplus to day-to-day requirements, the lightweight titanium case has a commendable water resistance of 100 metres.
On the reverse side, radial brushwork surrounds the sapphire crystal gracing the case-back, affording the lucky wearer with a view of the Calibre BVL300 movement within.
Given that this is a watch from a company as well-known as Bulgari, it is both refreshing and surprising to note that their brand name is absent from the watch. Such is Bulgari’s respect for Gérald Genta’s legacy and its belief in its commercial longevity, a new contemporary logo has been designed with two opposing G’s which sit atop the Gérald Genta moniker.
Whilst the dial layout of the Bulgari Gérald Genta Arena Bi-retrograde Sport remains true to Genta’s original designs, its execution places the watch firmly in the modern sports category. The combination of anthracite and yellow proves an inspired use of colour, maximising legibility and providing a perfect contrast with the sobre brushed metallic arches. The jumping hours are shown in digital form via a simply framed centralised window, whilst the minutes are indicated via an oversized, skeletonised yellow hand which sweeps 210° in a stylish arc. The minute track is marked in 10-minute intervals using bright, bold yellow Arabic numerals. These latter marks work in tandem with a track appointed with white minute indicators. As the watch’s name conveys, the minutes are retrograde, so once the hand hits 60 minutes, it snaps back to zero to repeat the journey.
Positioned between the minute track and the jumping hour, a brushed metallic arc confirms the calibres functionality with the inscription ‘Minute Retrogrades Heure Sautante’.
In the lower half of the dial, a date track arcs over the 6 o’clock position, again using Arabic numerals to highlight each odd-numbered value. Despite the dial being a tad unorthodox, the curvaceous architecture of the display proves pleasing to the eye and remarkably easy to read.
Powering the Bulgari Gérald Genta Arena Bi-retrograde Sport is the Calibre BVL 300. This automatic movement beats at 4Hz (28,800 vph) and features a bi-directional rotor, again adorned with the ‘Double G’ logo. The movement decoration is not ostentatious, indeed Bulgari has opted for the lightest of touches, save for the brushwork on the rotor and Côtes de Genève on the main bridge.
The sapphire caseback is relatively small, however, it affords views of the balance wheel in motion. The Calibre BVL 300 will run independently for a very respectable 42-hours once fully wound.
One can understand why Bulgari opted to complement the Arena Bi-Retro Sport with a matte black alligator leather strap – it has long been the default choice for the luxury watch industry. However, in my opinion, such a contemporary case and dial combination would perfectly suit a silicon strap which would undoubtedly delight owners of a more adventurous and eco-friendly persuasion.
It is beyond ironic that, in 2009, Gérald Genta declared he didn’t like watches and refused to wear one, saying, “For me, watches are the antithesis of liberty. I am an artist, a painter, I hate having to adhere to the constraints of time. It irritates me.” Luckily for the watch world he recognised this aversion placed him in the minority. Indeed, his career delivered years of iconic and desirable creations.
It is clear from the design and execution of the Gérald Genta Arena Bi-retrograde Sport that Bulgari has already invested much time and energy into Genta’s legacy and deservedly so. It is also noteworthy that Bulgari has resisted placing its name anywhere on the watch. Watch collectors and enthusiasts hold Gérald Genta’s name in such high esteem, hence this admirable decision will undoubtedly pay dividends.
This is a striking iteration of one of Genta’s more classic designs and shows how versatile Bulgari has become. Following on from the success of their platinum Arena Bi-Retro 50th Anniversary piece, it made commercial sense to fashion this case from a more accessible metal, especially with the public’s ever-increasing passion for steel and titanium sports watches.
With such a rich back catalogue of designs and innovations available to it, I am sure Bulgari will keep the Gérald Genta name burning bright for years to come. Bearing this in mind, I eagerly await Bulgari’s next collection honouring the legend that is Gérald Genta.
- Model: Bulgari Gérald Genta Arena Bi-retrograde Sport
- Reference: 103448
- Case: Brushed titanium; diameter 43mm; height 12mm; water resistance 10ATM (100m) sapphire crystal to the front and exhibition caseback.
- Functions: Jumping hours, retrograde minutes, retrograde date
- Movement: Calibre BVL 300; self-winding movement; frequency 28,800 vph (4Hz); contains 33 jewels; power reserve 42 hours
- Strap: Matte black alligator strap, titanium ardillon buckle
- Price: £13,100 (RRP as at 10.10.2020)