Many of the well-known luxury watch brands are named after individuals.
There’s Patek Philippe – Antoni Patek and later Adrien Philippe, Audemars Piguet – Jules Louis Audemars and Edward Auguste Piguet, Breguet – Abraham-Louis Breguet, Cartier – Louis-François Cartier, Panerai – Giovanni Panerai, and a slew of other high-end watchmakers.
In modern watchmaking, however, giving credit to a specific person (or persons) for a particular watch design is not common practice. Official marketing materials, on the other hand, tend to use generic and anonymous terms like “master watchmakers,” “master jewelers,” “expert artisans,” and “skilled craftsmen,” though there are a few notable watch designers whose names are known due to their significant creations.
Gerald Genta, the most famous of all modern watch designers, died in 2011, but his designs continue to dominate the high-end watch market today. Genta not only designed the Royal Oak for Audemars Piguet in 1972, but he also designed the Patek Philippe Nautilus in 1976. The Royal Oak and the Nautilus were pivotal in the creation and evolution of the high-end sports watch category, with their integrated bracelets, stainless steel construction, and boldly shaped cases.
Genta was also responsible for the redesign of the IWC Ingenieur SL watch in the 1970s, the formation of the Bulgari BVLGARI-BVLGARI watch collection in the 1970s, and the development of the modern Pasha de Cartier watch in the 1980s, in addition to the Nautilus and the Royal Oak. Genta even designed the Octo case silhouette that Bulgari now uses heavily in their modern watches in the 1960s.
While the Vacheron Constantin 222 from 1977 resembles Genta’s Royal Oak and Nautilus in style, it was actually designed by Jorg Hysek. The 222 is a significant watch in Vacheron Constantin’s history because it laid the foundation for the Overseas collection of high-end sports watches that exists today.
Hysek also designed the Breguet Marine watch, which is one of the brand’s sportier offerings and is inspired by Breguet’s history with the French Navy. TAG Heuer hired Hysek in the 1990s to create a completely new watch collection for the modern consumer, and the result was the highly successful and futuristic Kirium sports watch line.
In the late 1980s, Emmanuel Gueit, a young freelance watch designer, embarked on a major project: the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore. The Offshore, which debuted in 1993 as a special 20th-anniversary edition of the original Royal Oak, marked the start of what would eventually become a standalone collection for Audemars Piguet.
Gueit also collaborated with Rolex on the new Cellini collection, which debuted in 2014.Gueit is currently working to revive Ikepod, a fan-favorite 1990s brand created by renowned industrial designer Marc Newson.
Eric Giroud, one of our favorite watch designers, has won numerous awards throughout his career, including Best Watch Design at the 2009 Geneva Watchmaking Grand Prix for the Harry Winston Opus 9.
However, Giroud is best known for his incredible work with MB&F, an independent watch company. Giroud and Max Büsser have created some of the most exciting modern-day horological creations at MB&F, fusing science fiction with traditional watchmaking techniques. Legacy Machine Perpetual, HM6 Space Pirate, and Thunderbolt N°4 are a few notable examples.
Although watch designers’ names are frequently overshadowed by the brands for which they work, some, such as the four mentioned above, stand out for their influential designs that continue to shape luxury watches today.