Few figures in the watch world are as famous or well-revered as the late designer Gerald Genta. The man has created some of the most iconic watch designs of all time and has profoundly affected the modern watch world. His most famous designs, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and Patek Philippe Nautilus, are two of the most popular watches on earth, but most people don’t know about some of Genta’s other watches. Genta was actually quite prolific and even created his own watch brand. Here we’ll dive into the modern version of one of his lesser-known designs, the Bvlgari Gerald Genta Arena Bi-Retrograde Sport.
The history of this watch is a bit circuitous. The original Arena—named for its resemblance to a sporting arena—was launched in 1996 under Gerald Genta’s eponymous brand. The watch had an original design that was both bold and futuristic, and it was notably the first timepiece to ever combine the jumping hour and retrograde minutes complication. While now a bit of a cult classic, the model was never a huge hit, but thanks to Bvlgari, it’s been given a second chance.
This modern version is a result of Bvlgari’s acquisition of the Gerald Genta brand way back in 2000. Bvlgari successfully used Genta’s designs and intellectual property to help them become a serious player in the watch world. In 2020 Bvlgari decided to double down on their commitment to honoring the Genta name by relaunching the Gerald Genta brand, and subsequently, they relaunched the Arena line, including this titanium model here. You’ll notice that despite technically being made by Bvlgari, the design is extremely faithful to the original, even utilizing the same complications, and does not say “BVLGARI” anywhere but instead prominently displays the Gerald Genta logo. This is an extremely well-done homage to the original Arena, and despite Genta not designing this specific watch, I don’t see it as any less connected to his legacy than any modern Royal Oak or Nautilus, both of which have also gone through design iterations over the years.
Visually the watch is very modern, but it’s a distinctly 90’s take on modern, and it’s obvious the original design is from that era. This watch would go great with a pair of Oakley X Metal Romeo’s à la James Marsden in the first X-men. Its brushed rounded titanium case is smooth and pebble-like, and the mid-case has an interesting ribbed pattern that looks bold and industrial. The dial has a very cool, almost sandpaper textured finishing around the border and inside the subdials, which adds to the technical and sporty look. The minute and date displays have large, bright yellow, sans serif numerals that give off spaceship speedometer vibes, and like I imagine a spaceship speedometer would be, it’s not obvious how one is supposed to read this watch at first glance.
However, with a quick explanation, it becomes quite intuitive. The jumping hour is displayed via an Arabic numeral in a small aperture just above the center of the dial. The retrograde minutes are displayed on the outermost portion of the dial from 00-60 on a semi-circle scale going from left to right. Then in a small semi-circle where six o’clock would normally be there is the date which is also utilizing the retrograde complication. These three complications combined make for some interesting horological ballet, especially when you reach midnight at the end of a month. This would trigger the hour to jump, the minute hand to go back from 60 to 00, and the date to go backward from 31 to 1, all simultaneously providing so much animation the watch would appear to be alive.
While some might not like the novel time display, I actually really love using watches with non-traditional readouts and think it fits for such an original watch design. I’ve had a few watches that display the time in unconventional ways, and while they take a minute to get used to once you are used to them, you find yourself more bonded to the timepiece. If a watch like this becomes your daily wearer, you’ll find traditional clocks take you just a beat longer to read, and you’ll also notice that no one else can quickly read your watch. Like a vintage car that only starts with your touch, it creates a symbiotic relationship with the timepiece that a standard watch just can’t offer.
Inside the watch is the in-house Bvlgari caliber BVL 300. This is an automatic winding movement with a 42-hour power reserve, and despite the BVL at the front of the name, the rotor—like the dial—is branded GG. This is another example of Bvlgari really going out of their way to pay respects to the man who originated this design. The movement is rhodium plated with Côtes de Genève finishing as well as polished bevels on the bridges. Additionally, it has 33 jewels, an anti-shock system, and a monometallic balance. Overall it’s a solid, handsome movement with the backing of Bvlgari, which should give you peace of mind for the foreseeable future.
Versus The Competition
If you’re interested in unique Genta-based designs, then you should also consider the Octo Finissimo. Specifically, this extra thin ceramic version. Like the Arena it’s a descendent of an original Genta design that will surely turn heads, and it has a great in-house movement. Also, with a retail price of $16,500, it’s almost a thousand dollars less than the Arena. If the 90’s look isn’t quite your vibe, and you’d rather go for something more contemporary looking, this is the watch for you.
Another option to consider is this Hermes H08 Titanium. Hermes is a brand on the rise, much like Bvlgari was back in 2000. This H08 is made of titanium and has a stealthy modern blacked-out design with a yellow accent color, just like the Arena. Also, like the Arena, it’s a watch that’s outside of the mainstream and one you’re not likely to run into out in the wild. The kicker here, though, is that because this watch is uncomplicated—sans the date—and isn’t super thin, it’s about half the cost of the Arena or Octo at $8,250. This is a great option that provides a similar look at a serious discount.
I think this watch fits well into two types of collections. First, an all Genta collection wouldn’t be complete without it. If you’re a huge fan of the man, the myth, the legend, then I think this Arena can’t be ignored. Additionally, if you’re a non-conformist watch nerd who’s avoided some of Genta’s more popular designs, this model allows you to experience Genta’s work without buying a “hype watch.” It’s a deep-cut pick that not only looks like nothing else but also has a great horological back story and modern provenance coming from Bvlgari.
There are a lot of reasons why I love this watch, but there is one that stands out above the rest. Unlike some of his other famous designs, this watch wasn’t born out of an assignment to make a great sports watch or dress watch. This is simply the watch that Gerald Genta wanted to make in his heart of hearts, which makes it maybe his most personal creation ever.