Welcome to Watches You Should Know, a biweekly column highlighting important or little-known watches with interesting backstories and unexpected influence. This week: the Gérald Genta Gefica Safari.
You can thank one man for many of the funkiest modern watchmaking trends, among them the proliferation of those popular and patina-prone bronze watches. That man would be Gérald Genta, the very same designer who pioneered the concept of the luxury lifestyle sport watch with an integrated bracelet, as well as created many other notable and obscure watches alike. In 1984, he once again snubbed tradition and convention with the first-ever watch with a bronze case.
Ask a watch nerd, and he or she will surely be able to expound upon the compelling properties of bronze as a watchmaking material: it offers an interesting alternative to more familiar metals and its tendency to form a patina as it ages uniquely reflects its wearer, its environment and time's effects. With its muted look, it works particularly well for tool watches and dive watches, and just about every brand seems to feature one in its collection nowadays.
This wasn't the case in the 1980s, however — because, after all, it makes perfect of sense that watchmakers and consumers alike would want their watches to stay shiny and new-looking as long as possible rather than to show wear. When Genta unleashed his creation, the Gefica Safari watch, it was scoffed at for using a material that looks aged and dull almost immediately. But that was the point.
The story goes that it was created upon request by three hunters — the first two letters of their names, Geoffroy, Fissore and Canali, formed the watch's name. Bronze was chosen because it wouldn't reflect light and spook an animal, but it's easy to imagine that its color and texture also appealed to Genta as a designer. The warm earthy tones perhaps also evoked a dusty African landscape and the rugged nature of hunting.
Unlike Genta's best known works such as the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and Patek Philippe Nautilus, the Gefica Safari was created under his own eponymous brand where he was able to run wild with creative freedom. The round bronze case featured a studded motif around both its bezel and bottom edge of the middle case, and the case back was manufactured in titanium to avoid the bronze staining the wrist green.
Genta's original model featured a calendar, moon phase display and alarm, powered by a quartz movement — it was the '80s, after all. The Gefica Safari, however, evolved. Though still obscure, the most familiar form of the Gefica today is that produced by Bulgari, having acquired the brand rights from Genta in the year 2000. This combined the studded bronze case with a unique display found on other Genta watches, with retrograde minutes, jumping hours and retrograde date. Only the seconds hand travels the dial in a full circle. Powered by an automatic mechanical movement, it sits among the very complicated high-end pieces that characterized offerings from Gérald Genta, the brand.
Alas, the Gefica Safari was ahead of its time as a bronze watch and, frankly, was never going to have a lot of mainstream appeal as a quirky design experiment. While Genta was visionary for pioneering the concept, Panerai gets credit for popularizing the metal as a watchmaking material starting with its 2011 Luminor Submersible Bronzo (PAM00382). This was followed by bronze divers and other watches aplenty, and the rest is history, as the rise of patina irreversibly changes the watch industry.