Image: Genius Watches

A budding new watch company is beginning to make waves online after teasing a timepiece that combines two highly coveted watches in the luxury market. Social media users – from individuals on Twitter to users of China’s Weibo – and watch aficionados, alike, have noted the impending launch of a timepiece that, as fashion/streetwear site recently Hypebeast put it, “Lets you wear both the Royal Oak and Nautilus at the same time.” The product of Lugano, Switzerland-based GG S.A., which does business as Genius Watches, the new watch mashed up the easily-identifiable designs of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and Patek Philippe’s Nautilus, and with its “Genius Genta” name, the $5,000 creation appears to be a nod to Gérald Genta, the legendary designer behind both the Royal Oak and the Nautilus. 

The “Genius” watch – which was made by watch collector-turned-designer Marco Mavilla – is maybe most striking because of the apparent lack of affiliation with some, if not all, of the major parties that come to mind. It is not a collaboration between Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe, two of the closest rivals in the hard luxury space, just as it is likely not the result of an association with – or license from – Bulgari, which owns the late Mr. Genta’s eponymous label and the corresponding intellectual property rights. Beyond that, the new watch – which recently appeared on the wrists of Italian social media star Khaby Lame and television personality Nikos Aliagas – is not formally associated with or approved by Audemars Piguet, a representative for the 146-year-old Swiss watch titan told TFL.

With the foregoing in mind, the new Genta Genius watch is not only drawing attention from consumers on social media, some of which are clamoring for information about the two-for-the-price-of-one watch, while others are taking the view that it must be a joke, it is also raising some interesting legal questions in the process. While Mr. Mavilla seemed to suggest in a recent Instagram comment that the watches are legally in the clear on the basis that the new model reflects his “interpretation of [Gerald Genta’s] legacy,” and goes “far over one single model or brand,” it is easy to imagine some of the potential legal complications that very well might stand in the way of the unusual watches making their way onto consumers’ wrists or alternatively, might give rise to litigation should Genius Watches begin to offer up the watches en masse. 

As of now, the company’s newly-launched website, which characterizes the watches as a “tribute to Gerald Genta’s legacy,” is not offering up the watches in an e-commerce capacity. However, it does include an email address for inquiries about “how to buy.” 

In terms of what such hypothetical legal issues look like, they run the gamut – from potential trademark infringement and dilution causes of action to questions about the role of the right of publicity. For one thing, in light of the fact that an affiliation does not exist between Genius Watches andAudemars Piguet, and presumably Patek Philippe (a rep for Patek did not respond to a request for comment), the latter two watchmakers almost certainly have trademark-centric causes of action in connection with the mashup timepieces. Given its status as one of the most famous – and well known – watches in the world, Audemars Piguet maintains an array of trademark protections (and registrations) across the globe not only for the Royal Oak name, but for various elements of the watch, itself, which Mr. Genta created in 1972 in his role as a “hired gun” for some of the most esteemed watchmakers in the world. 

These protections extend to the source-indicating design of the Royal Oak face and bezel, as well as to “the configuration of a watch face together with a bezel having a circular inner shape and an octagonal outer shape with slightly rounded sides together with eight visible screws placed in the angles of the octagonal shape and forming an outer ring around the glass of the watch face.” 

Audemars’ registrations do not specifically claim rights in half of the face of the Royal Oak, of course, but that does not necessarily mean that the unauthorized use of half of the watch face/bezel combination could not be deemed to be confusingly similar to the full thing – as seemingly indicated by consumers’ ability to link the Genius watch to the Royal Oak design – or to dilute the distinctive quality of Audemars’ famous marks.

While it does not appear to maintain trademark registrations for the design of its Nautilus, the watch that Geneva-born Mr. Genta created a few years after he was enlisted to design the Royal Oak, Patek Philippe is not without potential protections – and thus, recourse – of its own. Trademark and copyright attorney Eleonora Rosati tells TFL that Patek could certainly claim trademark rights in the design of its famous watch’s face/bezel. Beyond that, she says that copyright law “could also be available under EU law, especially now that designs should be protected under the same conditions as other works (there are no longer stricter protection requirements – e.g. artistic value, aesthetic effect – for designs)” in the wake of the Cofemel decision, in which the European Court of Justice determined that articles of clothing may be protected by copyright law.

Still yet, the 182-year-old watch company could rely on unfair competition claims; though, Rosati notes that such a cause of action is “not harmonized at the EU level,” and thus, would depend on/vary by the member state in which such a hypothetical claim was lodged. 

As for the right to use the Genta name in connection with the manufacture and sale of watches, that has belonged to LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton-owned Bulgari, which acquired Mr. Genta’s eponymous brand – and the corresponding intellectual property, including the Genta trademark for use on watches – in 2000 from Singapore-based jewelry retailer The Hour Glass Ltd., along with Manufacture de Haute Horlogerie SA, which owns the manufacturing facilities for the Genta brand. Assuming that Genius Watches has not reached an agreement with Bulgari to use the Genta name, such use in connection with the marketing and potential sale of lookalike watches – or probably any watches, for that matter – likely gives rise to trademark infringement and dilution claims on the part of Bulgari.

Finally, the Genta family, which maintains the Gerald Genta Heritage Association, may have rights in connection with any use of the late Mr. Genta’s likeness, depending on the jurisdiction and whether right of publicity and/or passing off rights exist or whether they are cut off by the event of famous figure’s death. (In the United Kingdom, for instance, “goodwill – as protectable by way of a passing-off action – can survive death,” according to Bristows LLP’s Paul Jordan and Sean Ibbetson, but “demonstrating its existence will become more difficult as the deceased’s endorsement activity dwindles.”)

Regardless of their ability to bring legal action, the Genta family is unamused by the Genius Watches’s debut offering. A representative for the family confirmed that no affiliation exists, and told TFL that they view the watches as “a huge problem.” While their opposition is “not commercial in any way, as it is regarding best-selling models from two brands with which we have no financial links,” they, nonetheless, view such “exploitation” of Mr. Genta’s legacy as “deeply hurtful to the entire Genta family.” 

Genta’s wife Evelyne says that this is the latest example of a string of attempts by third parties to “exploit my husband’s talent and legacy, but this time, it has been taken to a whole new level, [and] needs to stop.”

As for the late Mr. Genta, himself, who has been described as “the man behind nearly every iconic watch design of the 20th century,” Robb Report stated in a deep dive on the design legend that “we may never see such dominance again from a designer, especially because in-house teams have largely ousted the freelance ringer” in the upper echelon of the luxury watch sphere. While the concept of such a figure may not be readily in play today, the site’s Allen Farmelo asserted that “during the post-WWII decades when he was active, Europeans and Americans championed the lone genius above all else, and Genta became a brand in his own right: a man sought out by the thriving luxury industry to titillate the jet-set with elite, forward-thinking products,” including “a long list of paradigm-shifting watches, most of which are thriving as current offerings today.”