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With our aviation collection rooted in vintage British styling – the C8 P2725 Automatic’s dial is inspired by the cockpit dashboard found inside the Hawker Hurricane – Paul Traynor revisits the idyllic era before GPS, when the primary means of navigating at 3000ft came from none other than the trusty watch…

It was at this point that I was reminded why the RAF provided us with full NATO-issue bone domes – or for those unfamiliar with pilot slang, a helmet – because Braithwaite had taken up his checklist and was beating me about the head with it.

Flight Lieutenant Braithwaite was my flying instructor. Diminutive (a result, he claimed, of having to eject from an uncooperative Canberra bomber) and worldly-wizened, he seemed somewhat upset at the fact that we were only 10 minutes into the flight and I was already – how shall I put this – uncertain of position. I really had no excuse – the sky was a pristine blue, and the visibility good enough to see all the way to Wales.

‘Where’s your watch you idiot?’

It seemed an inappropriate moment to explain that it was probably still at the bottom of a half-full pint of ale back in my student digs, the unfathomable outcome of some obscure drinking game the night before.

‘How do you expect to navigate without a watch?’

I had to admit he had a point.

Trying to match ground features to your map whilst in the air is an impossible task – everything looks the same. The trick is to use your watch to tell you where you should be and when to look out for confirmation. So, you plan your route via waypoints which will be distinctive from the air – a lake perhaps, or a power station – and you measure the distance. If it’s 12 nautical miles, and you plan to fly at 120 knots, then you know it should take you exactly 6 minutes to get there. You note the precise time of your departure, concentrate on flying an accurate heading and airspeed and, when 6 minutes have passed, you look out and check that the distinctive feature is directly below you.

C8 P2725 Automatic

The C8 P2725 Automatic whose distinctive dial design was inspired by the cockpit dashboard of the Hawker Hurricane fighter

Braithwaite was right. For this, you need a watch.

Of course, in the real world the wind is unlikely to be precisely as forecast, nor is it likely to blow at a steady pace. So in practice, when you look out you’ll either be short of your waypoint or beyond. This is annoying but also useful, since an estimate of the error will give you a better estimate of the actual wind. If you’re 2 miles short, you know that you’ve actually travelled 10 miles in 6 minutes so your groundspeed is 100 knots. If your airspeed was 120 knots, you can now deduce that the actual headwind component is 20 knots. If your next waypoint is, say, 20 miles beyond the first, you can now produce a revised ETA: 20 nautical miles at 100 knots is 12 minutes. So, note the time, get back to flying and in 12 minutes time look out of the window and start the whole process again.

Or maybe you need to make a specific arrival slot at your destination airport. Now you know your actual groundspeed you know by how much you need to increase your airspeed to cover a specific distance.

Sadly, the art of visual navigation with map, compass and watch has now largely been supplanted by GPS but the principles still survive in unexpected places. When a commercial jet is put into a holding pattern it’s done not by distance but by time: one minute outbound, one minute inbound, two thirty second turns and adjust for wind.

So, next time your flight into Heathrow gets diverted into the stack, just hope that your pilot remembered to bring his watch!

If you enjoy the vintage design cues of the C8 P2725 Automatic, our C8 Collection builds upon those aesthetic foundations with an array of horological complications, from the GMT functionality of the UTC Worldtimer, through to the Calibre SH21-powered Power Reserve Chronometer

There’s little doubt that the 1960s and ’70s were a defining era in watchmaking.

As we discussed in a previous article, the golden age of dive watches, this was a time when horology reflected both advances in technology and changes in fashion. Watches could be as rebellious as a Tommy Nutter suit or as beautiful as an Jaguar E-type.

And at the heart of this was a Swiss watchmaker, a man who created some of watchmaking’s undisputed icons. We are, of course, talking about Gérald Genta.

The models that Genta designed read like every watch fan’s ‘grail’ list: Patek Philippe’s Nautilus, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and the Bulgari “Bulgari” – the latter inspired by an ancient Roman coin. Watches for IWC, Omega and Universal Genève are also in the canon. Every one a classic.

Born in Geneva in 1931, Genta received a diploma in watchmaking when he was 21 and then worked as a freelance designer for the likes of Universal Genève – whom he designed the Polerouter Microtor for – and later Omega and Patek. According to his wife, Mme Evelyne Genta, in the early days her husband “went around to the different watch companies selling his designs at just 10 Swiss francs per design”.

Gerald and Evelyne Genta

Genta was not like other watch designers. Influenced by – among other things – nature, Japan, Ferraris and Picasso (who he adored), he had a particular way of working.

“His design process was always to start with a compass,” says Mme Genta. “He’d make a circle with the compass and draw a line to represent 12 to 6 and another line for 9 to 3. Then he’d paint every sketch using his collection of fine brushes.”

A method which led to the creation of his first icon, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak.

There are few watches more handsome than the Royal Oak. And when it was launched at the Annual Swiss Watch Show (now Baselworld) in 1972, it caused a sensation. Not just because of its design but because its price of 3,750 Swiss francs seemed prohibitive for a stainless steel sports watch. Previously, luxury watches had been made of gold or other precious metals.

But Audemars Piguet had been smart. Its profits decimated by the rise of quartz watches, the company was desperate for something (or more accurately, someone) to stop its slide into obscurity. That someone was Genta.

One afternoon in 1970, Audemars MD Georges Golay rang Genta, telling him the Italian market was desperate for an “unprecedented steel watch”. He was asked to provide designs for the morning after so Golay could present it to his customers.

Mme Genta again: “The brief for the Royal Oak reminded him of the divers he’d observed at Lake Geneva when he was young,” she says. “Having seen a diver in a helmet attached to his suit with eight screws, he designed a watch with the screws visible on top. Normally they’d come from below, but here they were hidden. The concept was very new, and so it took about three years before it took off – only the Italians ‘got it’ straight away.”

Patek Phillipe Nautilus and AP Royal Oak by Gerald Genta

Gérald Genta’s Patek Philippe Nautilus and the AP Royal Oak

But he wasn’t finished. Genta’s next classic was another model influenced by maritime culture, and a second watch which confirmed stainless steel as an accepted material for luxury timepieces: the Patek Philippe Nautilus.

Released in 1976, the Nautilus is immediately recognisable thanks to its ‘porthole’ shape and textured horizontal grooves. “Gérald knew the Stern family were great sailors,” says Mme Genta. “He was inspired by this passion and used the portholes on a boat as his inspiration.”

One fan of both of the Nautilus and the Royal Oak is Christopher Ward’s Senior Designer (and a Swiss national), Adrian Buchmann. “What I love most about Gérald Genta is that he showed high-end watches didn’t need to be made of precious metal – that the value comes from the quality, finishing and movement,” he says.

After designing thousands of watches (including his last classic, the Cartier Pasha), Genta died in 2011, but his legacy lives on in the shape of the Gérald Genta Heritage Association. The organisation celebrates his work, encourages new design talent in watchmaking and will enable new watches to be made from the 4,000 unused designs in its archives.

“The support I’ve received from the watchmaking community for the Association has been overwhelming and spurs us on in our desire to celebrate Gérald’s unparalleled contribution to fine watchmaking,” says Mme Genta.

And finally, what’s her favourite timepiece? The Royal Oak? Perhaps the Omega Constellation?

“The design I love most is a watch that people will not know,” she says. “And that’s because Gérald designed the watch for me! But I can say it was inspired by sea urchins.”

Find out more about Gérald Genta and his Association at geraldgenta-heritage.com