Those who love watches will likely know Gilbert Albert, a disruptive and unconventional designer, an eclectic artist who has made artistic innovation his distinctive feature.
Watch designers rarely become “stars”, often being overshadowed by the specific weight of the brands they work for. A few names are exceptions to this rule: we all know Master Gerald Genta and Gilbert Albert, two undisputed myths of the planet “Time”.
A Swiss with French and Italian origins, the son of a deliveryman who distributed newspapers door to door, Gilbert was born in 1930 and died at 89 on 1 October 2019.
Allergic to school, where he is terribly bored (he later stated, quoting Paul Léotaud: “school is made for those who do not know how to learn”), at the age of 15 Gilbert entered the Ecole des Arts Industriels in Geneva. Precocious talent, he opened his own atelier at the age of 17 and, a few years later, in 1955, he joined Patek Philippe as a designer.
In the prestigious maison, headed by Henri Stern at the time, he remained for 7 years as “Chef d’atelier”. The most disruptive and reactionary watches of the time were born from his pen, and are still coveted by the most sophisticated collectors today. The collaboration between the Swiss maison, famous for its conservative and classic style, and a revolutionary and daring designer like Gilbert Albert has produced unique timepieces, destined to constitute the archetype of all the most audacious experiments in the world of watchmaking.
The Patek Philippe watches designed by Gilbert Albert are today unobtainable chimeras for collectors: some were auctioned by Christie’s under the direction of Nathalie Lebaron on November 15, 2010.
Later on, after his adventure with Patek, Gilbert Albert also collaborated with Omega, with the creation of some exaggeratedly daring timepieces, closer to works of art rather than watches. Below, for instance, the incredible Omega Ref. 7148 in yellow gold.
After these experiences, Albert decided to devote himself definitively to jewelry and opened, in 1962, his independent laboratory in Geneva, in rue de la Corraterie. He later expanded the business by opening boutiques also in Zurich, Moscow and Dubai.
In 2010, at the age of 80, Gilbert Albert sold the company to the group of the Iranian businessman Majid Pishyar, which later went bankrupt.
Gilbert Albert was the most awarded jeweler in the history of the Diamonds International Awards: he received 10, three for Patek Philippe creations, two for Omega and five from independent jewelers.
Famous for the unscrupulous use of materials, such as scarabs (he was obsessed with them), meteorites, shark teeth, lava rocks and dinosaur fossils, he was convinced that every creation should sublimate the irregular but at the same time perfect spirit of nature.
He was also the first living jeweler, after Fabergé in 1917, to be invited to present his creations in the Moscow Kremlin.
Lastly, he was honored at the Musée d ’Art et d’ Histoire de Genève with the exhibition “Gilbert Albert, joaillier de la nature“, held from 10 July to 15 November 2020.
Let’s now see some specimens born from the pen of Gilbert Albert so that, if you happen to intercept one, you will be able to recognize its genius and rarity: in a world where the image is now abused and good taste often neglected, it doesn’t really happen. every day to see similar works of art on the wrist.
During his experience at Patek Philippe, starting in 1957, Gilbert created the “Les asymétriques” collection, a series of pieces that have entered the history of watchmaking, characterized by a futuristic, bold and incredibly avant-garde design.
In this line, Gilbert instills one of his distinctive passions, namely the observation of nature, the taste for asymmetry and for unconventional lines which, however, manage to find a perfect balance in their apparent discrepancy. The analysis of nature, in fact, gives us continuous brutal, irregular, disconnected elements, but at the same time fascinating, such as rocks, gems, fossils.
The influence of modern art in the works of Gilbert Albert is also notable, in particular the Romanian sculptor Constantin Brâncuși and the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian.
Despite in these timepieces the lines are deconstructed and the angles asymmetrical, the final result is always of perfect harmony: just like in nature, chaos finds its balance by combining elements that are apparently dystonic.
Above, from the “Les asymétriques” collection, reference 3424 from 1958, in 18-karat white gold with black baton indexes and with crocodile leather bracelet, produced in a limited series.
The then President of Patek Philippe, Henri Stern, was fascinated by the particular shape of the case, linear, lean but at the same time avant-garde. Minimalism and futurism come together in a single – very elegant – object.
Above, always the same yellow gold reference in the female version, with a gold link bracelet and a sunburst pattern on the dial, champagne color.
Also from the “asymétriques” collection, below we see the reference 3412, a crazy prototype, extremely rare, in 18-karat yellow gold with a triangular-shaped case.
During his experience at Patek Philippe, the Ricochet collection was also born from the genius of Gilbert Albert, consisting of crazy pocket watches, always of extreme audacity and innovation, more like jewels than timepieces, always characterized by an asymmetrical shape.
Below, the model reference 789-1J, yellow gold pocket watch and the ultra-rare reference 788/r, in yellow gold equipped with a 30 cm gold chain
The collaboration between Gilbert Albert and Louis Cottier takes place during the time Albert was at Patek Philippe, from which the archetype of the watch of the future comes to life, a true Copernican revolution and a legend in the world of timepieces: the Cobra, the North Star to this day for lovers of luxury watches and high technology.
Reference 3414, this watch was born from a question that Albert asked himself: why always use the same circular representation of time?
Here, in this watch, the indication of time is linear, an idea that may appear simple but represents a real breaking point; the internal mechanism that accompanies it is extremely complex and was created by Cottier who, in 1959, filed the patent. The mechanism based on continuous rotation is in fact much simpler than the linear one, whose realization is extremely difficult.
The Cobra remains, however, only a prototype, never put on the Patek Philippe production line.
However, the disruptive modernity of this watch is such that, in 2009, URWERK launched the UR-CC1 “King Cobra” model, inspired by Patek’s Cobra designed by Albert and characterized precisely by the linear reading of time. Another example of how the genius of Gilbert Albert was extraordinarily modern and visionary.
Atypical and recognizable, modern and avant-garde. These are the characteristics that best describe Gilbert Albert, one of the few remaining names in the history of watchmaking where, to tell the truth, it is always the big brands that remain impressed, more than the artists who contributed to the creation of the related models.
A true watch expert cannot therefore ignore the history of such an illustrious name in watchmaking, his eclectic foresight and his unscrupulous style.
Innovative in the use of unusual materials and in the choice of bold lines, Gilbert Albert’s models would have been perfect to exhibit in an “instagrammable” world like today’s, with the added value (today often – alas – lacking) of an infinite class, who never bargains elegance for extravagance, indeed managing to masterfully reconcile the two poles.
And even more precious than his watches is the input that Albert leaves us, when he invites us to observe and find the source of our inspiration in nature:
“Mes joies, mes bonheurs, je les trouve par brassées dans la nature. She offers me des trésors que je pare d’or, de perles et de diamants gouttes de rosée” (“My jewels, my joys, I find them in abundance in nature. She offers me treasures that I then adorn with gold , pearls and diamonds “dewdrops”).Gilbert Albert
Author: Benedetta Valcastelli
Translated by: Enrico Della Guerra