The $16,500 Gerald Genta model, which won’t be available until January, is already sold out.
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Can a Mickey Mouse watch be a luxury watch? According to the designer of the $16,500 Gerald Genta Arena Retro Mickey Mouse Disney, it can.
“Gerald Genta was the first to use Mickey in high-end watches,” said Fabrizio Buonamassa Stigliani, the creative director of Bulgari, which acquired the Gerald Genta watch brand in 2000. “Mickey is in the history of the brand itself. That’s it.”
Disney’s famous character, introduced in 1928 in the cartoon “Steamboat Willie,” has appeared on low-cost watches for decades. In recent years, Swatch, Ingersoll and Apple have been among the brands that created Mickey watches, with some pieces featuring the cheerful rodent costing less than $50. Gucci’s Disney x Gucci Grip Mickey Mouse watch, however, retails for $1,800.
“Nobody knows when this story started,” said Mr. Stigliani of Mr. Genta’s Disney watch series from the 1980s, which also featured the likes of Minnie Mouse and Donald Duck. “You have many different stories, but the one we know is that it was for a birthday for someone’s son.”
As a freelance designer, Mr. Genta created countless watches, but he is most recognized for Audemars Piguet’s 1972 Royal Oak and Patek Philippe’s 1976 Nautilus. He founded his own watch company in 1969 and died in 2011.
In recent years, Bulgari has used the Gerald Genta dial name sparingly, producing a special edition Arena in 2019 for the design’s 50th anniversary, and a titanium version last year.
The new Mickey watch, in stainless steel, is limited to 150 pieces and features a retrograde minutes hand (hence Retro) indicated by the character’s pointing finger, and a so-called digital “jumping hours” display at 5 o’clock. Mr. Stigliani said he made only subtle changes to Mr. Genta’s Arena case. “I am the guardian of these designs,” he said.
And the watch, which was introduced at Geneva Watch Days in August but will not be available until January, already is sold out.
“This is not a cartoon watch,” Mr. Stigliani said. “The idea is to have fun. This is part of Gerald Genta’s heritage.”
But not everyone is enthralled. “Mickey Mouse is more commonly associated with souvenir objects and throwaway culture,” said Priya Khanchandani, head of curatorial and interpretation at the Design Museum in London. “There’s something a bit disturbing about a character designed to appeal to children and young people being put on a luxury, adult, very expensive watch.”
Mr. Stigliani, who also designed Bulgari’s Octo, said that Mr. Genta’s estate had not been involved in the watch, and that the agreement with Disney to use Mickey Mouse was hatched in 2019 at the Baselworld watch fair. He said that there were plans to pick up on designs featuring other Disney characters, and that Bulgari had “no restrictions from Disney.”