The first Patek Philippe Nautilus, designed by the great Gerald Genta back in 1976 became one of the most sought after sports watches in the 21st century.
The 1970s quartz crisis sparked by Seiko’s first commercial quartz wristwatch almost brought the entire Swiss watch industry down to its knee. Renowned for their accuracy and cheaper production, the introduction of quartz watches lead to huge repercussions for the watchmaking industry. Swiss-made mechanical watches were suddenly considered imprecise and overpriced as compared to the inexpensive and more precise quartz watches. Many Swiss watchmakers including Patek Philippe jumped on the quartz bandwagon in an attempt to battle the crisis, but to no avail, they failed.
Luxury dress watches in precious metals were popular back in the 1900s. When collectors think of Patek Philippe, they probably think of the yellow gold Calatrava. Steel watches were deemed as the “poor man” watch and gold is luxury.
To survive the quartz crisis, Swiss watchmakers had to make a different, new and innovative approach to their watches in order to justify a luxurious price.
Introducing the new Patek Philippe Nautilus….. Oh wait. Actually, it’s Audemars Piguet who first launched the idea of stainless steel “luxury” sports watches back in 1972, 4 years before AP’s main competitor, Patek Philippe reacted by debuting the first Nautilus in Baselworld. (Goodbye Baselworld!)
Audemars Piguet made a bold move and unveiled the Royal Oak made in stainless steel and that was priced as high as a thin dress watch in gold.
The designer of the Royal Oak’s iconic octagonal bezel shape attached with eight hexagonal screws? Gerald Genta. (Also the designer of the Patek Philippe Nautilus.)
The 1st Patek Philippe Nautilus
“The shape of a porthole on transatlantic ocean liners.” This inspiration for the Nautilus struck Genta while he was having dinner at the restaurant of a hotel. And guess what? Patek Philippe executives were dining at the same restaurant. In 5 minutes, he pitched his idea of the most iconic Patek sports model by sketching on a piece of napkin.
The Nautilus follows the nautical themes on the Royal Oak but Genta significantly streamlined the design to prevent too many similarities. While the Royal Oak was a pure octagon, the Nautilus has a smoothened shape, less angular than in the AP. The overall shape is inspired by the “porthole” and has two “ears” on both sides of the case, reminiscent of the hinges that can be found on ships windows.
The first Nautilus “Jumbo” Ref 3700’s case size is 42mm, relatively huge even by today’s standard. However, the watch is thin, measuring only 7.6mm in height. The Nautilus is truly an elegant and luxury sports watch.
Not only the Nautilus was an unusual introduction from Patek Philippe, but even its presentation box was far from the usual. The first Patek Philippe Nautilus Ref 3700 was delivered in a cork and steel presentation box, however, modern Nautilus is no longer presented to customers in the cork box. (Not unless you have the 40th Anniversary Edition, lucky you!)
Patek didn’t have sports or steel watches before the Nautilus. It was an immense move by a conservative brand like Patek Philippe to introduce a stainless steel watch, with integrated bracelet, large case and bold design. However, this attempt to break tradition turns out to be a huge commercial success in the current market.
Demand for the Nautilus was rather slow at first, but this all changed when Patek Philippe introduced a quartz ladies’ Nautilus and a mid-size men’s version that measured only 37 mm. Nautilus in precious metals such as gold was added soon thereafter. In the current secondary market, the Nautilus Ref 5711/1A fetches the highest premium. Even Shark Tank investor Kevin O’Leary had to wait 8 years for his 5711!
Let’s take a look at some of the popular references in the current market.
“Simplicity is the key to brilliance.” – Bruce Lee
Elegant. Sophisticated. Yet Sporty. The Patek Philippe Ref 5711/1A debuted in 2006 to mark the 30th anniversary of the Nautilus. At 40mm, it is considered as the golden standard size for a sports watch by the watch community. The white gold, baton-shaped hour markers feature a luminescent coating. There is little happening on the dial and yet it is so alluring. This “standard” stainless steel Nautilus is the most popular model within the current collection, mainly due to its resemblance to the original Nautilus Ref 3700.
The slightly more complicated sibling of the Ref 5711. This is also (just like the Ref 5711) launched in 2016 to mark the 30th anniversary of the Nautilus collection. The Ref 5712 is a new version of its predecessor, Ref 3712, the most complicated Nautilus made by Patek Philippe before Ref 5726, 5740 and 5990.
Measuring at 40mm diameter and 8.52 mm in height, the gradient blue dial is synonymous with the steel Nautilus models. Seconds hand are located on an off-centre sub-dial at 4 o’clock and a second, larger sub-dial incorporating the date and moon-phase display is between 6 to 8 o’clock. The power reserve indicator can be found between 10 to 11 o’clock. The asymmetrical dial may have broken the traditional rule of the symmetrically structured dial of Nautilus. However, the longer you look at the Ref 5712, the more you will begin to appreciate the anomalies on the dial.
A stainless steel Nautilus equipped with an annual calendar and blue dial? Perfect! The Ref 5726’s annual calendar mechanism displays the day and month in two in-line apertures at 12 o’clock and the date window at 6 o’clock. Above the date aperture sits a 24-hour day-night indicator encircling a moon-phase display.
The Nautilus Annual Calendar Moon Phase is 40.5mm in diameter and 11.3 mm in height, 2.78mm thicker than the 5712 due to the more complicated caliber 324 S QA LU. The Ref 5726 offers a more contemporary look targeted towards a younger audience.
The perfect travellers’ companion! Back in 2014, a 40.5mm column-wheel flyback chronograph and dual-time Nautilus in stainless steel was introduced. Ref 5990 has two different hour hands on the same axis for the dual time-zone display. The skeletonized hour hand displays the HOME time and the solid hour hand displays the LOCAL time. In addition, there are two separate day/night indicators labelled HOME and LOCAL for a more user-friendly display. Two pusher-style correctors on the left are used to adjust the local time-zone in 1-hour increments. The 60-minute chronograph counter at six o’clock is complemented by the central chronograph seconds hand. Based on the Ref 5980, Patek Philippe developed a new caliber CH 28-520 C FUS for the Ref 5990, a chronograph mechanism with a column wheel design, an innovative disk clutch with date, day/night, and travel time complications.
Other than the stainless steel models, the Nautilus is also available in various precious metals such as rose gold and white gold as well as different complications too. (Ref 5980 – Chronograph, Date and Ref 5740 – Perpetual Calendar)
Why should you own a Nautilus?
Because you should. Because everybody who can afford one, wants one. The beautiful curve and intriguing finish on a Nautilus is every collector’s dream.
“You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation.”
As the last independent, family-owned Geneva watchmaker (Vacheron Constantin is a Richemont Group subsidiary), Patek Philippe prides itself in its 100% in-house watchmaking process. Each Patek Philippe timepiece is meticulously finished by hand to fulfil the promise of producing precise and well-crafted watches. Patek Philippe Nautilus is the epitome of sporty, elegance and sophistication. However, if you are thinking of walking into AD or boutique to purchase any Nautilus on the spot, I’m sorry to burst your bubble. With a waiting list of up to 10 years or more (Unless you are a VVIP), the only option left for you to be a proud owner of a Nautilus is from the secondary market.
Otherwise, perhaps “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after the waiting list for the next generation.”