Patek Philippe introduced Nautilus In 1976. Since then, it has become one of the brand’s most sought-after watches. In this feature from the Watchtime archives, we trace the evolution of the Nautilus over its 40+ year history.
When Patek Philippe introduced the Nautilus in 1976, it wasn’t the first luxury sports watch in steel. It was claimed by Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak in 1972. But the Nautilus was positioned at an even higher price point, and advertising for the first model, the Reference 3700, played on this idea, showing the watch with the tagline, “One of the world’s most expensive watches made of steel. The distinctive shape of the watch also attracted attention. The bezel is neither round nor rectangular, but an octagon whose sides curve outwards. At 42mm in diameter, the Nautilus was ahead of its time in terms of size and was 3mm larger than the Royal Oak.
Gerald Genta, who designed the Royal Oak for Audemars Piguet, brought his sketch for the Nautilus to Patek Philippe in 1974. The unusual case shape is inspired by a ship’s porthole, with a rounded octagonal bezel and “ears” for hinges. One side and other side closure. Embossed horizontal grooves on the dial and an integrated metal bracelet add to the character of the watch and make it easy to spot. At this time, Patek Philippe collections consisted almost exclusively of elegant gold watches with advanced complications such as perpetual calendars and minute repeaters. Despite initial doubts that such a large and sporty timepiece would be a suitable addition, two years later Patek Philippe introduced the watch under the name “Nautilus”.
The name Nautilus comes from the submarine featured in Jules Verne’s classic novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The portholes on Captain Nemo’s submarine are often depicted as having an oval shape. The analogy of a watch to a porthole is not visual. Like the porthole, the sides serve to attach the bezel to the case so there is only one opening along the crown. Both the movement and the dial can be removed from the case from the front. This construction was necessary to achieve the watch’s water resistance of 120 meters, which was very high at the time. The name Nautilus emphasizes this feature. In another ad, Nautilus is shown worn on two separate wrists, one in a diving suit and the other in formal evening wear.
The first Nautilus, the reference 3700, was powered by the slender self-winding movement 28-255, developed by Jaeger-LeCoultre in 1967 for Vacheron Constantin, Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet. It was first used in the Royal Oak and designated Caliber 2121.
Demand for the Nautilus was initially slow, but this changed dramatically in 1980 when Patek Philippe introduced the women’s Nautilus with a quartz movement, and a year later, the mid-sized men’s version (reference 3800). mm in diameter. In 1996, a Nautilus model with Roman numerals and a smooth dial was introduced. Gold versions were added soon after. After smaller versions of the Nautilus became available, collectors began referring to the original, larger Nautilus as a “jumbo”. This model was discontinued in 1990. It continues to fetch the highest prices at auctions.
Patek Philippe introduced the Nautilus in 1998 in its original 42-mm size, the reference 3710, but this model features Roman numerals and a power-reserve indicator. In 2005, reference 3712 was added to the Nautilus collection. It has power-reserve and moon-phase indicators and a small pointer-date display arranged in an asymmetrical manner. This model was updated after just one year.
In 2006, for the 30th anniversary of the Nautilus, Patek Philippe updated the collection with a rounder case shape and revised case design. The case no longer has a combined base and mid-section, but now has a classical three-piece case structure. With modern manufacturing methods, the change did not affect the water resistance of the watch. And for each model, the “ears” that attach the bezel to the center-piece are rounded and the movement can be viewed through the transparent caseback. The bracelets have also been refined and given a more modern look.
Reference 5711 was also introduced in 2006. It has a 43-mm-diameter, surpassing the original Nautilus by 1 mm. (Measured without the crown, from 10 o’clock to 4 o’clock, it’s 40 mm.) The classic three-hand watch in steel has a steel bracelet and a black-blue dial. The watch is powered by the in-house Caliber 315 SC with a centrally mounted oscillating weight. It is a worthy successor to the original version and mirrors the look of that model, but with the added central sweep seconds hand. This model is a real hit and demand outstrips supply. Like the Rolex Daytona, prices for this watch on the pre-owned market are about 50 percent higher than new — and that’s more than the $29,800 the current model costs. (A pre-owned version with a white dial can be found for less than the black/blue version.) Nautilus cufflinks by Patek Philippe show just how strong the collection’s design is. They feature the watch’s iconic shape, its two “ears” and horizontal stripes in black/blue or other colors to match the various patterns, under the sapphire crystal. These accessories are immediately recognizable as part of the Nautilus watch family.
In the anniversary year 2006, the preparation Nautilus launched the chronograph with the newly developed caliber 28-520 C, reference 5980, which is currently only available in rose gold and two-tone steel and rose gold. This is the first Nautilus to have a chronograph movement without additional functions – if you consider a flyback function for direct reset of the fast-advance date, minute minutes and hour counter and running chronograph not “extra functions”.
If we don’t count the ladies’ watches (which are available in various sizes with quartz or mechanical movements), five different models make up the current Nautilus collection.
• The standard model is a classic three-hand watch in steel with a steel bracelet (reference 5711).
• Reference 5712 offers further complication with power-reserve display, pointer date and moon-phase. It is available in steel, rose gold or white gold with a leather strap and is powered by the caliber 240 PS IRM C LU with a mini-rotor.
• Reference 5726 has more features. Annual calendar window aperture includes date, day of week and month display. A short 24-hour display is integrated into the moon-phase. The movement, Caliber 324 S QA LU 24H/303, correctly advances all months with 30 or 31 days.
• As noted earlier, the Nautilus Chronograph, reference 5980 Caliber 28-520 C, is currently only available in rose gold and in a two-tone combination.
• The flagship of the collection is the Nautilus Travel Time Chronograph, reference 5990. The caliber CH 28-520 C FUS self-winding mechanism features a stopwatch display for minutes and seconds on the dial as well as a pointer date and second time zone. . There is a day/night indicator for both local and home time. Engineers cleverly integrated two pushers into the “ear” on the left side of the case to move the local time forward or backward.
Two limited-edition models introduced by Patek Philippe in 2016 to celebrate the 40-year anniversary of the Nautilus attracted a lot of attention: the platinum version of the reference 5711, limited to 700 pieces, priced at $113,400, and the chronograph version in white gold with a larger 44-mm case. This model is limited to 1,300 pieces and is priced at $96,390. The baguette diamonds used as hour markers and the anniversary date printed on the dial (40 1976-2016) sometimes looked too ostentatious. And despite the higher prices due to the case materials, these Nautilus models were also highly sought after and sold out quickly.
Both the example of anniversary models and the tremendous demand for the three-hand Nautilus in steel show the desirability of this iconic watch. And this same year, the first perpetual calendar in the Nautilus collection was introduced by Patek Philippe at Baselworld (details here ). As with the Nautilus, the tagline “one of the world’s most expensive watches made of steel” has not lost its currency.