Patek Philippe has been known to produce a plethora of high quality luxury watches since its inception in 1839 in Geneva, Switzerland. From this background, picking the most iconic timepiece in their selection is like being asked to choose between gold and silver. However, one watch that stands out among the rest and that experts tend to agree upon almost unanimously is the Nautilus.
Introduced in 1976, the Nautilus was born from a desire to create a watch with a strong design and an exceptional personality. As it turned out, this design was inspired by the shape of a porthole engraved on literally all maritime vessels. The first model was a steel made Ref. 3700/1, starting the legend of a classic, elegant sports watch that is heavily demanded across the world. In fact, this very first reference timepiece is one of the most sought after watches at auction.
The modern Nautilus collection is a reflection of the flattering remodeling of the casually elegant classic 3700/1. The iconic Patek Philippe timepiece has gained style through small but carefully calculated adjustments while maintaining its original spirit.
History of the Patek Philippe Nautilus
The birth of the Patek Philippe Nautilus can be attributed to another legendary timepiece: Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, which defined the entire category of stainless steel luxury wristwatches. It was after its tremendous success that Patek Philippe decided to develop a dedicated sport watch with the highest quality finish. To some extent, the Nautilus was designed as a marketing strategy to refresh the company’s brand image while continuing its tradition.
The patented case was made of a solid middlecase/backcase monobloc, which was secured by the unique octagonal bezel with 4 lateral screws to facilitate water resistance. All eight sides were curved subtly to follow a perfect arc, a small detail that made a significant difference. The black dial featured horizontal embossed bars, and came with a date window at the 3 o’clock mark, luminous hands, and gold baton hour markers.
The watch’s personality was further enhanced by a fully-integrated bracelet with a folding clasp. Its name, on the other hand, was derived from the novel “20 Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” by Jules Verne, in which Nautilus was the submariner driven by Captain Nemo. Surprisingly, although the watch was not exactly a professional diver, it offered excellent water resistance of up to 120 meters owing to the unique structure of the case. Indeed, the lateral ears combined with the wide lugs ensured uniform compression, making the case more water resistant as water pressure increased.
When the original Nautilus ref. 3700/1 was launched in 1976, its generous size led to its nickname: “Jumbo”. This was thanks to its 42mm diameter, which was considered extremely large at the time. However, the watch was rather thin, featuring a height of 7.6mm, and was powered by an automatic caliber 28-255cc, inspired by LeCoultre’s calibre 920.
Two years later, Patek Philippe developed a prototype featuring a ribbed white dial from the Stern Freres factory. Interestingly, this extremely rare prototype was sold in 2015 at Sotheby’s Geneva for a jaw-dropping $255,950, confirming collectors’ interest on the Nautilus. Patek Philippe wouldn’t introduce white dial models of the Nautilus until 2012.
In 1980, the Nautilus timepieces for Ladies were introduced, with reference number 4700. One year later, Patek Philippe launched the middle size ref. 3800/1A, which came with a smaller diameter of 37.5mm to replace the bigger sized 3700/1 version. This new model was characterized with central seconds and a new 335 SC caliber, and came as a result of the brand’s desire to create its own slim movement.
The 1998 Nautilus models, dubbed ref. 3710/1A, came with a trivial complication on the small date. There were Roman numerals on the black dial (but no bars), as well as a power reserve indicator incorporated at the 12 o’clock mark. The case featured the caliber 330SC, and was 42 mm wide and 8 mm thick.
In 2005, Patek Philippe took the Nautilus to a whole new level, introducing a more sophisticated model (reference 3712) with moon phases, analogue date, and a power reserve indicator. The timepiece was powered by 240PS automatic movement, while the gorgeous caliber was illuminated by a sapphire crystal and a gold micro-rotor. This model was short-lived, ending just one year after its introduction to be replaced by the new generation models.
After 30 years since the original Gerald Genta was created, Patek Philippe brought a rejuvenated model referred to as ref. 5711/1A. This timepiece came a with a dial with central seconds, slightly bigger case (43mm), and was powered by caliber 324SC. Unlike the ref. 3700/1, the new 5711/1A featured a new 3-part case, in which the case back was disintegrated and incorporated a sapphire crystal for displaying the movement.
A small curvature changed the appearance of the “ears” to better synchronize with the bezel, while the screw down crown was increased in size. The company logo was inscribed with new fonts and located closer to the 12 o’clock position, while the blue effects of the black dial were enhanced. In addition, the 5711/1A Nautilus bracelet came with a more comfy double folding clasp and the mirror polished central links were made more square. In the same year, Patek Philippe presented ref. 5712 to replace the 3712.
Along with the slightly larger case, this watch introduced numerous changes to the dial: there were four small red dots to indicate the power reserve (instead of three), the hands were smaller, the date & moon phase counter was bigger with no room for the hour marker at the 7 o’clock position, and the blue tones were accentuated. But this is not where the novelties ended. In 2006, Nautilus ref. 5980 was launched with a different automatic chronograph movement contained in a wide 44-mm case.
Throughout the years, the Patek Philippe Nautilus has extended with model variations for both men and women. Apart from the original stainless steel case, the model has also debuted some precious metal variations. One particularly interesting model is the ref. 5726, which made its debut in 2010. This Nautilus model featured an yearly calendar complication and caliber 324 S QA LU 24H to power it, making it the first stainless steel Patek Philippe timepiece to come with an annual calendar complication.