Beyond the sea

29.08.2017
For over forty years, one can no imagine the top league of haute horlogerie without the Nautilus from Patek Phillippe. We decided to trace its steps from the first sketch to the anniversary collection.


The story of one of the most important brand models resembles an adventure novel and confirms once more the rule that there is no real success without a bit of risk. It is now that a Patek Philippe’s catalog is unthinkable without the Nautilus collection, but forty years ago, in the midst of the quartz crisis, its premiere looked almost a scandalous escapade. Experiencing difficult times the industry was desperate for new ideas and people able to offer them. One of them was Gerald Genta, who designed for the Geneva classics a massive sports steel watch of the future. The mustachioed Swiss, who managed to have a hand in the creation of such legendary products as the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, Omega Constellation and IWC Ingenieur during about ten years, as if knew in advance where the wind of change would blow. Almost all the production of Patek Philippe at that time consisted of gold pieces, and under the defi nition “sport” got rare chronographs with thin suiting silhouette only. The next moment there is such a false tooth resembling a ship’s porthole and named after the submarine of captain Nemo by Jules Verne! 

Now one often describes the original idea of the Nautilus in romantic tones. They say, Genta was able to predict the trend of the new relaxed almost deliberate watch luxury, looking equally appropriate in an offi ce, and near a pool. The legend about the first sketch, which was drawn first-hand in a restaurant during the next exhibition in Basel, fits here also perfectly. The designer had dinner, and when the managers of Patek Philippe took the next table, he decided just for fun to sketch a model that took into account the specific features of their brand. Even if all of the above is true, and unsuspecting customers really came up with a business proposal later, that does not change the main circumstances. Conceptually close Royal Oak, designed by the same Genta, shook the industry for several years already, and the Geneva heavyweights desperately needed a decent product, aimed at the same target audience. Fortunately, its existence could no longer raise serious doubts.

A window into a new world

Introduced in 1976, the Nautilus ref. 3700-1A dramatically matched the stakes. The harmony of the case and the bracelet, instantly recognizable embossed horizontal stripes across the dark blue dial, an octagonal bezel with rounded corners and massive ‘ears’ on the right and on the left that gave the product masculinity – one immediately wanted to put it on the wrist. Formally, there were even two bracelet versions, slightly differing in width, but this fact hardly adds anything to the overall mythology. 

In addition to the luxurious appearance, the punch was a diameter of 42 mm giant by the standards of the time. The product caught the eye at any party or business meeting. Expelling from the ship of modernity obsolete ideas about the mandatory presence of gold in the luxury models, the firm even built advertising campaign on this. Its slogan read literally the following: ‘One of the most expensive watches in the world made of steel’. They also paid a lot of attention to all sorts of little things. The novelty came in an exclusive box of balsa wood, playing with the marine name and offering the client two exotic toys instead of one at the same time. At that time, the watchmakers had not yet begun to measure in-house calibers, and buying parts on the side was not considered something shameful. Like its archrival Royal Oak or another legend of the 1970s, Vacheron Constantin 222, transformed over time into Overseas line, Nautilus was working based on the slightly modified 920 caliber by Jaeger-LeCoultre. Nevertheless, judging by the sales, no one was bothered.

Advertising hinting at the Nautilus relationship with the world of sports cars and fur coats


On the waves of success

Contrary to popular view, the gold versions of the Nautilus began to be produced almost simultaneously with the original ones, as instances with diamond-encrusted bezels. Patek Philippe does not traditionally deny the important customers in the privilege to have special versions of production models. Otherwise, where would auctions take all these unique steel chronographs of the 1940s, who now set record after record?

Four years later, the turn finally came to the wider public. First, there was women’s reduced version, and soon the first full-fledged continuation Ref. 3800 came. Its body shrank to the more usual 37.5 mm, and the first in-house caliber in a series 335 SC was equipped with a central second hand and a gold rotor, decorated with Geneva stripes. Growing demand and awareness of the long-running triumph extent inevitably spurred the company to create a full-fledged collection, and already in the mid-1980s in the systematic catalogue one could choose Nautilus in different colors, sizes and materials of metal case. There was even a quartz women’s version!

The 1990s became for the line an epoch experiments. First, the horizontal stripes disappeared from dials, and then Roman numerals appeared. It got to the point where designers decided to replace the brand bracelet with a rubber strap and in temper attached lugs to a monolithic case. The result was a curious gold watch, who had almost nothing in common with the original concept by Genta. Once at the crossroads, the Patek Philippe professionals decided to move on in both directions at the same time: there appeared another successful series Aquanaut, and the Nautilus gradually became the same.

Eternal return

Complications were the next step. Already in 1998, the company introduced the ref. 3710 with power reserve indicator and already the usual central seconds’ hand. Over the next ten years, the Nautilus dial will not only regain its usual blue color and characteristic strips, but also try the moving moon. The more functional the mechanism, the better to glance at its work, reasoned the engineers and for the first time they provided a model with a transparent back cover. Fortunately, in terms of trim level, the brand always had something to show.

For the thirtieth collection anniversary in 2006, the manufacture has released several new products, including its first chronograph with the manufacture automatic caliber CH 28-520. To the good round figure, they decided to return the original steel case Jumbo. However, the main surprise was the Nautilus with an annual calendar and its numerous indication, visually arranged in a vertical line. To give the image an appropriate chastity a leather strap got the bracelet place for a time. Two years later, they launched a series of samples with silver-white dials, and this was the case of both models with three basic hands, and fitted with different complications ones. The hour marks outline became dark for obvious reasons. Later, with the appearance of Ref. 5990 in 2014, a function of second time zone debuted in the collection,
and the left case side got two separate buttons for setting it up.

The Nautilus celebrated its fortieth anniversary by an addition of two limited edition products with shade blue metallic dials and hour markers of baguette-cut diamonds. A version with three hands and Jumbo case is now available exclusively in platinum, while the chronograph 5976/1G is available in white gold. Tellingly, the debate regarding similarities and differences with competitors has long subsided. Once rebellious, even foppish watch became a true classic and an example of good taste. Still, Patek Philippe have some understanding of the succession of generations.

Patek Philippe Nautilus Chronograph 5980R