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Always"watching"

20,000 Leagues Under or 20,000 Pounds Upwards: The Nautilus

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A forum PM suggested that I might write something on the origins of the Patek Philippe Nautilus, and this topic is therefore dedicated to Phil for his suggestion.

The Patek Philippe Nautilus has become a bit of "a legend in its own lifetime" and since its origins in the mid-1970s it is still going strong. Trying to find relevant prices for the more expensive wristwatches can be just that, "trying," but I have found a brand new gents stainless steel Nautilus with stainless steel bracelet for twenty grand, and I reckon that is pretty much the baseline for automatic Nautilus pricing. If you can't afford an automatic version, the company also makes quartz versions which are in the single figure thousands.

The origins of the Nautilus wristwatch are bound up in a story that has been told and retold until the absolute truth of the matter is now lost. We now just have the story, which is a rather good one, and the economic pressures that led Patek Philippe to change tack and produce a luxury stainless steel sports watch.

The economic factors that caused the old and venerable firm of Patek Philippe to adopt the Nautilus were twofold. Firstly, the new Nautilus watch was partly designed to be a rival to the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, that had already started the ball rolling for high quality high-end stainless steel sports watches, and secondly, there was an urgent need from the early 1970s for traditional Swiss watch companies to provide something new as a means of halting the damage being done to their industry by the rising tide of quartz watches. It is therefore ironic that the designer of the Nautilus was none other than the man who drew the sensational Royal Oak watch - Gerald Genta. It did help, of course, that Genta was friends with the Stern family, the owners of Patek Philippe, and that Genta knew about Henri Stern's passion for sailing and nautical matters.

 

 

Brothers in arms - recent versions of the pure forms of the Nautilus and the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak showing their consistency over time and evident relationship - stemming from the pen of the same designer - but not revealing very distinct differences between the two watches that enabled the nautilus to find its own niche in the watch market (pic from fratellowatches.com):

APPPFront5-500.jpg

 

 

And now to the story, which takes place at during the 1974 Basel Watch Fair (now called Baselworld). According to Gerald Genta himself, speaking in 2009, "I was at the restaurant of a hotel and some people from Patek were sitting in one corner of the dining hall, while I was sitting alone in the other corner. I told the head waiter: 'Bring me a piece of paper and a pencil, I want to design something' and I designed the Nautilus while observing the people from Patek eating! It was a sketch that I completed in 5 minutes."  Other versions of the story state that this event occurred in a cafe, and that the drawing was done on a napkin. Whatever the case, the design was an inspired one, and in its final drawn iteration before production, all the elements were present, including the subtly shaped octagonal bezel, where curves were used rather than straight edges, and wide lugs with lateral ears.

The Nautilus was designed to cover two distinct roles. Firstly, it was to be a bona fide sports watch unlike any prior Patek Philippe models - rugged, water resistant and made from stainless steel. And secondly, it was designed aesthtically to mirror Henri Stern's nautical interests, taking its theme from the hinged portholes on ocean liners and yachts. With its nautical theme and strength, the watch became known as the Nautilus, a name taken from Captain Nemo's vessel in the famous Jules Verne novel, "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea."

The Nautilus watch made its debut at the 1976 Basel Watch Fair as an all steel two-hand watch with horizontally ribbed black dial and date window at three o'clock.  The back was also stainless steel, with no display glass, and It was not until later years that a display back would be included on the watch, so the superb Jaeger-Le Coultre-based thin automatic movement (calibre 28-255 C, based on Jaeger L.C. calibre 920) went unseen by owners of the watch. As for water resistance, the unusual characteristic of the watch (with its porthole-style left-hand side hinge and lateral screws to the right of the bezel around the crown that secured the top of the watch down, evenly compressing a gasket in the process)  provided 120 metre WR. Also notable is the fact that the new Nautilus was packaged in a cork box - another nod to the nautical theme of the watch.

 

 

The original 1976 Patek Philippe Nautilus stainless steel sports watch (pic from blogspot.com):

Nautilus_3700_c.jpg

 

 

Wrist shot of the original Patek Philippe Nautilus automatic wristwatch (pic from photobucket.com):

Patek3700-6_zps65136ec8.jpg

 

 

It is perhaps quite surprising that the Nautilus proved to be an immediate success given that this stainless steel wristwatch was priced up there with some high-end solid gold dress models, and that it was definitely not a true diving watch, even though it was designed to be well able to handle life on a sail boat. The original 1976 model (designated reference 3700/1) was later nicknamed the "Jumbo" because at the time, 42mm was considered to be rather wide for a watch case. The watch was 7.6mm thick - thin for the time - and interestingly, the Nautilus was patented in Switzerland without any credit going to Gerald Genta as inventor.

 

 

Original 1976 Swiss Patent drawing by Philippe Stern for the Nautilus (pic from blogspot.com):

Patek-Philippe-Nautilus-Reference-3700-P

 

 

The automatc movement powering the original Nautilus - a different calibre to the movements found in modern Nautilus models. Fortunately perhaps one can now see the movement of their new Nautilus courtesy of a sapphire rear display glass on the more recent watches (pic from fratellowatches.com):

Patek_Philippe_Cal_28-255C_zpsfcbff1bf.j

 

 

Inevitably, there were developmental changes to the Nautilus from the end of the 1970s, and rather than try and detail every change and new variation since 1980, I will give the main changes made immediate to the original model of 1976. Firstly, and yet with no immediate effect, a prototype white dial version was made in 1978. Then, in 1980, a ladies' version of the Nautilus was launched, together with a mid-sized model having a 37.5mm case and designed to cater for the more popular watch sizes at the time. The mid-size model (reference 3800/1A) introduced the central seconds hand to the Nautilus, and used the new slimline in-house Patek calibre 335 SC. Some years on, in 1998, the black dialled 42mm Nautilus 3710/1A was given applied Roman numerals and a power reserve indicator, and it housed a Patek calibre 330SC. The new millenium saw more variants on the Nautilus, with more complications, dial colours, and precious metal versions, and certain technical improvements and developments were made, continuing up to the present time.

The Patek Philippe Nautilus has been an icon almost from its inception, and it is certainly a superb piece of example of watch making. Looking at the original Nautilus from today's perspective, when highly water resistant and rugged wristwatches can be bought for a fraction of the relative price that was asked for the Nautilus, including examples with decent mechanical movements, it may seem incredible that the model helped Patek Philippe to weather the quartz crisis of the later 1970s and 1980s. However, there it is, standing as a monument to good design, durable materials and fine micro-engineering. This was a watch that pioneered a whole category of wristwatches to come after its launch and success, and we now reap the benefit of that fundamental design in watches that are affordable and reliable, if not made by the high-end Swiss watchmaking companies themselves.

 

 

A new version of the original model, this one now with a silvery white dial and a case that is 43mm across. This model is designated 5711/1A-011, and in spite of changes having been made from the original watch, shows the consistency of the basic Nautilus design over the years (pic from ingram.net (scontent.cdninstagram)):

12568758_1229380907090007_1953250700_n.j

 

 

 

 

Edited by Always"watching"
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very informative as usual always, I really like the last/ latest one (last pic), but saddening knowing short of a lottery win I will never own one !:notworthy:

cheers deano

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Well Honor, that was a really interesting, informative read and answered all the questions raised in my PM. Thanks so much for taking on this task.

When I called into the Patek Boutique at Emquartier in Bangkok (Patek have two boutiques here), they showed me a booklet and against a photo of each of their watches was the price and I was even told that is negotiable. But, naturally, they didn't have a Nautilus in stock!

I'm fascinated to learn of the connections to the Royal Oak, and in many ways they have both stayed true to their original design, but with Patek choosing not to match AP's ongoing variations on the same theme, to milk it for all it's worth. Probably sums up the difference between the two companies.

A Nautilus is an ultimate aim for me, but one that is almost certainly to be unfulfilled, unless I sell several watches and then some!

Thanks again Honor! :thumbsup:

 

 

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Big M wanted this one but as it was a shade over £20K she was out of luck. 

:biggrin:

IMAG0912.jpg

Just as an asides the security waller wasn't very happy about me taking pictures even though I was outside the shop, came over and tried to get us to move on, definitely looked like a bloke you wouldn't want to mess with either.

:laugh: :laugh:

Edited by BondandBigM

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7 hours ago, deano1956 said:

very informative as usual always, I really like the last/ latest one (last pic), but saddening knowing short of a lottery win I will never own one !:notworthy:

cheers deano

You could always look out for an RLT 36 'Nautilus'....a little bit cheaper, but far, far rarer as Roy only made 21 of them....
rlt36.jpg

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Guest Bruce
10 minutes ago, Roger the Dodger said:

You could always look out for an RLT 36 'Nautilus'....a little bit cheaper, but far, far rarer as Roy only made 21 of them....
rlt36.jpg

 and far better looking too IMHHO

ssshhhhh, is it just me or is the Patek nautilus a bit plain for the money?  sorry 

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