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After more than four decades of history, the Nautilus remains one of Patek Philippe’s most sought-after timepieces. The watch was first released in 1976. The watch is one of the true pioneers for the luxury sports watch, a groundbreaking concept at the time. The Patek Philippe Nautilus takes inspiration directly from marine vessels. While the aquatic capacities and rugged nature and sporty qualities have made it one of the most popular watches of all-time. The timepiece is also the signature sports watch of Patek Philippe.

Luxury in Steel

Before we jump into the Patek Philippe Nautilus, we have to talk about another watch. That watch is the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. Gérald Genta designed the Royal Oak for Audemars Piguet in 1972 and it was a huge success.

patek philippe nautilus

Two years later, the Swiss watch designer found himself eating at a hotel restaurant when he noticed an executive from Patek Philippe. Genta recalled that he immediately asked the waiter to bring him a pencil and paper. He then proceeded to design to Nautilus while observing the executives eating their meal, finishing within only a few minutes.

At the time, Patek Philippe’s collection consisted exclusively of elegant gold watches with sophisticated technical complications. They had chronographs and time-only watches, but none that could even be considered remotely sporty. Patek Philippe decided that it was time for them to put something out. They put forth their own luxury sports watch with finishes of the highest quality. This new category of timepieces disrupted the market. At the time, it was dominated by cheaper quartz watches.

Porthole Design

When Genta was designing the Nautilus, he found inspiration on the portholes of transatlantic ocean liners. The watch drew attention for its distinctive shape and large size. It resembled these small windows on the exterior of vessels.

patek philippe nautilus

The bezel is neither round or rectangular, but rather an octagon.  Each of the eight sides subtly curved to trace the perfect arc of a circle. Similar to the design of a porthole, the watch’s sides served to attach the bezel to the case. That way it ensures that there is only one opening in addition to the crown. Another defining feature were the “ears” on the case. The specific construction was what made it hard for the timepiece to achieve a water resistance of up to 120 meters, which was very high for the time period.

The Nautilus also had a diameter of 42mm, which was 3mm larger than the already gigantic Royal Oak. The design, which featured embossed horizontal grooves on the dial and an integrated metal bracelet, was instantly recognizable when it hit the market. The first Patek Philippe Nautilus, Reference 3700, was powered by the thin self-winding movement 28-255, first used in the Royal Oak. 

Finding Nemo

Patek Philippe released the Nautilus in 1976 at an exorbitant price tag that was even higher than that of the Royal Oak. The headline for the initial advertising campaign read, “One of the world’s costliest watches is made of steel.” The timepiece took its name from Jules Verne’s classic novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The name Nautilus was inspired after Captain Nemo’s submarine.

patek philippe nautilus

The Nautilus was moderately popular in its first few years of existence with many drawn to its unique versatility. Sales really took off in 1980 when Patek Philippe released a version of the Nautilus designed specifically for ladies and equipped with a quartz movement. The following year the brand released a mid-sized men’s version that cut the size down to just 37mm. These modified releases were immediate successes in line with watch trends of the time. By 1990, Patek Philippe completely phased out the previous “jumbo” generation.

The Swiss watchmakers have since released several less popular variations.  Including a 1996 rendition that had roman numerals and a smooth dial. For the 30th anniversary of the timepiece in 2006, Patek Philippe put forth an entirely new generation of the Nautilus that remains among the most popular. The revamped model went back to the 43mm size and marked the return of the “steel jumbo,” which continues as the most iconic model to date.

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