In Jules Verne’s book, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Captain Nemo commandeered perilous expeditions in a submarine called the Nautilus. It is a story filled with adventure and gumption, steering into unchartered waters, battling giant squids, and offering a new perspective on the world.
In a similar way, Patek Philippe’s watch of the same name embodies many of the same maritime characteristics, both aesthetically and metaphorically. The Nautilus Ref. 3700/1A, when first unveiled in 1976, was seen as a bold creation from the venerable watch manufacture. For the first time in the brand’s 137-year history, here was a sports watch (in steel, no less) in an era where slim gold watches were a norm.
Why launch such a watch? The ’70s was period of changing political, cultural, and socio-economic upheavals. Public mood was on the upswing, and a growing affluence resulted in more time spent on sports, travel, and cultural interests. Philippe Stern, a passionate yachtsman and son of then Patek Philippe’s president Henri Stern, decided it was the right time for an innovative timepiece.
Created in collaboration with watch designer Gérald Genta, the Nautilus’ porthole-inspired look was a departure for Patek Philippe. But this was probably why it has remained so endearing after all these years. Besides being “one of the world’s costliest watches made of steel”, it is water resistant up to 120 metres. It has an octagonal bezel, a blue dial with horizontal embossed pattern, and luminous baton hour markers. More distinctively, there are two lateral case extension ridges at 9 and 3 o’clock, inspired by the locking mechanisms of classic ocean liner portholes that could be sealed to prevent the ingress of water. It was a watch that could be worn on and off a boat.
While the original remained in the collection until 1990, this model was extended to a ladies version and midsized models in 1980. Complications were added in later years, such as a winding zone indicator in 1998, moon phase display and power-reserve indicators in 2005, flyback chronograph in 2006, and annual calendar in 2010. More recently, the ladies’ collection was reworked and updated with leather straps, steel bracelets, and more feminine dials. Last year saw the introduction of the first self-winding Ladies’ Nautilus Ref. 7118/1A in steel without diamonds.
In celebration of the Nautilus’ 40th anniversary, the brand has launched two limited edition timepieces that are similar to the original, but with minor tweaks. The Ref. 5711/1P features a 40mm platinum case which pays tribute to the original 1976 Nautilus, the Ref. 3700/1A “Jumbo”. It is limited to 700 pieces and has 12 baguette diamond baton hour markers on the signature dark blue, horizontal striped dial in 18K gold. The 44mm Nautilus Flyback Chronograph Ref. 5976/1G is a nod to the 30th anniversary version, but with a wider and more prominent case. It features the proprietary chronograph movement CH 28-520 C, developed and crafted in-house, and, of course, a blue dial with diamond hour markers and the Nautilus embossed décor. Each anniversary model comes in a brown natural cork box that is an authentic replica of the stylish 1976 original.
With its casual elegance and timeless appeal, one can be certain that the Nautilus will continue to be a sought-after timepiece in the next 40 years.
Image opener: The Nautilus Ref. 57111A (2006)