Patek Philippe Nautilus: Tradition Meets Innovation

In the legendary book of Jules Verne Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Captain Nemo was exploring the depths of the seas with his submarine Nautilus, whose motto was “Mobilis in Mobili” meaning moving amidst mobility. This phrase, could also characterize the phase through which Patek Philippe went through when the brand decided to launch its-now iconic- Nautilus model: the king of high-end watchmaking decided to move within a changing era.

Patek Philippe, Steel Nautilus ref. 3700 retailed by Gubelin. Offered by Onlyvintage

The beginning of this story takes us in the mid-70s. The vogue of high-end watchmaking, wanted luxury wristwatches to be produced in fine metals such as gold and platinum, a trend that most watch brands were respecting by maintaining their high prices. Patek Philippe, a legendary brand loyal to traditions, was setting this example for decades, up until the year 1976. During this year’s Basel Fair, Patek Philippe launched the Nautilus, the first stainless steel watch of the brand whose price left people speechless: it was competing in the same range of wristwatches in precious metals. A bold move that was well-marketed and well-targeted. The 1970s saw the birth of a new era of business men, adding up sports, events and meetings all in the same day. The man of this decade, needed a high-end watch that could keep up with his highly-pressured schedule, one that would be presented both “in a swimsuit and in a suit”, as proudly promoted in the brand’s advertisements. Patek Philippe moved in a moving era and for sure towards the right direction. Although the Nautilus did not meet wide acceptance at first, the watch quickly became a symbol of a changing time.

The first model ever produced was the Nautilus 3700/1 in stainless steel whose shape was poetically designed by the master of watch design, Gerald Genta. Different stories come regarding the inception of the Nautilus, with our favorite recounting that Genta sketched the Nautilus design on the napkin of the restaurant he was dining, a few meters away from the directors of Patek Philippe.

Patek Philippe, Gold Nautilus ref. 3700. Offered by Onlyvintage

Inspired by the portholes of big transatlantic vessels, the first Nautilus had an innovative construction of one monobloc backcase and a bezel in a distinctive, octagonal shape whose edges were carefully rounded so as to create the perspective of an arc. The two compartments were securely closed with 4 lateral screws. The beauty of not only the design but also the technical characteristics were found in the simplicity of its construction: the screws were equally balancing the pressure under-water and therefore the highest the pressure the more tightly the watch was secured, resulting in an unprecedented for Patek Philippe, 120 meters resistance for which a Swiss patent was awarded. The diameter of the bezel was an extraordinary 42mm, therefore the nickname Jumbo given to this first model, with only a 7.6mm thickness. The dial had a mezmerizing blue-black color, with horizontally engraved lines and gold baton luminous hour markers and minute hands whereas the date was placed at the 3 o’clock position, an addition to the beauty of the watch. No seconds hand was added to Nautilus, giving it a clean-cut feeling. The fully integrated bracelet with folding clasp, can be considered a masterpiece of its own: whenever worn, this watch breathes comfort, effortlessly following the curves of ones wrist, as if it was made to be worn only by it.

The movement, was the caliber 28-255 C based on the Jaeger Le-Coultre caliber 920, a movement that was used by all three masters of watch-making, Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet for the Royal Oak 5402 and Vacheron Constantin for the reference 222. It had 3.05mm thickness and was made of 36 jewels, Gyromax balance and a 21K gold central rotor.

The watch was always accompanied with a box made of cork, reminding the nautical roots of its inception.

Patek Philippe, Jumbo Nautilus “Oman”ref. 3700/1 in 18k white gold, 1978. Sold by Phillips in May 2016 for CHF635,000 (approx. 590,000€). Discover more at PHILLIPS

The Nautilus 3700 was produced only for 14 years, from 1976 until 1990 and since the groundbreaking steel version, variations were applied in platinum, yellow gold, white gold or gold and steel.

It is worth mentioning that in terms of auctions, the Nautilus 3700/1 retailed by Beyer, produced on 1978 was sold in Geneva on 16th of May 2016, for 81,590 EUR exceeding the estimation of 16,318 – 24,477 EUR. In other versions, the auction record is held by the Nautilus in platinum with diamonds, for the amount of € €689,436 on 11th of May, 2015 held by Christies in Geneva. Last but not least, a very interesting example of a Nautilus 3700/1 in 18K white gold produced in 1978, featuring the Oman sword was sold for € 582,523 during the Phillips auction in Geneva, 15th of May 2016. This last timepiece, was said to be the most interesting appearance in an auction, since it the only publicly known Nautilus in white gold, featuring the crowned Khanjar.