Launched 40 years ago, the iconic Nautilus by Patek Philippe took the horological world by storm.
The year is 1976. Optimism is in the air: veteran GIs are returning from the war, the world economy is booming after the oil crisis, and novel “personal computers”, built in garages in Palo Alto and beyond, are set to kick off the digital age.
It was in this brave new era that an innovative Swiss manufacture launched an outrageous wristwatch. Of substantial volume and made of steel, it turned luxury watchmaking on its head, which had all along favoured slim pieces in gold.
And that seminal piece, the Nautilus by Patek Philippe, has gone on to become an endearing icon not only of the legendary watch company, but also of the entire horological world.
AND A STAR IS BORN
Spearheaded by Philippe Stern, whose father Henri was president of the respected, family-run Patek Philippe, the sports watch was truly a milestone, and the first such model in the 177-year history of the brand.
Philippe was an avid skipper and a familiar sight at Lake Geneva regattas, so it was natural that the watch he envisioned would bear a maritime aesthetic. He enlisted the help of watch design guru Gerald Genta, who immediately started to draw up plans for the powerful statement piece. Genta made two lateral case extension ridges at nine and three o’clock that resembled hinges, joining the front and back of the case, a nod to the locking mechanisms of water-resistant ocean liner potholes.
He framed the crystal with an octagonal bezel, featuring gently curved sides and rounded corners. To add contrast, the bezel was satin-finished on the upper plane, and mirror-polished on the bevelled flanks – a matte/gloss treatment that was satisfyingly replicated in the solid stainless steel bracelet.
The rugged naval theme continued on the dial. Genta lent it a blue-tint charcoal hue, to which he added distinctive horizontal embossed lines, finished with applied luminous baton markers and matched hands. The resulting Ref. 3700/1A became an instant classic that is today coveted by modern collectors. It is thoroughly elegant for black tie events and, with its unheard-of 120m water-resistance, unquestionably robust for all but the most professional of divers.
To the beholder, it conjured images of enigmatic cephalopod molluscs and their beautiful spiral shells, and, some say, Captain Nemo’s submarine in Jules Verne’sTwent y Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.
In the intervening four decades, the Nautilus proved to be so well conceptualised that it required only small, carefully considered reworks to keep it contemporary. The original model itself enjoyed astounding longevity, staying in the collection till 1990.
Key introductions included the 1980 Ladies’ Nautilus Ref. 4700/51J and the 1996 Ref. 3800/1JA with Roman numerals and a leather strap. The first Nautilus with Upon approval Please sign: a complication was the 1998 Ref. 3710/1A fitted with a winding zone indicator. Later, various models offered a moonphase display, a power-reserve indicator and a self-winding flyback chronograph function.
This year, two pieces mark the celebration of four successful decades of Nautilus. The Ref. 5711/1P 40th Anniversary Edition comes in solid platinum and is produced in a run of 700, while the Ref. 5976/1G 40th Anniversary Limited Edition is a self-winding flyback chronograph in 18K white gold produced in a run of 1,300 pieces.
Much effort has been invested in tooling to overcome the challenges of working with the tough precious metal, but as is obvious to the eye, the result of the many forms of nissage such as chamfering, satin-finishing, sandblasting and mirror polishing has been well worth it.
The Nautilus was an
instant hit when it was
introduced in 1976. A
solid platinum edition
and a self-winding flyback chronograph
are launched this
year to mark its 40th
Both dials feature a blue sunburst background, with the numerals “40” and “1976-2016” tastefully embedded to mark the occasion. They are adorned with flawless Top Wesselton baguette diamonds as batons and, for the platinum model, one final such gem is fitted above the lugs at six o’clock.
Naturally, the movements within are pure Patek Philippe creations. The Ref. 5711/1P is fitted with a 324 S C, while the Ref. 5976/1G boasts of the CH 28-520 C, both of which enjoy innovations such as the proprietary Gyromax balance and Spiromax balance spring to boast accuracy to within -3 to +2 seconds a day.
Despite maintaining the integrity of Gerald Genta’s design, the new Nautilus models benefit from decades of Patek Philippe research and development, and are perhaps some of the best-made wristwatches money can buy. Here’s to another 40 years.