Patek Philippe: Nautilus Then and Now

Collecting Classics

Patek Philippe is considered one of the most prestigious watch manufacturers in Switzerland. That’s always been the case. His often wealthy customers come from all over the world, among them are members of royal houses and business captains. It is the watch brand with one of the most famous advertising slogans: “A Patek Philippe never belongs to one alone. One enjoys it for a lifetime, but in fact it is already preserved for the next generation. ” Whether this is true or not, the Patek Philippe owners and friends like to call on this slogan to justify the expensive timepiece. Accordingly, the brand is primarily associated with classic and elegant luxury watches such as the Calatrava.

However, in the mid-1970s, when Patek Philippe was known for models with complications and for elegant, flat watches, the company decided to create a watch of luxury class. A few years earlier (1972), Audemars Piguet with the Royal Oak had proved that a luxury watch made of stainless steel was taken from a brand of haute Horlogerie.

Entfant terrible: How the Patek Philippe Nautilus was created

And Patek Philippe took the man who was responsible for the design of the Royal Oak with Gérald Genta. Genta designed a watch with very special features: This includes the porthole design of the housing, the combination of polished and satin components and – of course – The integrated stainless steel bracelet. So Patek Philippe 1976 introduced the Nautilus to the public.

But most of the clientele could not be enthusiastic about the watch. A watch appeared incongruous for a company like Patek Philippe, whose focus has always been on classic (golden) timers with or without complications. The Nautilus became the enfant terrible of the collection, and that’s what it remained.

Anyone looking for a nautilus in the market must choose between a newer model from the 2000s or a model from the second half of the 1970s. The look at the price shows that a vintage model of second hand is just as expensive (or sometimes even more expensive) as the current one.

Now let’s look at the very first Nautilus with reference 3700/1a and the Nautilus 5711/1a: At first glance, there seems to have not been much change in the 30 years that lie between the two models. But with closer scrutiny, it shows how the clock has changed.

The porthole housing

The casing of the Patek Philippe Nautilus is modelled on the shape of a porthole. The model 3700/1a consists mainly of two parts, the housing and the bezel. The bezel and casing are screwed together like a porthole. The housing of the 3700/1a measures 42 millimeters in diameter. 1976, this housing size was above average. So the watch quickly got the nickname Nautilus Jumbo.

When Patek Philippe brought the Nautilus 2006 back on the market about 30 years after the launch of the model, it had once again scaled up. The housing dimension now 43 millimeters and was still slightly higher. In addition, it was constructed of three parts: besides the bezel and the corpus, Bodenein’s own component now forms. In the eyes of many purists, the two-piece construction of the 3700/1a is more interesting, since in their view it reflects the nature of the porthole design.

A new movement for the Nautilus

Another aspect that also affected the appearance of the enclosure was the use of a new movement. More specifically, Patek Philippe decided to add a second hand to the new model. This second hand changed the appearance of the watch considerably, as the bezel became so slightly higher. Apparently, Gérald Genta had a weakness for clocks that only showed the hours and minutes, so the original Royal Oak did not have a second hand.

So the Nautilus dial changed

The dial also changed its appearance in the new edition of 2006: its pattern remained the same, but Patek Philippe changed the colour. The dial of the new Nautilus is “electric” because the green-blue colour changes depending on how you move the watch back and forth in the light. The 3700/1a, on the other hand, always shows the same bluish colour of the dial, no matter what angle you look at it. The label ‘ Patek Philippe ‘ and ‘ Geneve ‘ moved with the newer model a little bit towards 12 o’clock and the typeface also changed. The typography of the 3700/1a corresponds to the style of the 1970s and works more massively compared to the subsequent model. Looking at the pointers, the difference between the 5711/1a with second hand and the two-3700/1a falls into the eye immediately. It is probably a matter of taste and habit, but the dial of the 3700/1a has a quieter aura for me.

The movement: How the Nautilus is driven

When Patek Philippe introduced the Nautilus, the automatic caliber 28-255C was used. This ultra work is based on the caliber Jaeger-LeCoultre 920 and thus on the same work that was used 1972 in the Royal Oak Reference 5402 of Audemars Piguet. This work, used by Audemars Piguet as a caliber 2121, has a height of only 3.05 millimeters (including the rotor) and does not have a second hand. The rotor moves on rails, not with a ball bearing.

In the 2006 model, the automatic caliber is ticking 324 s C. It was developed and manufactured by Patek Philippe in-house. A beautifully finissiertes and constructed movement that is not as flat as its predecessor, but is now visible through a sapphire crystal floor.

The housing differences of the Nautilus-references 3700/1a and 5711/1a

Due to the three-part housing with the caliber 324 s C, the model 5711/1a differs somewhat from the model 3700/1a. The housing is higher, the distance between the dial and sapphire glass is greater due to the second hand, and there is a sapphire crystal floor. Nevertheless, in my opinion, Patek Philippe managed to preserve the sleek and elegant design of the Nautilus.

The bracelet of the Nautilus

Many sports watches have a massive and solid looking bracelet. In contrast, the Nautilus bracelets are very thin and supple. When wearing is hardly a difference between the bracelet of the Ur-Nautilus and the newer version of 2006 to feel. The biggest difference is in the folding clasp. The band of the Nautilus 3700/1a has a fairly simple locking mechanism consisting of two metal parts without special machining or engraving. It still serves its purpose. For added safety, there is also a folding buckle so that the clasp cannot come on accidentally.

The band of the 5711/1a, on the other hand, has a double folding clasp with safety lock. This bracelet looks much better in my view and meets the requirements of a modern luxury. Both bracelets carry an engraved Patek-Philippe logo.

Which Nautilus should I buy now?

What remains is the question: “Vintage nautilus or New model?” This is not easy to answer because buyers of such timepieces have mainly emotional reasons for their purchase. Apart from the fact that you cannot make a mishandling with any of these clocks, there are some differences in the design of the housing, the movement and the dial, which may allow the purists to reach the Nautilus reference 3700/1a. If you, on the other hand, appreciate the design, the success and the high production depth of Patek Philippe, but you do not want to have a second time watch or the possibly high price for the repair of a vintage watch, then you would probably prefer a New Nautilus. For those who are travelling a lot, a further Nautilus model has been available since 2014: The Nautilus travel time chronograph with second time zone and chronograph. 2015 Patek Philippe introduced another variant: the reference 5711/1 with Roségoldgehäuse and a dial with a light-dark brown gradient.

Continuously updated article, originally posted online in April 2013.

Robert-Jan Broer, born in 1977, lives in the Netherlands. His passion is watches. He is the author of various watch magazines and has been operating the blog Fratellowatches since 2004. On we provide you with his articles in German: our site.

Tags: automatic watches, stainless steel watches, gold watch, manufactory caliber, Patek Philippe, Patek Philippe Nautilus, Swiss watches, sports watches, vintage watches