When I began my journey down the horological rabbit hole, I was familiar with Rolex, TagHeuer, Omega and other highly marketed watch brands. I never realized that there was a level far beyond them in terms of craftsmanship, prestige, and technology–the height of what the Swiss watch industry can achieve—and the main focus today, the Patek Philippe Nautilus.
If you ask a large majority of the watch enthusiast community, Patek is at the top of the horological pyramid, found on the wrists of A-list celebrities, top-class athletes, wealthy businessmen and women.
In 1972, horological powerhouse Audemars Piguet began designing their version of a stainless steel sports watch, known today as the Royal Oak. This development would open new doors to using stainless steel in luxury timepieces and spark the fire in Patek Philippe to respond with their own creation.
When thinking of concepts for their new watch, Patek wanted to innovate and create a facelift for the brand while maintaining its watch-making traditions. The target market for this watch would be dynamic business managers and newer generations of professionals. The missing piece of the puzzle was seeking the person who would bring this creation to life, and that person was the creator of the Royal Oak, itself, Gerald Genta.
A watchmaker ahead of his time, Genta developed watches for brands such as Omega (Constellation), an early piece with Patek (Golden Ellipse), Audemars Piguet (Royal Oak) and IWC (Ingenieur). With his extraordinary level of expertise and existing knowledge of AP, Patek gave him the wheel to create their stainless steel sports watch. As Genta tells it, he sketched the design of the Nautilus in 5 minutes while eating at a hotel restaurant.
The name Nautilus is derived from Jules Vergne’s classic novel, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, in which the vessel operated by Captain Nemo is named Nautilus. A boat’s porthole inspired the watch’s design, specifically those found on trans Atlantic liners. The design of the case and bezel features a soft octagonal structure. These softer angles from a distance make the watch look perfectly circular, but up close, you can see the lines that give the bezel and case its octagonal shape.
The name for the watch is slightly ironic because it wasn’t designed or created as a diver or a watch built for water, yet it offered 120m of water resistance. The construction of the watch with its wide lugs and wings on either side of the case allowed for more compression on the rubber seal inside, generating more water resistance as pressure grew.
In 1976, four years after the release of Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak, Patek would unveil the Nautilus to the world, with the 3700/1 being the first reference released. This reference is often referred to as the “Jumbo” due to its larger 42mm diameter. While 42mm was considered very large for the time, the watch measured only 7.6mm thick. Powering the Nautilus would be an automatic calibre 28-255C, inspired by Jaeger’s automatic movement, the calibre 920.
The Nautilus is one of the most significant horological creations ever made and will continue to be at the forefront of high-end Swiss watch-making for generations to come. From a simple sketch to a living legend created by one of the most excellent horological minds, the iconic Nautilus continues to evolve and change while maintaining its classic porthole aesthetic. While there are many options in the high-end categories, Patek never fails to turn heads and put itself in the spotlight.
Born into a family obsessed with motorsport, Tyler Frederick became enamoured with speed and beautiful cars at a young age. His love of Formula 1–and all things mechanical–eventually lead him to horology. Tyler also writes for Montres Publiques. You can follow him on Instagram.
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