Patek Philippe is synonymous with prestige. Its most coveted model, The Nautilus, is widely heralded as the epitome of wristwatch luxury. Just recently, GQ declared the discontinued 5711 model as the world’s most desirable watch, with prices achieving three times their RRP at auction. From its adventurous fictional heritage to its revolutionary design, the Nautilus possesses a tantalising origin story worthy of such a captivating product.
The arrival of the Nautilus in 1976 was preceded by decades of innovation in the luxury wristwatch market. Many of today’s most iconic models (Daytona, Submariner, Speedmaster etc) were born in this summer of creativity as big watchmakers strove to create products that were more precise, waterproof and stylish.
Prior to Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak (1972), steel watches had been considered the poor man’s luxury watch while sporting watches remained the lesser cousin to the expensive dress watches that flooded the market. Inspired by the Royal Oak, Patek’s Nautilus revolutionised the market during the height of the watches’ popularity. With a high-end twist on traditional conceptions of ‘elegance’, Patek revealed the value of robusity. Its stainless steel exterior represented a new vision of exclusivity and celebrated the luxury in the casual.
‘Watches, to me, are the opposite of freedom. I am an artist, a painter, I hate time because it is a constraint’ - Gerald Genta
And, yet, such words gave birth to the Nautilus. Gerald Genta, designer of the Royal Oak, approached Patek personnel at the Basel Trade Fair. Upon noting them in the corner of a hotel dining hall, Genta told the waiter: ‘bring me a piece of paper and a pencil, I want to design something’. The design for this iconic watch was thus completed in under five minutes and presented to Patek over dinner. Evoking visions of a gifted artist seizing a passing opportunity, the conception of the Nautilus remains embedded in romantic origins.
Rooted in canonical fiction, Genta claims that the model was inspired by Jules Verne’s critically acclaimed novel, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870). Adopted from the name of Captain Nemo’s submariner, the Nautilus represents adventure, exploration and, most significantly, a quest into the unknown.
Its nautical inspiration remains prevalent throughout the design. The iconic smoothed, octagonal shape appears reminiscent of a transatlantic liner’s porthole, while the two ‘ears’ represent the hinges found on either side of the ship’s portholes. Its reflective steel exterior plays with light, mirroring sunlight hitting the ocean’s surface and the horizontal groves engraved within the dial seem to evoke the robust structure of a sea vessel.
Such inspiration is pivotal to the success of the Nautilus. It draws upon the quests of Captain Nemo and promises similar exhilaration. The Nautilus has become a watch for the brave and the bold thus raising the stakes for future sporting wristwatches.
Since its conception, Patek’s Nautilus collection comprises five different models. The Swiss brand’s president, Thierry Stern told the New York Times: 'we have many other models that are more complicated and arguably more beautiful' but the Nautilus continues to captivate luxury watch buyers. Discontinued due to an unmanageable waiting list, the 5711 model demonstrates the Nautilus’s undying appeal. Only recently Patek announced the launch of four exclusive new Nautilus models ranging from £72,860 to £282,340.
As its original advertisement boasted, ‘when you set out to slay dragons in the boardroom’, the watch promises more than just sporting elegance - it guarantees adventure.