A Deep Dive Into the History of Patek Philippe’s Nautilus

Swiss luxury watch and clock manufacturer Patek Philippe introduced the Nautilus timepiece in 1976. However, it wasn’t the first high-end sports watch available in steel, as Audemars Piguet released the coveted Royal Oak watch in 1972. Still, the Nautilus commanded higher prices, and the advertisements for the first model stressed this idea with the tagline, “One of the world’s costliest watches is made of steel.” The Nautilus’ unique shape drew attention as well. The bezel wasn’t round or rectangular. Instead, it’s an octagon whose edges curve outward. The Nautilus has a diameter of 42 mm, which made it ahead of its time in terms of size. In comparison, this renowned Patek Philippe watch was 3 mm bigger than the Royal Oak.

Who designed the Nautilus watch?

In 1974, Gérald Genta — the man behind the design of Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak watches — showed his sketch for the Nautilus to Patek Philippe. A ship’s porthole was Genta’s inspiration for the unusual shape of the case, which had a rounded octagonal bezel, as well as “ears” on the case for a closure on one side and a hinge on the other. Embossed horizontal indentations on the dial and the attached metal bracelet contributed to the watch’s distinctive appeal, making it easy to recognize.

During this time, Patek Philippe collections were predominantly of elegant gold timepieces with sophisticated features, including minute repeaters and perpetual calendars. Therefore, some questioned whether such a sizable and sporty timepiece would be an appropriate addition. Regardless, Patek Philippe introduced the now-iconic watch under the name “Nautilus” about two years later.

Where does the name “Nautilus” come from?

“Nautilus” derives from the submarine showcased in Jules Verne’s classic novel called 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Verne depicted the portholes on Captain Nemo’s submarine as having an oval shape. The timepiece’s resemblance to the porthole is not only visual, however. Similar to a porthole, the sides of the watch helped attach the bezel to the case, so there is only one opening, besides the crown. The dial and the movement of the timepiece are both removed out of the case from the front. The Nautilus’ construction was crucial to achieving its water resistance of 120 meters, which, at the time, was impressive. The name “Nautilus” emphasizes this important feature. In another ad campaign, the Nautilus was on two different wrists: one on a man in a diving suit, and the other on the wrist of someone in a coat and tie.

What powered the Nautilus?

The thin self-winding movement 28-255, which Jaeger-LeCoultre developed in 1967 for Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, and Vacheron Constantin, powered the Nautilus. Audemars Piguet first used it in the Royal Oak and designated Caliber 2121.

When did the Nautilus become popular?

Demand for Patek Philippe’s first luxury sports watch was slow at first, but sales skyrocketed in 1980 when Patek Philippe launched a version of the Nautilus for women, which had a quartz movement. And, about a year later, the Swiss manufacturer introduced a mid-size men’s version that measured only 37 mm in diameter.

When did Patek Philippe stop producing the original Nautilus?

In 1996, Patek Philippine offered a Nautilus model that featured Roman numerals and a smooth dial. Stunning gold versions were available soon thereafter. Once the smaller varieties of the Nautilus became widespread, watch collectors and enthusiasts started calling the original, larger Nautilus model as “Jumbo.” Unfortunately, production of this model ceased in 1990. As a result, it continues to command top prices at auctions.

Two years later, the Swiss brand introduced a Nautilus in its original 42-mm size. However, this revamped model had Roman numerals instead of digits, and it had a power-reserve indicator.

The Nautilus in the early 2000s

In celebration of the Nautilus’ 30th anniversary in 2006, Patek Philippe improved the collection by launching a rounder case shape and a refashioned case design. Unlike previous models, the case did not consist of a merged base and mid-section with a top. Instead, it had a classical three-piece case structure. Due to modern production methods, the modification did not impact the timepiece’s water resistance. And, for every model in the collection, the craftsmen rounded off the “ears” combining the bezel to the mid-section, and the wearer could view the movement through a transparent case back. Patek Philippe also refined the bracelets by giving them a more modern look.

In line with the brand’s 30th anniversary, the Swiss luxury watch manufacturer also debuted the Nautilus Chronograph, which boasted the newly developed Caliber 28-520 C. This model was the first Nautilus to have the chronograph movement with no additional functions. Take note that the combined minutes and hour counter; the flyback function for resetting the running chronograph, and the rapid calendar advance are not considered additional fun

Latest limited edition of the Nautilus

In 2016, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Nautilus, Patek Philippe introduced two limited-edition models that captivated the world. The first was a platinum version of the Nautilus with a 43-mm case. The brand limited productions to 700 pieces, and priced the commemorative piece at $113,400. The second model was a chronograph version available in white gold with a 44-mm case. This version was limited to 1,300 pieces and priced at $96,390 each.

The baguette diamonds utilized as hour markers and the etched anniversary date on the dial (40 1976-2016) were sometimes thought to be too flamboyant. And yet, despite the high prices due to the materials, these Nautilus watches remained sought after and sold out right away.

How quickly the anniversary models sold shows the desirability of this iconic timepiece. If you are one of the lucky individuals who own one of these luxury watches and you are looking to cash in on your investment, our team here at Biltmore Loan and Jewelry is interested in buying and paying competitively. To request an appraisal or free evaluation, complete our online form here or bring your authentic Nautilus watch during a scheduled appointment at our office in Scottsdale or Chandler AZ.