In a world in which large steel sports watches have become commonplace, it’s hard to comprehend how groundbreaking the iconic Nautilus 3700/1 was when it launched in 1976
Forty — certainly not old, but not exactly young, either. The Patek Philippe Nautilus was born in 1976 and helped to re-energise the world of high-end Swiss watches, which was in the midst of ‘the quartz crisis’ at the time. As the watch industry reeled from the arrival of the battery-powered watch and its far-reaching consequences, Patek Philippe boldly released a watch designed by Gérald Genta.
Now considered iconic and an integral part of Patek Philippe’s identity, at the time it was a huge risk for the company to produce a watch so different from anything it had done before. An oversized and expensive steel mechanical automatic in a world in which ultra-thin gold-bracelet quartz watches were the envy of the disco generation, the Nautilus made a statement that was heard around the world.
That statement continues to resonate today, as the Nautilus evolves in new and unexpected ways. But for all the twists and turns over the course of its 40-year history, the Nautilus has stayed true to its DNA. Here, in anticipation of Christie’s four Nautilus | 40 auctions — in Dubai, Geneva, Hong Kong and New York — International Head of Watches John Reardon shares six ‘secrets’ about this iconic watch.
1. It was designed in a restaurant
In an interview in 2009, Gérald Genta discussed the moment in which he was inspired to design the watch now known as the Nautilus. It was the mid-1970s and he was sitting in a restaurant during the Basel Fair. ‘Some people from Patek were sitting in one corner of the dining hall, while I was sitting alone in the other corner,’ he recalled. ‘I told the head waiter, “Bring me a piece of paper and a pencil, I want to design something,” and I designed the Nautilus while observing the people from Patek eating! It was a sketch that I completed in five minutes… It very quickly met with success. I made the prototype in my studio and its success was accelerated.’
The design was based on the shape of the porthole of a transatlantic liner, with wide bezel and ‘ears’ at each side evoking the large hinges of those watertight windows.
2. Its price point was a calculated risk
When the Nautilus was first released in 1976, the original retail price for this time-only watch was $3,100. It was a bold price and a bold design for the time — by comparison, a Patek Philippe mechanical wristwatch in 18k-gold with an 18k-gold mesh bracelet retailed for just under $4,000, and a steel Rolex Daytona chronograph retailed for just under $1,000.
3. It shares a movement with another Gérald Genta masterpiece
The first Nautilus reference 3700 watch contained the calibre 28-255C, made with the Jaeger-LeCoultre calibre 920 and finished in-house by Patek Philippe. In fact, this is the same movement that was used in early examples of one of Gérald Genta’s other masterpieces of design — the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. This movement was considered one of the best ultra-thin automatic calibres of the time.