This year marks the 40th anniversary of one of Patek Philippe’s iconic collections: the Nautilus. Interestingly enough, at Baselworld 2016, the brand opted not to show a single Nautilus watch. Why? Because secrets make better surprises. Sometime this year, Patek Philippe will have a grand unveiling of new Nautilus timepieces designed to celebrate this momentous year. This gives us a great opportunity to take a little time and a close-up look at the famed Nautilus, its birth and growth.
Since its inception, Patek Philippe has had a reputation of being a traditional, perhaps even conservative, brand. Its designs were refined, but not typically apt to shock. Progression was often made in evolution, rather than revolution-fine-tuning details until absolute perfection had been reached. That is why to many, Patek Philippe has become the pinnacle of Haute Horlogerie. And then, in the 1970’s, the brand unveiled a timepiece that made most people sit up and take notice: Nautilus.
Predominantly known for its ultra-slim and complicated dress watches, Patek Philippe sailed into seemingly unfamiliar territory when the Nautilus was introduced in 1976. A sports watch, surprisingly crafted from steel, seemed way out of Patek Philippe’s comfort zone, yet turned out to be spot on. In fact, the Nautilus became the founding father of an entirely new category of watches: that of ultra-refined, high-end, steel sports watches. The Nautilus was designed by Gerald Genta, who took inspiration from the porthole of a luxurious transatlantic ocean liner that had been popular in the early 1900s. It was packed with innovations, and displayed the technical prowess of the Geneva brand.
The watch had an innovative construction where a monocoque case was attached to the hallmark octagonal bezel, secured by four lateral screws hidden in the “ears” of the watch. The beauty of this construction was that it divided the pressure under water equally so that when the pressure got higher it actually pushed the watch tighter into its rubber gaskets, increasing its water resistance. This resulted in a water resistance rating over 120 meters—quite impressive for a watch that was never intended to be a diver’s watch.
This first Nautilus, with reference 3700/1, would later be nicknamed “Jumbo,” thanks to its then-generous size of 42mm. Refinement of the design made it a very wearable watch. The integrated bracelet comfortably follows the curve of the wrist; the sides of the bezel that highlight the porthole look of the watch, and the legible dial with gold baton markers on top of a black, horizontally grooved dial, all contribute to this. With an overall height of just 7.60mm the Nautilus was also quite slender, thanks to caliber 28-255 C, which was in fact based on Jaeger-LeCoultre caliber 920, a movement which Jaeger-LeCoultre never used in one of its own watches. Patek Philippe was not the only one that used this movement, because the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and the Vacheron Constantin 222 also used this movement as a base. The rotor of this movement does not use the common ball bearings, but runs on circular rails, and features a gold insert to increase its weight and winding efficiency. With the rotor attached, its height is only 3.05mm.