Are you looking to buy a Patek Philippe steel Nautilus? Then expect to be put on a waiting list for 5-10 years. … maybe longer!
In 2018, Patek raised the retail price by around 20%. That seemed to make people just want one even more! Why is the Nautilus such a hot watch? What is it about the Nautilus that makes it so desirable?
I think six factors can be identified that give some insight into what has become one of the most incredible watch stories of recent years. It should be remembered that the Nautilus was first introduced in 1976. For the first 35 years of its history it was a successful watch – but perhaps only modestly so. Over the last 7-8 years, however, it has accelerated into Rock Star status. Why has this happened?
Let me put one thing to rest straight away. The argument is made that the Nautilus is a rare watch. It is not especially rare. There has been good supply of the Nautilus for over 40 years now and each year Patek Philippe continues to deliver brand new Nautilus to its extensive array of Authorised Dealers. Supply is not the issue of change. It is demand that has gone ballistic. Why? Some could argue that the massive scale of financial quantitative easing has been a factor. It has, but it doesn’t explain why the Nautilus, specifically, has gone quite so crazy.
It still is one of the world’s costliest steel watches!
The price of a new Nautilus 3700 back in 1976? In today’s money, it was the equivalent of EUR 9300. One can expect to pay at least 10 times that now for a Ref. 3700. In terms of numbers produced, one can guess accurately that some 7000+ different examples of the Ref. 3700 were made. This is just of the Ref 3700.
So, what six factors can help explain why the Nautilus is one of today’s horological rock stars?
1) The Gerald Genta phenomenon
Look at Vincent Van Gogh. When he was alive, nobody liked his work. Once he died, an appreciation grew for his work that now has him categorised as one of the greatest artists ever. During his lifetime, Gerald Genta was admired and respected. But, following his death in 2011, his influence has become materially more significant.
It is not just the “Genta Nautilus” that has been affected by this effect. Genta designed the Royal Oak for Audemars Piguet in 1970. The Royal Oak has become the signature model for Audemars Piguet and has remained so for the next 50 years. In 1976, Genta designed the Ingenieur for IWC. Again, this was a watch with revealed screws and a very distinct persona. Today, these Genta-inspired watch styles are very much in vogue. There is no question that Genta, as a designer, is a big part behind the success story of the Nautilus. Genta’s appeal has magnified since his death.
The Nautilus is not really a sports watch. When it started out, the intention was for it to occupy the “sporty” corner of the Patek Philippe range – its design based on the shape of the porthole of a transatlantic liner. Its origins were born out of adventure rather than sport. It has never really managed to become a sports watch in the way that the Submariner did for Rolex. Nor is the Nautilus an overtly smart watch. It falls between the two. In doing so, it inadvertently occupies a space that has become very fashionable – sporty chic!
Worn with a suit, the Nautilus still looks elegant. Yet, with a pair of jeans or at the pool, it looks equally at home. This versatility allows owners to be one-watch centric. This is a big positive for many who see owning just one watch as normal (LoL). It also fits neatly into the lifestyle of many of today’s watch collecting society.
Such an easy watch to wear with a pair of jeans
3) Combining utility and quality
There was a time when Volkswagen ran an advertising campaign that had as its slogan “If only everything in life was as reliable as a Volkswagen.” VW managed to combine the utility of a small car with the reliability and quality of a much more expensive car. It hit that sweet spot that merges utility and quality. The Nautilus does exactly the same. For most people, an everyday beater is a watch that is totally reliable, fun to wear and interesting to look at. It ticks several boxes. The Nautilus manages to be that everyday beater in a way that captures all the essence of a beater but with the added benefit of being very high quality.
The movement of the Nautilus is rock-solid dependable, yet it is finished to a very high standard. Côtes de Genève, elegant sections of perlage, bevelled steel parts and bridges. It is in a different league compared with other “sports” watches.
For a “sports” watch, this is exceptional finishing.
The integrated bracelet is probably one of the finest watch bracelets available. Many fail to recognise the staggering amount of work put into the bracelet. There are some 55 different hand-finishing operations required to finish the case and bracelet, from emerizing link-undersides to satin brushing on top. Centre links are prepared – one by one – with emerizing and mirror-polishing. It is a long and arduous task ahead of the chamfering that then takes place. The bracelet adds a very distinctive and positive feel to the Nautilus.
4) A range within a range
The range of different Nautilus within Patek Philippe is now so broad that it captures almost every style of complication. From essentially time-only, to chronograph, travel time and now even perpetual calendar. This allows a buyer to pick exactly the style of Nautilus that suits their preference. This diversity now even extends to multiple metal and dial colour variations.
5) Lifestyle statement
People recognise the Rolex Submariner. The owner of a Rolex is seen as someone who has achieved a certain level of success in their life. For many, it represents a reward for hard work and achievement. It is not unimportant that the Rolex Submariner is instantly and widely recognisable courtesy of its iconic look. The Submariner is still the most instantly recognisable luxury watch on the planet.
The Nautilus operates in a similar way but with a crucially different spin. Unlike the Submariner, the Nautilus does not have universal recognition. Rather, it is only a certain type of person who can recognise it immediately. Its design is not pretentious or ostentatious. It is significantly more refined than the Submariner. In so many ways it goes under the radar. Yet, amongst that small clique of people who can recognise a Nautilus, it makes itself known. In a good way!
6) Factor X
The Porsche 911 has it. The Rolex Submariner has it. Decades of change and innovation have occurred, yet these two icons both STILL look essentially the same! They capture a certain something – an appeal – that has endured the passage of time. This ability to remain desirable through changing fashions has lifted some products into iconic status. Yes, the Submariner has it. The 911 has it. And so too does the Nautilus.
Putting it all together
When Gerald Genta was sitting having lunch at Basel and etched his first sketch of a Nautilus, would he have imagined what it would become? Elegant. Superbly made. Perenially fresh. Refined and unpretentious. It captures a certain panache. A certain sophisticated style. It also manages to pull off the ability to be both elegant and sporty.
Sketched by Genta during a lunch at Basel – it took 5 minutes
Although the Nautilus is not for everyone, I know of no serious Patek Philippe collectors who have not owned at least one Nautilus in their collection or at least had the desire to add one. The Nautilus has captured the spirit of adventure without needing to go all Indiana Jones to do so. Bravo!
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