Patek Philippe Nautilus – a watch icon of the 20th century

/ Watches

Most people think of Jules Verne and Captain Nemo when they hear the name "Nautilus". Many watch enthusiasts, however, associate it with one of the most legendary and prestigious wristwatches ever produced: the Patek Philippe Nautilus. (Whose name is actually inspired by Jules Verne, by the way.)

Its story begins in 1976 when Patek Philippe presented the first Nautilus Ref. 3700 / 01A at the Baselworld Watch Fair. And as with many watch icons, it wasn't a real success story at the beginning. So until 1990 a total of only about 4,800 copies were made.

The competitor Audemars Piguet had already presented the Royal Oak in 1972 (see also our related blog post)) - a very large luxury watch made of steel at an extremely high price and with a revolutionary design that was designed by Gérald Genta. Although the Royal Oak also had problems at the beginning, after a while it became a real bestseller. Even today, including its variants such as the Royal Oak Offshore, it is the most famous model from Audemars Piguet.

Gérald Genta approached Patek Philippe with a similar concept. And although the company president at the time, Philippe Stern, was initially rather skeptical about Patek Philippe's fundamental focus on small, elegant and complicated gold watches, the Nautilus finally initiated in 1976 as a "luxury steel sports watch".

The advertising slogan at that time was: "They work as well with a wet suit as they do with a dinner suit." According to Phillippe Stern, the Nautilus is aimed at younger customers who travel a lot and enjoy sports. The customers also had to be rich, because the introductory price of the Nautilus in Germany was DM 4.250, which was an extremely high price for a steel watch at the time. (The Royal Oak by Audemars Piguet was sold for over 3.000 Francs when it was launched in 1972, which was also an exorbitantly high price.)


The first Nautilus reference 3700/01A AUS 1976

The design of the first Nautilus Ref. 3700 / 01A (and all subsequent references) clearly showed the handwriting of Gérald Genta and could not deny its similarity to the Royal Oak by Audemars Piguet. The case was 42 mm in diameter (diagonally), which was unusually large for 1976. Watch collectors who became aware of the model also had the right nickname for the watch: "Jumbo". (Incidentally, this was also used for the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak.) The low height of only 7.6 mm gave it a thoroughly elegant appearance.

The Patek Philippe caliber 28-255C (based on the Jaeger LeCoultre caliber 920) was ticking inside the watch. This is also a similarity to the Royal Oak by Audemars Piguet, in which long movements by Jaeger LeCoultre were also installed.

Although the Nautilus shows similarities to the Royal Oak, it is designed much "softer" compared to this. The corners and edges that are so typical of the Royal Oak are missing on the case and bezel. Everything flows and is somehow "round". The bezel has a rounded octagonal shape and is reminiscent of the porthole windows of the ocean steamers. (Which brings us to the next content-related parallel to the Royal Oak, in which the shape of the bezel also has a maritime reference.)

In contrast to today's models, the case was only constructed in two parts, with the middle part and the base made from a single steel block. The bezel with the glass was shaped in such a way that it was attached to the case via two side hinges with 4 screws. There was also a rubber seal between the case and the bezel. With this unique construction, the watch was water-resistant to 120 meters.

The dial was (and is) striated with white golden bar indixes and hands. Interestingly, the very first copies (factory numbers approx. 1300001 to approx. 1303600) show a minute track made up of small lines. However, this was soon changed to the design using dots that is typical today. The very first Nautilus watches had the inscription “σ SWISS σ” on their dials at 6 o'clock.

The first series of the Nautilus (Ref. 3700 / 01A) was built until around 1982 and comprised around 3.500 copies. This was followed by the reference 3700 / 011A, which differed in some details from the 3700 / 01A and was built until around 1990. Only 1.300 of these watches were made. The quartz crisis in the Swiss watch industry was probably to blame.

The original Nautilus Ref. 3700 in steel was introduced in 1976 and is today the "Holy Grail" of every Patek Philippe collector. The prices start (January 2020) from approx. 80.000 EUR and go well beyond that, depending on the condition, age and documentation. Models of the very first series (with dashed minute markers instead of dot minute markers) are almost impossible to find and if they are, the prices are extremely expensive even for Patek Philippe standards.

The development of the nautilus

Overall, the introduction of the Nautilus was a great success for Patek Philippe. Today there is a whole family of watches under the name "Nautilus", which includes men's and women's watches with several variations (chronograph, second time zone, power reserve, moon phase, etc.) and in different materials.

Today the cases are in three parts and have a glass bottom. Some of the movements are also completely in-house. In the reference 5711 / 1A, the successor to the original Nautilus 3700, the Patek Philippe caliber 26-330 S C is used.

From the meanwhile several variations of the Nautilus, the following men's models stand out in particular - there are currently around 30 Nautilus models - in addition to the legendary original reference 3700,:


Important models up till 2005

  • 3800 / 1A (1981): The Nautilus in midsize format with 37.5 mm. In contrast to the 3700, the 3800 also had a second hand.

Patek Philippe Nautilus Ref. 3800 in a steel and yellow gold version.

  • 3712 (2005): With moon phase. This version was built for just under a year and then replaced by the optically almost identical 5712 / 1A. The 3712 is therefore a very popular collector's watch.

Models for then 30th anniversary 2006


  • 5711 / 1A (2006): The direct successor to the original Nautilus 3700, which was launched on the 30th anniversary and has now grown to 43 mm in diameter in the diagonal. The case construction was changed and since then consists of 3 parts (instead of only 2 as originally) with a transparent screwed case back made of sapphire glass. A caliber 26-330 S C ticks inside.

Patek Philippe Nautilus Reference 5711

  • 5712 / 1A (2006): With moon phase. The Ref. 5712 is the successor to the Ref. 3712 and shows the following differences: 1 mm larger case diameter, three-part case, more intense blue tone of the dial, detailed changes to the design of the dial. The movement, however, is the same on both models (caliber 240 PS IRM C LU).

Patek Philippe Ref. 5712 in steel.

Patek Philippe Ref. 5712 in white gold

Patek Philippe Ref. 5712 in rose gold.

  • 5800 (2006): Smaller version of the 5711 with 38.4 mm (diagonal) diameter.
  • 5980 / 1A (2006): With a chronograph in a 44 mm (diagonal) case and the new caliber CH28-520 C.

Patek Philippe Nautilus Ref. 5980 in steel.

Patek Philippe Nautilus Ref. 5980 in rose gold.

Important models beginning in 2012


  • 5726 / A (2012): With annual calendar. This model is also available with a white dial.
  • 5990 / 1A (2014): The "Nautilus Travel Time Chronograph" with chronograph and second time zone.

Patek Philippe Nautilus Ref. 5990 with chronograph and second time zone

Models 40th anniversary in 2016


  • 5976 / 1G (2016): Anniversary model for the 40th birthday with chronograph, made of white gold with a blue dial and diamond indexes.
  • 5711 / 1P (2016): Also an anniversary model for the 40th birthday, made of platinum and with a blue dial and diamond indeces.


Whichever model you own, every owner of a Nautilus can be sure that they are wearing a very special and very exclusive piece of watch history. But as the saying goes at Patek Philippe: "You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation."

If you are lucky enough to have a Nautilus 3700 from the 1970s, you meanwhile own a real fortune. Such models with the later dial with dot-minute track are traded without paper and box beginning around 80.000 EUR (as of December 2019, source: chrono24). The very first models with dials that have line indices for the minute track are being traded many times over this price range.

You will always find interesting Patek Philippe Nautilus models at Bargello. All watches are sold with a 2 year Bargello guarantee. We ship fully insured worldwide.


Patek Philippe watches at Bargello

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