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The Patek Philippe Nautilus: Everything You Need to Know

A thorough primer on one of the most important watches ever made.

gerald genta heritage audemars piguet watches
Gerald Genta Heritage

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The Patek Philippe Nautilus is one of two watches that introduced the world to the concept of the "luxury sports watch" — a steel timepiece with an integrated bracelet that is, in many cases, more expensive than a precious metal watch in equivalent weight. Though the Nautilus product line does indeed include precious metal watches, it’s the steel, time-and-date model — currently embodied by the reference 5711 — that has become iconic and emblematic of this category of watches. And given that Patek is retiring this now-legendary reference after nearly 20 years, we thought it was time we dove deep into the world of this fascinating wristwatch, including history, purchasing, favorite references and more.

The Genesis of the Nautilus

Gérald Genta. Ever heard of this dude?

Arguably, there’s no single more important person than Genta when it comes to watch design over the past 50 years. It was Genta who crafted the Royal Oak for Audemars Piguet in 1972, and the Nautilus for Patek Philippe in 1976. These two timepieces were arguably the first “luxury sport watches” in the world. And what the heck does that even mean, exactly?

Well, you’ve gotta understand that before the Royal Oak and the Nautilus, a steel sports watch, like the Rolex Submariner, was really and truly a tool. An enlisted soldier might buy one in a post exchange in Southeast Asia — for a month’s salary, to be fair — and then wear it on operations against the Vietcong. That sort of thing. It certainly wasn’t something to be precious about.

gérald genta original prototype design of the patek philippe nautilus
An original early drawing of the Nautilus by its designer Gerald Genta.
Courtesy of Sotheby's

That changed during the Quartz Crisis. In 1969 the world was hit with the first battery-powered quartz watch. Despite the fact that this tech was wildly expensive when it first debuted, the writing was on the wall for the Swiss watch industry: Cheap, accurate and robust battery-powered watches from Asia had the power to make mechanical watchmaking obsolete. And all the more so if the storied brands continued to produce stuffy, dated designs without innovating. They needed to do something bold if they were going to survive.

Enter Genta. His designs for both the Royal Oak and the Nautilus were a revelation. Nautically-inspired and featuring integrated bracelets and automatic movements, they were suffused with high-quality finishing and inspired industrial design. And they were expensive — like, ludicrously expensive for something not executed in precious metals. "One of the world’s costliest watches is made of steel," an early Nautilus guide boasted. Not exactly subtle, but it worked.

Boy, did it work; buyers positively flocked to these two designs. The Nautilus reference 3700/1 cost $3,100 in 1976 — roughly $15,300 today. Now, that might not seem absurd in today’s, ahem, wildly absurd watch market. But imagine the sticker shock in the mid-70s, a time of rapid inflation and double-digit interest rates. Certainly, the Nautilus was no “tool watch” despite its steel housing — it was a luxury product, for wealthy people. And it has only become more so.

The Design of the Nautilus

But let’s backtrack for a second. We mentioned that both the Audemars Piguet and the Patek Philippe Nautilus were designed by Gérald Genta. But what is the Nautilus? What makes it special?

Genta took inspiration from the porthole on a transatlantic ocean liner for the watch’s case — even the two “ears” are present, the hinges on either side of the porthole on which it swings open and closed form part of the design. Patek formed the case from a steel alloy of nickel, chrome and molybdenum, which was known at the time both for its strength and relative lightness.

nautilus patek philippe ad
A vintage ad for the Nautilus which also shows it in gold.
Millenary Watches

The watch’s dial was simple, consisting of thin, rounded sword hands, matching applied indices, and a date window at 3 o’clock, all against a unique background with embossed, horizontal striping. And it was powered by the ultra-thin Calibre 28-255C movement, based on the Calibre 920 from Jaeger-LeCoultre with in-house finishing by Patek. (Somewhat unsurprisingly, given the similarity of their designs, this was the very same movement used to power the original Royal Oak.) Thinness was a major factor in Genta's approach.

The steel bracelet, which is integrated into the case, was also a design revelation. Most other 20th-century watches featured bracelets that could easily be detached and swapped for a simple leather or other band. Not so the Nautilus — the steel bracelet is an integral part of the package and design vision, and with its elegant H-links and rounded, rectangular center links, has become something of an icon in and of itself.

The Nautilus Today

Upon the release of the reference 5711/1A in 2006 — which marked the 30th anniversary of the Nautilus — we entered into full Nautilus Fever. Slightly larger than the original at 40mm, it was still a wildly thin sports watch at just 8.3mm. Everyone wanted one, and no one could find one — wait lists stretched, supposedly, a decade-plus long. And this was for the opportunity to pay $33,000+ for a steel watch at retail. (At least it featured an in-house movement, so collectors can check that particular box as they try to justify themselves to a murderous spouse.)

There are other Nautili, but this simple, time-only version was — and is still, actually — the watch that everyone and their mother is fighting over. Or, at least, it was so until February of 2021, when Patek discontinued it, sending shock waves through the industry: Time stopped. Burly Viking men burst into tears. A tree fell in a forest somewhere but no one was around to confirm it’s felling because everyone was busy clamoring to get into Tourneau.

Something else happened, too, which is that prices on the secondary market increased by more than $100,000. Then, in April of 2021, at the Watches & Wonders show, Patek released a green-dial version of the 5711 — ostensibly the reference’s “victory lap.” The ref. 5711/1A-014 retailed for $34,890, and if you couldn’t get your hands on a 5711 before, now you really couldn’t get your hands on one.

nautilus patek philippe ad
A vintage ad emphasizing the Nautilus’s water resistance.
Millenary Watches

But wait — there’s more. The true, final ref. 5711 wasn’t the aforementioned, hand grenade-green version, but a special Tiffany-blue iteration created as a limited edition for the legendary New York retailer. With its signature light blue dial and Tiffany “stamp,” now here was a watch that was truly unobtanium. In fact, one of the 170 pieces created for Tiffany’s 170th anniversary was auctioned off during the Phillips 2021 New York Watch Auction in December 2021 for over $6M. (The sale benefitted The Nature Conservancy — but still. Six. Million. Dollars.)

Now, the world is eagerly awaiting whatever Patek has up its sleeve to succeed the 5711. Rumor has it that we’re in for a “6711” — one execution in titanium and one in platinum, neither of which will feature a date. Other supposed features include the classic striped, guilloché dial, a case diameter increase to 41mm, and a two-position micro-adjust on either side of the bracelet’s butterfly clasp. Thierry Stern, President of Patek Philippe, is quoted in The New York Times as saying, “The replacement for the Reference 5711 will be pretty big. It will be better than the Reference 5711, but I’m not going to say today what metal it will use, or if it will be in steel. It will be something else, very close, and logical.” So take from that what you will.

But this is all speculation at this point. For all we know, Patek has an inside man or woman planting mocked-up, fake Nautili across the internet in a mass misinformation campaign — the Operation Mincemeat of 21st-century horology.

Buying a Nautilus at Retail

LOL.

Buying a Nautilus, Period

What are you asking us for? We’re journalists — does it look like we buy $200,000 watches?

Ok, but seriously. The classic watch-buying model of the 20th century — walk into an authorized dealer; purchase or place an order for a watch you’re interested in; walk out with said watch — is long since dead for certain steel, luxury sports watches. At some point over the last 20 or so years the model became: Walk into an authorized dealer; establish a relationship with said dealer; possibly buy some watches you don’t actually want in order to curry favor with said dealer; express your interest in the steel watch you actually want; wait until said watch is available to you; purchase your allocation; and then face the wrath of your spouse.

But we’re beyond even this particular brand of silliness now. Nowadays, you can do all of the above and still wait years for the possibility of being given an allocation of your dream watch. So where is one to turn, especially if said watch is discontinued? The secondary market, of course.

Reputable dealers of pre-owned and vintage watches are your only choice for discontinued pieces, and in many cases, for new steel luxury sport watches — should you not want to wait eons for one. Be prepared to pay well over retail — like, multiples of retail — but such is life in a free market economy. Get used to it. Reach out to a dealer you trust — such as Analog/Shift, Wind Vintage, HQ Milton, or others — and get crackin’.

Notable Nautilus Models

Our aim here isn’t to touch upon every single men’s Nautilus ever made — that would be absurd, and besides, I still have to go food shopping today, and I’d like to be drinking by 5pm (it’s now 11:10). What we’re going to do is give you a survey of some of the most Notable Nautili, and for everything else, you can resort to Google, Patek Philippe’s website, and our archives.

Reference 3700 “Jumbo”

reference 3700 “jumbo”
Sotheby's

The O.G. Nautilus. The Big Daddy. The progenitor. The ref. 3700/1A debuted in 1976 and shocked the watch world. (It’s 42mm — huge! It’s steel — and costs more than a gold watch! It’s automatic when quartz is all the rage!) Yes, it was all these things. And thanks to the design genius of Gérald Genta and the commercial foresight of Philippe Stern, it carried Patek Philippe on a wave of success and horological glory. Also note that several versions were eventually made, some of which were indeed in precious metals.

Production Run: 1976-1990 (in several versions)
Diameter: 42mm
Movement: LeCoultre Calibre 28-255C (*Patek’s numbering convention)
Complications: Date

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Reference 3800

reference 3800 watch
Sotheby's

Not everyone was ready to accept a 42mm behemoth of a watch in the mid-1970s. (Well, a behemoth by ‘70s standards, anyway.) The ref. 3800 brought the Nautilus case diameter down to 37.5mm while retaining the ref. 3700’s design — the monobloc case is still present, as is the integrated bracelet and now-iconic bezel. However, a central seconds hand was added, which was conspicuously missing on the 3700, and which arguably gave the 3800 more utility. Also notable is the inclusion of an in-house, beautifully finished, Patek-made movement, the Calibre 335 SC.

Production Run: 1981-2007
Diameter: 37.5 mm
Movement: Patek Philippe Calibre 335 SC
Complications: Date

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Reference 5060

reference 5060
Phillips

While it may not exactly be a beloved Nautilus model, the ref. 5060 is important for another reason: It’s essentially the watch that became the Aquanaut, and spawned an entirely new collection. Unlike other Nautili, it has lugs and doesn’t have the famed case “ears,” and originally came in yellow gold. (On its leather strap and with its 35mm diameter, it seems like it was meant to be the “fancy Nautilus.”) It was later made in steel in an execution that clearly shows the early lineage of the Aquanaut line.

Production Run: 1996-2002
Diameter: 35mm
Movement: Patek Philippe Calibre 330/194
Complications: Date

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Reference 3710

reference 3710
A Collected Man

By 1998, Patek was back in “Jumbo” territory, introducing the ref. 3710 with a 42mm case. Featuring round baton hands mixed with Roman numerals, it was a departure from the original Genta dial design — though it wasn’t the first Nautilus to feature such a dial. The inclusion of a power reserve indicator at roughly 11:30 necessitated a move of the Patek Philippe logo to 6 o’clock, making for a unique look. Available only in steel with a black dial, it featured an in-house Patek Philippe automatic movement.

Production Run: 1998-2006
Diameter: 42mm
Movement: Patek Philippe Calibre 330SC
Complications: Date; Power reserve indicator

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Reference 3711

reference 3711
Collector Square

An evolution of the original ref. 3700 “Jumbo,” the ref. 3711 was a 42mm watch with all the Nautilus fixin’s — integrated bracelet, case “ears,” octagonal bezel,” etc. — but with a sapphire case back, and made only in white gold. Powered by the Patek Philippe Calibre 315 SC automatic movement, it featured a black, embossed dial and applied baton indices to match its handset. Produced for only two years, it was succeeded by a modern legend: the reference 5711.

Production Run: 2004-2006
Diameter: 42mm
Movement: Patek Philippe Calibre 315SC
Complications: Date

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Reference 3712

reference 3712
A Collected Man

This slightly oddball reference — produced for just one year — features a 42mm monobloc case and a sapphire case back. Its dial features a running seconds subdial; combination date and moonphase indicator; and a power reserve indicator. Powered by the Calibre 240 PS IRM C LU with micro-rotor, it was succeeded in 2006 by the ref. 5712 with three-piece case construction, which joined the time-and-date ref. 5711, mid-size ref. 5800, and ref. 5980 chronograph.

Production Run: 2005-2006
Diameter: 42mm
Movement: Patek Philippe Calibre 240 PS IRM C LU
Complications: Moon phase; date; power reserve

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Reference 5711

reference 5711 watch
Watch Centre

In time for the Nautilus collection’s 30th anniversary in 2006, Patek, rather than simply issuing celebratory limited editions, introduced a completely new sub-collection. With its iconic porthole-inspired design, the steel 5711/1A is a clear evolution of the ref. 3700 from 1976, though its case was now of a three-part construction, with distinct central piece, bezel, and sapphire case back. The iconic case “ears” were also slightly curved, though the case now measured 40mm instead of 42mm. A triple-folding buckle plus a central seconds hand provide a more modern feel than that of the 3700. Different dial colors and precious metal versions abound.

Production Run: 2006-2021 (in several versions)
Diameter: 40mm
Movement: Patek Philippe Calibre 324SC
Complications: Date

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Reference 5980

reference 5980 watch
Patek Philippe

In 2006, Patek added a chronograph to the Nautilus collection. Its power plant, the Calibre CH 28-520, was Patek’s first in-house automatic chronograph movement, and also powered the Ref. 5960P annual calendar in a more elaborate form. Upsized to 40.5mm, the ref. 5980 utilized the modern, three-part case structure of the ref. 5711 and features a sapphire case back and the 120m of water resistance of its predecessors. Its unique layout — with a single subdial for elapsed minutes and hours, plus a central chronograph seconds hand — gives it an instantly recognizable flair.

Production Run: 2006-Present (in several versions)
Diameter: 41.5mm
Movement: Patek Philippe Calibre CH 28-520
Complications: Chronograph; Date

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Reference 5990

reference 5990
Patek Philippe

This reference added a complication for which Patek is known and beloved: the travel time. Measuring 40.5mm, its case is joined by pushers that flank the crown and advance the hour hand forward or back in one-hour increments. Powered by the in-house Calibre CH 28-520 C, it displays elapsed minutes at 6 o’clock via a flyback mechanism; a second time zone via a fourth, central hand; day and night indicators for local and home time; and a date wheel at 12 o’clock. Several versions of this reference were produced, though only the rose gold version remains in the Patek catalog.

Production Run: 2014-Present (in several versions)
Diameter: 40.5mm
Movement: Patek Philippe Calibre CH 28-520 C
Complications: Dual-time zone; Date; Flyback chronograph; Date
Retail Price: $114,730

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Reference 5740

reference 5740
Patek Philippe

With its beautifully balanced dial, the ref. 5740 added a perpetual calendar to the Nautilus collection in 2018. Available in white gold, it features a 40mm case matched to a handsome blue sunburst dial with applied gold baton indices. Powering the watch is the Calibre 240 Q with day, date, month, leap year and 24-hour indications. Thankfully, its micro-rotor and beautiful finishing are on full display via the ref. 5740’s sapphire display caseback. Somehow, the entire package measures only 8.32mm thick.

Production Run: 2018-Present
Diameter: 40mm
Movement: Patek Philippe Calibre Calibre 240 Q
Complications: Perpetual calendar
Retail Price: $145,480

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