A Five Minute Sketch: the Patek Nautilus

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14. May 2019
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A Five Minute Sketch: the Patek Nautilus

When Patek Philippeintroduced the Nautilus in 1976 we can’t really say they changed the game in their category, as that was properly done by Audemars Piguet when they invented a whole new market with the Royal Oak in 1972: the luxury sports watch. During the 50’s and the 60’s only two categories of wristwatch existed: the luxury dress watches and the steel more purposeful timepieces which were cheaper (certainly not made of gold like all luxury watches at the time) and practical. AP changed the wristwatch scene when they went out with the Royal Oak, but what really drove their success was Gerald Genta’s design. Genta, now defined as a pure genius for what concerns watch design, was responsible for the design of the Royal Oak and successively of the Nautilus. The designer became famous when he proposed the RO to Audemars Piguet; a completely stainless-steel piece with an angular design, which was more expansive than the majority of gold dress watches. This was exactly what made it appealing, a luxury watch that could be fashionable and practical at the same time. Later on, Genta proposed another design to Patek Philippe, this time the design was smoother and even though it was still octagonal like the RO, it was inspired by the portholes of a ship with hinges on the sides as to enhance its similarity with them. The name came from captain Nemo’s ship from Jules Verne’s novel ‘20,000 leagues under the sea’; Genta himself, said he came up with the design in a dining hall next to Patek Philippe executives, he had created a true icon in that precise moment.

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The timepiece didn’t exactly undergo very big sales initially, mainly because of the period it was born and of its particular design: the case was 42mm and the design itself was bulky, completely different from what people wore at the time. PP has always been a very conservative company, but they decided to go beyond with the Nautilus and this certainly didn’t let them down; they always used to make gold luxury watches so when they released the Nautilus, they played it on by saying that one of the world’s costliest watches was made in steel. In the following years the model became much more popular when Patek Philippe released in 1980 the ladies’ Nautilus and a mid-sized version for the men. The earlier models where therefore nicknamed “jumbo”. The design has ever since remained unchanged, except for some complications introduced entering the 21stcentury like moon phases and the power-phase indicator, followed by gold models later on. Needless to say, the Patek Philippe Nautilus is an icon mainly because it is PP’s sports watch, but for us, above all, because of its’ master-class design by Genta, and it will always remain as such. Looks like the 5 minute design by G.G. payed well after all…

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