Patek Philippe Nautilus Retrospective Chapter 1
The Nautilus sports watch has emerged as the unlikely star of the Patek Philippe catalog. Released in the 1970s to answer to the new but growing trend of luxury sports watches, the Nautilus, in its steel construction, simple dial, and unconventional shape, was vastly different from anything else Patek Philippe had made thus far. The renowned Swiss watchmaker, known for its assortment of precious metal dress watches and complicated timepieces, commissioned Gerald Genta to design its first steel sports watch and the partnership proved to be successful.
In its more than four decades of existence, the Patek Philippe Nautilus has grown to become immensely collectible and well deserving of its label as a hype watch. This retrospective, which will be divided into four main chapters, will go deep into the history, evolution, and collectibility of the Patek Philippe Nautilus. We’ll discuss all the models that have been a part of the collection so far, detailing all the metal, size, and complication options.
In Chapter 1 of the Patek Philippe Nautilus Retrospective, we’ll be covering the first two decades of the collection, spanning from its debut in 1976 until 1996.
Understanding Patek Philippe Reference Codes
Before we get into the history and evolution of the Nautilus, it’s worth a quick recap on how to read Patek Philippe reference numbers.
- /: if there’s a “/” directly following the first 4 numbers, it indicates the Patek Philippe watch is fitted with a metal bracelet (rather than a leather strap)
- A: Acier, which is French for stainless steel
- J: Jaune, which is French for yellow, as in yellow gold
- JA: Jaune Acier as in yellow gold and stainless steel
- G: Gris, which is French for gray and is the code for white gold
- P: Platine, which is French for platinum
The Introduction of the Nautilus 3700 “Jumbo”In 1976, Patek Philippe unveiled a brand new model called the Nautilus. The Nautilus was the answer to Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak, which had debuted only four years earlier. In fact, both watches were designed by Gerald Genta. According to Gerald Genta, he sketched out the design of the Nautilus in five minutes while in a restaurant during the Basel Trade Fair (later known as Baselworld) and then made the prototype in his studio.
Patek Philippe Nautilus Jumbo ref. 3700
The first Nautilus model was the reference 3700, nicknamed the “Jumbo.” The Nautilus ref. 3700 Jumbo has the following features:
- A 42mm case (measuring from 10 o’clock to 4 o’clock) that was 7.6mm thick and water-resistant to 120 meters
- The porthole-shaped case included two “ears” on either side of the case resembling the hinges of a ship’s window
- The patented case structure was comprised of a solid monobloc center whereby the movement was inserted on the dial side
- On top of the center case was a second module comprised of a rounded eight-sided bezel, sapphire crystal, gasket, and the “ears” of the case
- The case was paired with an integrated bracelet comprised of H-shaped outer links and rounded rectangular pieces at the center. Patek made two versions of the bracelet; earlier models were fitted with a wider larger bracelet while later versions had narrower tapered bracelets
- A blue-black dial with horizontal grooves, a pair of baton hands at the center for the hours and minutes, and a date window at 3 o’clock. There is no seconds hand.
- The applied hour markers and time-telling hands were coated with luminescence for visibility in low-light
- The ultra-thin self-winding Jaeger-LeCoultre Caliber 920 movement inside the case, renamed the Patek Philippe Caliber 28-255 C
Patek Philippe Nautilus Jumbo ref. 3700 - Dial Detail
The original Nautilus Ref. 3700 was launched in stainless steel in 1976 (ref. 3700/1A) and remained in the collection until 1990. However, Patek Philippe did make other metal versions of the 42mm Nautilus “Jumbo” ref. 3700 including two-tone, gold, and one unique piece in platinum.
Here are all the variations of the Nautilus “Jumbo” ref. 3700:
- Nautilus 3700/1A: stainless steel fitted with the larger bracelet
- Nautilus 3700/11A: stainless steel fitted with the narrower tapered bracelet
- Nautilus 3700/1JA: stainless steel and yellow gold fitted with the larger bracelet
- Nautilus 3700/11JA: stainless steel and yellow gold fitted with the narrower tapered bracelet
- Nautilus 3700/1J: yellow gold (some diamond versions too) fitted with the larger bracelet
- Nautilus 3700/11J: yellow gold (some diamond versions too) fitted with the narrower tapered bracelet
- Nautilus 3700/1G: white gold fitted with the larger bracelet
- Nautilus 3700/11G: white gold fitted with the narrower tapered bracelet
- Nautilus 3700/1P: in platinum with diamond indexes; only one example is known to exist
The Introduction of the Ladies’ Nautilus
The chic yet casual nature of the Patek Philippe Nautilus not only appealed to men; women began taking interest in the ultra-luxe sports model too, so the manufacture responded with models made for women.
Patek Philippe Nautilus ref. 4700/1J - Diamond Set
In 1980, Patek Philippe launched the ladies’ Nautilus ref. 4700/51, featuring a 27mm case and a quartz movement inside. The following year, in 1981, Patek released the slightly larger Nautilus ref. 3900 with a 33mm case and a quartz movement. This model was not exclusively marketed as a ladies’ Nautilus but rather, as a unisex model.
Patek Philippe Nautilus ref. 3900/1A
Both of these smaller quartz-powered Nautilus watches were made in yellow gold, stainless steel, and a two-tone combination of gold and steel. Some also featured diamonds.
The ladies’ Nautilus 4700 models are typically the least expensive vintage Nautilus watches on the market, starting at around $12,000 for two-tone variants, $18,000 for steel variants, and $20,000 for yellow gold variants.
The slightly larger quartz Nautilus 3900 watches are pricier, starting at around $25,000 for two-tone variants, $30,000 for stainless steel variants, and $50,000 for yellow gold variants.
The Introduction of the Midsize Nautilus
A 42mm case size was considered far too large for some during the 1970s and 1980s. Therefore, Patek Phillippe introduced a midsize version in the form of the reference 3800 in 1981. The Nautilus ref. 3800 features a 37.5mm case with an architecture that’s similar to that of the “Jumbo” variant.
However, unlike the 42mm Jumbo, the midsize Nautilus 3800 had a different automatic movement powering it – the Patek Philippe Caliber 335 SC. As a result, the dial of reference 3800 does include a central seconds hand unlike reference 3700.
Patek Philippe Nautilus 3800/1A
Some of the variations of the Nautilus 3800 include:
- Nautilus 3800/1A: Stainless steel
- Nautilus 3800/1J: Yellow gold
- Nautilus 3800/1JA: Two-tone steel and yellow gold
- Nautilus 3800/1P: Platinum
It’s estimated that Patek made over 20 dial options for the mid-size Nautilus ref. 3800; however, the most common ones are:
- Dark blue with baton markers
- White with baton markers
- Champagne with baton markers
- Black (no horizontal grooves) and Roman numerals
A few notable rarer Nautilus ref. 3800 dials include:
- Arabic numeral dials (nicknamed the “telephone dial”)
- Radial dials
- Diamond marker dials
Patek Philippe Nautilus 3800/1A with Roman Numerals
The midsize Nautilus 3800 was eventually discontinued in 2006. Since the Nautilus 3800 was in production much longer than the original 3700 and offered in more variations, there are more of them available in the market. Yet, thanks to Patek Philippe’s low manufacturing numbers and the high demand for these references, Nautilus 3800 watches command high prices on the market. Prices for Nautilus 3800 start at $38,000 for two-tone variants, $50,000 for stainless steel variants, and $75,000 for yellow gold variants.
That concludes the first chapter of our Patek Philippe Nautilus Retrospective. Don’t miss Chapter 2, where we’ll be covering the years 1996 until 2005, which includes the introduction of the first complicated Nautilus models and plenty of other references.