What is the Patek Philippe Nautilus? A lot has changed for the collection since it was introduced in 1976 in one reference, the mighty 3700. While the soul of the original lives on in the reference 5711, the model range has expanded dramatically and now includes an annual calendar, a flyback chronograph with date, a travel time with flyback chronograph, and now, for the first time, a classical complication in the shape of the reference 5740 with perpetual calendar. What has also changed is its position within the Patek Philippe range, from something of a niche side line, to a signature design which no doubt contributes a decent chunk of revenue to the storied manufacture.
What continues to unify the relatively disparate model in the range is the haute-luxe sports watch ethos that embodied the original Nautilus when it was introduced, with its iconic case design, alluring mixture of brushed and polished finishes across the case and bracelet, and its signature ribbed dial featuring distinctive luminous filled hour markers and hands. It is clearly a step above the more frequently spotted offerings from brands with six-figure production numbers, leaving only its Gerald Genta designed sibling, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, and perhaps the Jorg Hysek-inspired Vacheron Constantin Overseas to stand close to it.
What Genta would make of a complicated Nautilus is difficult to say, but ever the commercially-minded businessman that he was, it is hard to doubt he would have seen the incentive for producing such a watch, something which no shortage of collectors and enthusiasts have been clamouring for in the last few years. While still a relative rarity to see one out in public, I was lucky enough to spend a few weeks with the newest member of the Nautilus family on the wrist, so thought it was worth writing a few notes on the experience.
It is perhaps easiest to assess the reference 5740 on a component-by-component basis before looking at it as a whole, starting with the part that you spend most of your time staring at. The dial is attractive and well-weighted, remaining true to the original design of the Nautilus, with its slight iridescent blue that can change dramatically in colour depending on lighting conditions, from a subdued cool grey, to a bright, almost electric blue, with shades of navy in between. The hands and hour markers remain virtually identical to other models in the Nautilus lineup, although the batons on the dial do appear more angular than those on the 5711, and are also appropriately cut off to accommodate the subsidiary dials.
The choice of typography for the indicators is well executed, with a font that is distinctively different from those on other perpetual calendars in the Patek Philippe range, and extremely well-suited to the Nautilus. With a sort of 1970s modernist vibe to it, one can imagine it being used had a complicated variation on the reference 3700 been introduced in period. While there is a lot of data on display, it doesn’t feel particularly claustrophobic due to the use of stacked indicators with short hands for month and leap year, as well as day and 24-hours, toeing the line carefully between legibility and discreetness rather well.
There is nothing revolutionary about the movement utilised in the 5740, as it is the same well-regarded and well-tested calibre 240Q that was introduced with the reference 3940 in 1985 (and the base module vanilla 240 goes back to 1977 with the Golden Ellipse reference 3738). When the whole of the watch industry is so focused on novelty and in-house-ness seemingly announcing a new calibre on a weekly basis, it is satisfying to see a top tier brand aiming for iterative improvement. With its Gyromax balance, Spiromax balance spring, and Patek Philippe Seal, combined with an enjoyable mixture of Côtes de Genève, perlage and anglage finishing, topped off with the 22K gold micro rotor, the movement is about as fine an example of an ultra-thin, self-winding calibre from any top-tier brand.
It is probably worth addressing the subtle magic of the perpetual calendar when talking about this watch. I was fortunate to be wearing the reference 5740 at the end of February, and there is something marvellous about waking up on the 1st of March to see the date indicator has skipped three of its usual stops, to arrive at the correct position with no intervention from the user. While this effect may be lost on the casual user, who probably won’t even bother setting the calendar on a regular basis, it is particularly satisfying as an engineering nerd to think about the amount of technical effort that has been exerted to make everything work in harmony.
One of the main talking points when any Nautilus model comes up in conversation is the finishing of the case and bracelet. Part of the reason for the high price of the original reference 3700 when it was launched was the hand-finished nature of the external components, leading to the advertising line “one of the world’s costliest watches is made of steel”. It came down to the intricate mixture of brushing and polishing that jutes up next to each other, meaning it was very easy for the person standing at the polishing wheel to make a small error, so absolute concentration and the associated time was required. This is still the case today, and a nice slideshow of how the bracelet is finished for the Nautilus can be found at the bottom of this page. The correctors for setting the perpetual calendar are well integrated into the case in a wholly unobtrusive way, an impressive feat given the amount of metal they have to pass through in certain places.
Of course this means that the watch has to be worn with relative caution, as the sizeable brushed bezel picks up scratches very easily, something which is accentuated by the softer nature of white gold versus stainless steel, and I frequently found myself pulling a cuff over the watch to provide some degree of protection. Saying that, there is a certain charm to a Nautilus which wears its life stories in its scars, so perhaps one shouldn’t be too worried if you are merely looking after it for the next generation.
The Nautilus bracelet has always been among the most comfortable of any sports watch, thanks to its thin and short links, allowing it to drape close to the wrist, providing very pleasing ergonomics, although getting a perfect fit can be a bit tricky as there is no micro-adjustment. New for the reference 5740 is a revised double deployant clasp which includes dedicated release buttons, providing an additional element of security, not just from the relative weight of the watch, but also as the Nautilus has become such a visible target for thieves in cities like London. One small note, there is a slightly odd rippling effect to the main part of the clasp which is visible under certain lighting conditions, perhaps an artefact from the manufacturing process, but invisible the vast majority of the time.
Would I have wished for this particular watch to have been produced in steel or platinum, instead of white gold? Personally yes, as I prefer one of the extremes: the light and relatively hard-wearing stainless steel, or the almighty and stealthy heft of platinum, with white gold seeming a bit of a compromise. I can understand the decision on the part of Patek Philippe, as the weight feels substantial without being totally overwhelming, and perhaps white gold is a little bit more scratch resistanct than platinum, but it should not be too much of a surprise to collectors if we see a 5740a and 5740p at some point in the future.
It is hard to cover this watch without talking about the hysteria surrounding it. While the retail price of the watch at the time of publishing is 891,200 HKD (approximately 110,000 CHF), it is trading at roughly twice the price in the parallel market, with a similar dynamic extending to the references 5711 and 5712. The simple reason for this is that demand far outweighs supply, but the more complex one underlying it is what the Nautilus has come to represent: access and status. Given its unobtainable nature, simply having one on your wrist means that you have a contact somewhere in the supply chain, or the money to pay the premium (although will probably say you got it at retail for fuller effect).
On top of that, the current cultural shift towards less formal attire, and the juxtaposition of luxury and sporting activities embodied in the Nautilus, fits into this narrative perfectly, most clearly seen when the likes of Future, Migos, and 21 Savage wear the model together with streetwear from brands such as Fear of God, Supreme, and Off-White. Steel sports watches from Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet are really at the top of the food chain when streetwear and horology intersect.
Does that mean Patek Philippe should be increasing production capacity for these watches? In my opinion, no. While the Nautilus may be one of the hottest commodities in the market right now, history has proven that this isn’t necessarily a long term thing, and the moment that it comes off the boil, had the brand increased volumes for the most successful models, they would be left with idle manufacturing facilities, and some difficult conversations with under-utilised staff.
People seem to conveniently forget that not so long ago you could buy a 5711 out of the display cabinet of most authorised dealers at retail price, and given that the reference was introduced in 2006, there have been rather a lot made in the past decade plus, so relatively speaking they are not that scarce. Given time, the supply/demand balance will equalise, and with that, so will pricing.
Of course none of this detracts from the fact that the reference 5740 is a wonderful watch, and should the opportunity present itself for one to acquire it (especially at retail), I would highly recommend it.