The Beckertime Rivalry Series: The Patek Philippe Nautilus Versus the Aquanaut -

The Beckertime Rivalry Series: The Patek Philippe Nautilus Versus the Aquanaut

In the world of truly elite luxury watches, it is hard to find two more venerated specimens than Patek Philippe’s Nautilus and Aquanaut.

While both are obviously shot through with many of the brand’s unique styling cues, and each benefits from Patek’s near 200-years of heritage and engineering prowess, the pair have clearly defined and separate characters which appeal to completely different personalities.

Both models are also relatively new, at least in watchmaking terms. But it has been interesting to see the Nautilus, the older of the two and once among the most radical and disruptive designs ever released, become a fundamental part of the horological establishment. Meanwhile, its ‘little brother’, the Aquanaut, has almost taken over where the Nautilus started out; a sporty, fresh face in a sea of pretenders.

Below, we take a closer look at the duo in contrast.

The Patek Philippe Nautilus vs. the Aquanaut: History

The Nautilus

The Patek Philippe Nautilus was the first of the two watches to materialize, dreamt up in 1976 by the legendary Gerald Genta. It was the second model he had penned to fill an entirely new timepiece genre of his own invention; the luxury sports watch.

The first was the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak from 1972, and Genta had famously been given a mere 12-hours to come up with the design by the AP higher-ups.

It was a similar story with the Nautilus, with the basic shape of the piece sketched on a restaurant napkin in just five minutes. It also followed the same nautical theme as the Royal Oak, but where that earlier model was inspired by the look of a scaphander’s helmet, the type worn with old world, surface-fed diving suits, the Nautilus drew on the visual of a transatlantic cruise liner’s porthole, with its broad bezel and wide ears on both sides looking like hinges.

Moreover, both the Royal Oak and the Nautilus were originally crafted from steel, unheard of at the time for a true luxury timepiece. There was no doubt it was a huge risk for Patek to put the watch into production, and an even greater one considering the enormous $3,100 price tag. Today, that is equivalent to more than $15,000. This was at a time when one of the brand’s own exquisite 18k gold models cost less than $4,000.

That 42mm debut reference, the ref. 3700, subsequently had a relatively slow start, not really helped by the ads trumpeting, ‘one of the world’s costliest watches is made of steel.’

This oversized mechanical eccentricity with its chunky integrated bracelet was a vastly different proposition for an era where flashy gold, ultra thin quartz watches were very much en vogue. But as with many similar stories, a genuinely radical statement can actually divert an entire generation’s tastes and when Patek released a smaller, 37mm version in 1980, the Nautilus’s star began to ascend.

By the time of its 30th birthday in 2006, it was already a massively desirable watch and when the ref. 5711 was released that year it elevated to another level entirely. That reference, although discontinued in 2022, is now undoubtedly among the most iconic, sought after and unobtainable timepieces in the world. Waiting lists for steel versions are reportedly around 10-years long and prices on the preowned market are, well, insane. If you were after one of the green dialed pieces, the last of the breed and only produced in small numbers, you are going to need to free up around three-quarters of a million to be in with a shot. Should you fancy the limited edition final hurrah Tiffany dial model, you’ll have to add another zero to the end (and preferably play in the NBA).

As yet, there is no word on what is going to take over from the ref. 5711, but rumors abound of a titanium replacement. For now, the Nautilus catalog is stocked with stunning examples, ranging from simple time-and-date pieces to models featuring power reserve displays, pointer dates, moonphases, perpetual calendars and dual time zones, with cases crafted from white or rose gold or steel.

But whatever guise it exists in, it remains an indisputable icon.

The Aquanaut

As cutting-edge and avant-garde as the Nautilus was in the 1970s, every trendsetter eventually settles down into a more conventional form. By the 1990s, those once dynamic looks had become almost conservative and Patek decided they needed something new.

Looking to entice a younger, hipper crowd to the brand, they released the Aquanaut in 1997, with the ref. 5060A.

While this was still very clearly a Patek product, the so-called ‘Nautilus Junior’ took what it needed from its older sibling and added its own pleasing quirks. So the case followed the same basic rounded octagonal form, but the distinctive ears at the side were omitted and rather than the integrated bracelet (a trademark of many of Genta’s designs) the original Aquanaut came fitted with a rubber strap. Furthermore, both the strap and dial were finished with a raised guilloche pattern to further cement its identity and give the watch as a whole a certain unanimity.

Unlike the Nautilus however, the Aquanaut hit the ground running. The perfect model for a trendy, well-heeled crowd, it had a lightheartedness about it that its predecessor somehow lacked, and it was a more practical proposition as well. The screw down case back gave 120m of water resistance and that innocuous strap was actually made from more than 20 different materials to provide the perfect protection against UV light or salt water.

The first version measured just 35.6mm and was followed in 1998 by an even smaller, 34mm quartz-powered model, the ref. 5064. But that same year, the 38mm ref. 5065 also surfaced, along with the ref. 4960 ladies piece.

On the 10th anniversary in 2007, Patek released the 40mm, all steel ref. 5167A-001, a watch that was to become almost as popular to the Aquanaut range as the 5711 had been to the Nautilus. It was also powered by the same movement, the Caliber 324 S C.

Today, there are 17 examples in the Aquanaut series, as opposed to the 27 in the Nautilus, and they range from time-and-date, through dual time zone and flyback chronograph models.

And, as before, an ungodly demand coupled with lack of supply has seen their value skyrocket on the preowned market. Prices for this year’s model start in the low six figures and only go north.

The Patek Philippe Nautilus versus the Aquanaut: Basic Details

Let’s take a quick look at how the modern day versions of both watches measure up:

The Patek Philippe Nautilus Range

Size 32mm-40.5mm
Materials Steel/Rose Gold/White Gold
Functions Time-and-Date. Moonphase. Chronograph. Travel Time. Annual Calendar. Perpetual Calendar
Dial Gold/White/Blue/Grey/Brown
Bezel Smooth/Diamond-Set
Crystal Sapphire
Water Resistance 60m
Movement Patek Manufacture Quartz and Automatic
Bracelet Integrated in Steel/Rose Gold/White Gold. Leather Strap
Price Approx. $32,480-$496,775

The Patek Philippe Aquanaut Range

Size 38.8mm-42.2mm
Materials Steel/Rose Gold/White Gold
Functions Time-and-Date. Travel Time.
Dial Black/White/Blue/Green/Brown/Mother-of-Pearl
Bezel Smooth/Diamond-Set
Crystal Sapphire
Water Resistance 120m
Movement Patek Manufacture Quartz and Automatic
Bracelet Steel Bracelet/’Tropical’ Rubber Strap
Price $21,650-$217,640

So, as you can see, while there are some similarities between the two, there are plenty of differences as well.

The Patek Philippe Nautilus versus the Aquanaut: Options

Both the Nautilus and Aquanaut ranges are relatively well stocked, with the former slightly more plentiful than the latter; not surprisingly, given its 20-year head start.

The Nautilus collection really covers eight separate references, each with their own specific complications. These are:

The ref. 7010 — four quartz-powered time-and-date ladies watches, with 32mm rose gold cases and diamond-set bezels
The ref. 7118 — 12 automatic versions of the simple time-and-date pieces, in 35.2mm cases. Materials run from stainless steel, through rose and white gold and with some completely diamond pavé examples
The ref. 5712 — three 40mm models, one each in steel, white and rose gold. The dials feature a separate running seconds sub dial, power reserve indicator and moon phase display
The ref. 5726 — two 40.5mm steel watches, with annual calendar and moon phase.
The ref. 5980 — three 40.5mm ‘monocounter’ chronographs, two in rose gold and one in two-tone
The ref. 5990 — a single travel time chronograph model, in rose gold and measuring 40.5mm
The ref. 5740 — the only perpetual calendar Nautilus in the current lineup. In white gold and 40mm
The ref. 5719 — an extraordinary time-and-date piece, engulfed in 255 diamonds on every exposed area of its 40mm white gold case

As for the Aquanaut, that family is also split up into different references, nine in this case, but with four of them only containing a single model. These are:

The ref. 5167 — three 40.8mm time-and-date watches, two in steel (including the only current Aquanaut on a steel bracelet) and a rose gold piece
The ref. 5168 — a larger (42.2mm) and more colorful version of the ref. 5167, the ref. 5168 contains two examples, both in white gold
The ref. 5164 — two 40.8mm examples, featuring a dual time zone complication. One in steel, the other in rose gold
The ref. 5968 — three chronographs, 42.2mm and available in either steel or white gold

The remaining Aquanauts are part of the ladies ‘Luce’ range. Meaning ‘light’ in Italian, the Luce watches are epitomized by their stunning use of precious stones:

The ref. 5267 — three 38.8mm quartz-powered time-and–date models, all in steel and with diamond-set bezels
The ref. 5268 — the automatic version of the ref. 5267. One model only, in rose gold
The ref. 5269 — a quartz travel-time watch, in rose gold with diamond bezel. 38.8mm
The ref. 5072 — a 35.6mm, automatic time-and-date watch. With a rose gold case, diamond bezel and mother-of-pearl dial
The ref. 5062 — the top of the range model, the 38.8mm rose gold watch features a dial set with 160 brilliant cut diamonds, 76 baguette diamonds and 12 baguette diamond hour markers

The Patek Philippe Nautilus versus the Aquanaut: Movements

Although in the past, Patek Philippe has used third-party movements from the likes of Jaeger LeCoultre and Valjoux, these days every single one of their calibers is designed, engineered and assembled in-house.

What’s more, they are recognized as some of the most perfectly made movements in the industry, with an accuracy and level of finishing almost second to none.

The Caliber 324 S C, a straightforward time-and-date mechanism, is the most prevalent, and powers a total of 17 watches spread across the two collections. Made up of 217 components, it features a 28,800vph frequency and a power reserve of between 35 and 45-hours.

Even the quartz movements found in the Aquanaut Luce and the ref. 7010 Nautilus ranges are made by Patek themselves. The Caliber E 23-250 S C, used in seven of the watches, and the Caliber E 23-250 S FUS 24H inside the ref. 5269 Travel Time, run on silver oxide 1.55V batteries and have a lifespan of around 3 years. But even more impressive is the beautiful decoration the brand has subjected the unit to. Mirroring that found on the brand’s mechanical calibers, the quartz movements also receive some stunning, hand-engraved Côtes de Genève striping, making them possibly the most attractive quartz engines ever made.

The Patek Philippe Nautilus versus the Aquanaut: Pricing

The expense of Patek Philippe’s creations is actually part of their USP. Here are watches for very special occasions, models you reward yourself with for achieving some sort of lifelong ambition and then pass on to future generations as a highly valuable heirloom.

Even at retail, the least expensive Nautilus costs more than $30,000. That’s for the steel ladies model, the ref. 7118.

With the Aquanaut, the entry level price comes down, to around the $21,000 mark (for the ref. 5167).

At the other end, the Nautilus collection tops out with the ref. 5719, dripping in diamonds from head to toe, retailing at $496,775.

The Aquanaut’s ref. 5062, similarly bedecked, costs well over $200,000.

But (yes, you guessed it) this is all fairly academic. There is a very good chance you won’t be picking up any of these pieces at an actual authorized dealer. Demand is way too high, supply way too low. So that leaves the preowned market. Take a deep breath…!

Just a quick look tells me that the most desirable versions of both these collections have now reached ridiculous levels. The Nautilus ref. 5712 (which costs about $42,000 officially) can’t be had for less than $200,000 for this year’s model. The Aquanaut ref. 5167A (in stainless steel and priced by Patek at around $20,000) is now more than $100,000 on the grey market.

It is a situation common to buyers of many luxury watch brands. But, while it is certainly frustrating, there unfortunately doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.

That is our rundown of two of the watchmaking industry’s modern-day icons. Each one is well on its way to hitting legendary status (the Nautilus is probably already there) and either collection offers some of the most impressive wrist presence in the business.

However, a massive amount of patience, or an even larger bank balance, are required to take ownership, and you have to work hard to become a member of this exclusive club. Not only will any Nautilus or Aquanaut last you a lifetime, it might also take you that long to get hold of one.

— Featured Photo: BeckerTime’s Archive.

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