When musicians use your watch in their music to flex their wealth, you know you’re doing something right. We’re talking about the “Patek,” and how this Swiss brand has become an icon in the world of horology. One of their watches that keeps attracting fans decades after its launch is the Nautilus - its bold, porthole-inspired design setting it apart from traditional luxury watches and quickly making it a cult classic. 


The Nautilus went from a radically new sports watch to a highly coveted status symbol over the years. In this article, we'll explore what makes the Nautilus so special - from its unique origin story to some of the most insanely expensive and desirable versions released since. For now let’s start by looking at the brand.


Swiss Watchmaking Royalty

Source: About Time


You can't talk about Nautilus without giving props to Patek Philippe first. Founded way back in 1839, this Geneva-based brand represents the pinnacle of fine Swiss watchmaking. Patek has basically mastered every horological complication under the sun, from Annual calendars to World Time displays, to moon-phase functions and more. All this while setting sky-high standards for craftsmanship and design.

But as traditional as Patek's watches were, the '70s called for something fresh. That is when the watch house ventured to release the Nautilus in 1976 - a stunningly original take on a rugged yet luxurious sports watch. This brand new idea broke all the rules and challenged what a Patek could be. The Nautilus ushered in a new era, redefining Patek for a new generation.

Its unique design made waves, but the Nautilus lived up to Patek's lofty standards. This boldly shaped steel watch changed everyone's perceptions of the historic brand while securing its reputation as one of the masters of haute horlogerie.


Gerald Genta's Nautilus

The Nautilus design came from the brilliant mind of Gerald Genta - the legendary watch designer behind another watch icon; the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. In the early '70s, Patek Philippe's leaders had the foresight to realize they needed a solid sports watch line to stay relevant.

They took the unorthodox step of hiring the independent Genta, who was known for pioneering luxe steel sports watches. Genta's design brief was to create "a true offshore diamond-set on a bracelet." His response relocated the costly gems to the dial instead.

Inspired by a vintage ship's porthole, Genta rendered an avant-garde case shape like no other. The two-tiered construction, integrated lugs, and wide beveled edges produced visual drama. Genta's unconventional yet balanced design instantly made the Nautilus a true conversation piece since its 1976 debut.


The Original: Model 3700/1A

Source: Fratello Watches


The very first Nautilus reference laid the blueprint that all others would follow. The 3700/1A arrived in 1976 as a stainless steel sports watch with serious wrist presence despite its modest 42mm case size.

This original sported a blue-black dual-tone dial with horizontal grooves evoking a porthole's notched edging. Applied baton indices, simple baton hands, and a date window at 3 o'clock kept things clean. The stunning lightweight steel bracelet integrated seamlessly with the iconic case design.

Powered by the ultra-thin caliber 28-255C movement, the 3700/1A lived up to Patek criteria while breaking entirely new ground in sports luxury watches. Its crisp, distinctive look made it an instant grail for collectors. Patek created just over 3,000 examples before replacing it with an updated reference - helping ensure the 3700's future cult status.


Other Notable Models

While the original 3700/1A set the blueprint, Patek Philippe has released several highly desirable and eye-wateringly expensive Nautilus models over the decades. These represent the holy grails for Nautilus collectors and have commanded staggering prices at auction.

One of the most legendary is the Nautilus Ref. 3800 in stainless steel. Produced from 1981-2006, it featured Patek's ultra-thin automatic caliber 335 SC movement. With its distinctive "Jumbo" 42mm case size, the 3800 looked bold yet exquisitely finished. Exceedingly rare stainless steel examples can fetch over $100,000 today.


Source: K2 Luxury


For sheer luxury, few top the Nautilus Ref. 5976/1G released in 2011. This "Mega" Nautilus measures a hefty 44mm wide and 12.2mm thick. Its 18k white gold case contrasts a stunning brown sunburst dial. Limited to just 1,300 pieces, it showcased Patek's peerless grand complication prowess. 

Another grail is the now-discontinued stainless steel Nautilus 5980/1A with an in-house chronograph caliber. Its scarcity and cult following routinely see prices surpass $200,000 at auction for mint examples.


A Priceless Nautilus


With Patek Philippe Nautilus models commanding prices that include too many zeroes for the regular watch lover, there is still a way to have a Genta-designed stainless steel sports watch in your collection, and that way is to build it yourself with Seiko mods.

Seiko actually has their own homage watch which was lovingly nicknamed the Seikonaut which you can read more about here. If you’re looking for the same porthole-inspired design that was the craze during the 70s though, check out the NMK935 Nautilus Watch Case. It’s the perfect base to use for a mod if you’re feeling a bit luxurious, and is compatible with our SKX case parts so you can customize it to your heart’s content. We have Nautilus style dials with horizontal patterns, and baton hands to complete the look, or you can experiment with skeleton dials and hands for a unique aesthetic!

If you’re new to watch mods and looking for a package that will give you all the parts, tools and instructions you need to finish assembling your own Seikonaut mod, you can check out our watchmaking kits which are perfect for beginners.


Wrap Up

The enduring appeal of the Patek Philippe Nautilus is in its perfect blend of avant-garde design and superb Swiss watchmaking. It was a gamble for the brand - a choice that would have catapulted them to fame or obscurity - and it paid off big time for the brand. Now, the Nautilus is one of the best-selling watches in all of Patek Phillipe’s lineup, and probably the watch that pops into everyone’s mind when mentioning Patek.

You can homage this watch with Seiko mod parts, but you can also build watches that are fully customized and reflect your individuality. Limited edition watches may get just a thousand pieces, maybe a hundred, or maybe even just a couple, but you can make a 1 of 1 watch with our hundreds of cross-compatible watch modding parts. From bracelets to movements to gaskets, we have everything you need to build your own timepiece. So be sure to check out our catalog now and plan your next watch.

Happy modding!

May 16, 2024 — Jeremiah A

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