It’s been called “the Nautilus of tomorrow“, its straps are stored in the safes of the most luxurious jewelries, it was born under the immense shadow of a modern watchmaking giant, managed to impose itself and win the heart (and the wrist) of many enthusiasts: we are talking about the Patek Philippe Aquanaut.
Let’s discover together its young yet rich history!
Although Patek Philippe was born and raised (and still lives) surrounded by the Swiss Alps, the Genevan maison has long shown a veiled passion for the sea. After a week spent among offices, banks and gala dinners, between a Calatrava and an Ellipse under the sleeve of the tuxedo, Patek Philippe also thinks about the weekend of his loyal customers.
So, in 1972, the Nautilus was born: the extreme luxury sport watch designed to accompany the wealthy businessman on their boat trips. Taking inspiration (and name) from “Twenty thousand leagues under the seas” imaginary submarine, the real boom of this model comes in the 1980s.
These are the years of the Yuppies, the prancing youths who sip champagne in the most exclusive yacht clubs in the world. The requirements to enter one? An American Express, Tod’s loafers and, of course, a Nautilus.
The 1990s came, financial markets collapsed and a period of severe global recession began. Massive fortunes are burned in a matter of seconds.
Young people, however, want to rise again, focusing solely on technology. Everything that reminds the past, is out. And so, with the advent of the internet and the European Union in the air, the economy rised again. It’s the so-called “dot com boom“, where with just a computer in your bedroom, you can create a fortune of millions of dollars, anywhere in the world, in a second. The wealthy of the 90s, however, don’ want to know anything about the heavy formality that has accompanied the world for centuries. They want the prestige of the big brands, without wanting their shape.
Patek Philippe is an excellence maison, which focuses on its heritage, but which must instead propose to the younger audience a model that has nothing to do with the past. Once again, Patek Philippe’s mind flies away from the Swiss Alps to the sea.
It was decided to take inspiration from the youngest watch in the line: the Nautilus, in fact.
The Nautilus has to be brought into the world of the internet, a watch to face the 2000 that is now coming.
And so, in 1997, Patek Philippe launched a product that, for the maison, is nothing short of revolutionary: the ref. 5060A “Aquanaut“.
For the first time in history, Patek Philippe offers a rubber strap. “Nothing so crazy,” you say? An option today we are widely used but which, on its debut, caused a great stir. We’re still talking about Patek.
Exactly in alignment with what we expect from this maison, the development of the strap lasted more than a year and its realization included more than 20 different molecules, to give resistance to salt, UV rays and bacteria. Patek’s prestige, new look.
To mimic the appearance of the Nautilus’ integrated bracelet, the strap has the same texture as the dial. The latter, nicknamed “chocolate bar”, is a unique detail of the Aquanaut line. To adorn it, we find Arabic indices and white gold hands. All abundantly filled in luminescent paint, for a quick read in the dark.
Perhaps, nowadays, this look doesn’t look any crazy, but we assure you that at that moment it created a huge interest.
Inside its 37.5mm case, we find an in-house caliber, more precisely the automatic 330 SC. The only complication, the date, to get a 3.5 mm thick caliber. Hidden from the caseback as well, the unidirectional rotor in solid gold.
Although the mechanics are not visible directly, the entire movement has earned the Geneva Seal for its superb finish.
Despite Patek’s enormous efforts, the Aquanaut wasn’t an immediate success, perhaps due to the absence of Gerald Genta’s signature.
Yet, after just one year, a second model is introduced: ref. 5064 A-001.
The size is reduced to 34mm and the caliber becomes the quartz E 23 SC. To accommodate the new dimensions, the aspect ratio of the dial is slightly retouched.
The model that will finally launch the Aquanaut phenomenon is the ref. 5065, also introduced in 1998.
A more contemporary measure, “Jumbo“, of 38 mm, brings the Aquanaut closer to the Nautilus. The 315 SC movement is finally admirable by the public through a sapphire caseback.
In addition to the sporty steel, this model also becomes available in yellow gold.
For the steel version, next to the iconic rubber strap, a bracelet is now available. This makes the new Aquanaut more and more similar to the now cult Nautilus.
The following year, 1999, saw the introduction of a completely yellow gold model: from the case to the bracelet, identical to its steel predecessor.
Over the next few years, the Aquanaut family will be enriched with several variations. So, we can find diamond-set cases, green or white bands and dials, quartz movements, red hands…
All until 2007, the year in which the Aquanaut celebrates its tenth anniversary.
For this occasion, Patek Philippe decides to get its hands on this already perfect model, to refine it even more.
Now an icon, the case remains largely unchanged. The corners are imperceptibly retouched, but the look is not altered. The dial, another distinctive element of the model, is refined with a less pronounced appearance and with a more accentuated curvature of the pattern.
To complete the appearance of the new dial, index number “3” is removed, giving more oxygen to the whole.
The most recognizable aspect of the restyling, however, is the now legendary strap, which finally recalls that much-desired look of the Nautilus’ integrated bracelet.
Then the pattern changes – similar to the dial -, the sides become flat and even the interior is redesigned, for greater comfort. The clasp is made more resistant with a double mechanism specific for the Aquanaut.
These changes are presented on two new models: ref. 5167 A-001, in 38.8 mm and ref. 5165 A-001, in 40.8 mm.
The second reference, in the “xl” version, is certainly a demonstration of how Patek has been able to keep the Aquanaut in its place of dominion with the new audience.
The following year, to bring the Aquanaut even closer to the Nautilus, it was equipped with the 324 SC automatic movement, the same that moves the Nautilus ref. 5711.
In 2011, the Aquanaut received its first complication, with the birth of the ref. 5164 A-001 Travel Time. Below the time hand, we find a hidden skeletonized hand that can be set to display a second time zone. To ease the read, two windows are added where, with a color change, mark the day and night in the two time zones.
The date, which couldn’t fit in the traditional place, is moved south.
The years pass and we arrive at the 20th birthday of the Aquanaut. A celebration for which Patek Philippe has prepared a series of very spectacular surprises.
One of them is the 5650G Advanced Research Travel Time, in limited edition. A showcase of Patek innovations, where the most spectacular is definitely the time zone flexible regulation mechanism.
Over 500 hours of design for this spectacular quad-spring with a crossing point of only 150 microns.
The following year, a new complication appears in the now vast Aquanaut family.
It’s finally time for a chronograph, with ref. 5968A that, thanks to its “unconventional” colors, attracted everyone’s attention. Not being conventional is also the chronograph itself, which features only one subdial for the minutes record. A great choice in our opinion, that does not aesthetically compromise the watch making it otherwise too crowded.
Although orange is a color that hardly gets out of your mind, the real “colored” Aquanaut it’s the ref. 5168G Jumbo Khaki Green.
The color was chosen recalling a very limited “client only” edition from 2011, where an Aquanaut was presented in khaki livery.
Introduced in 2019, the ref. 5168G Khaki has literally blown up the market, already thirsty for steel models.
Such an explosion that its straps, sold even individually by traders, have been referred as “the most expensive piece of rubber in the world”, reaching almost 1000€.
With this controversial reference we close our review on the history of the Patek Philippe Aquanaut, a model born in the shadow of the Nautilus, that managed to carve out its slice of loyal enthusiasts.
Which side are you on? What is your opinion on this model? How do you think its history will evolve?
As always, let us know in the comments.