Patek Philippe Nautilus 3700/11J-050
It would be fair to say that the Patek Philippe Nautilus is *the* most sought after steel sports watch of my lifetime. It has reigned supreme for the past 40 plus years since its introduction in 1976 and shows no sign of conceding its status any time soon.
Despite being positioned as mortal enemies, the Nautilus shares DNA and designer with the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, but you knew that already right?
The Nautilus, named after Captain Nemo’s vessel in Jules Verne’s famous 1870 novel, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, had its humble beginning in 1974 when it was sketched on a napkin while Gerald Genta, the worlds most iconic watch designer, was sitting in a restaurant enjoying his lunch and eavesdropping on a group of Patek Philippe executives chatting about the Basel Watch Fair at a table positioned close to his.
The Royal Oak was on the market as the first “luxury sports watch” in steel and Patek, being AP’s absolute competitor, needed to respond.
Genta took his sketch to the execs, and with his reputation already preceding him, the wheels were in motion.
There was a definite seafaring theme to both the Royal Oak and the Nautilus.
The RO was designed with the octagonal shape of a divers helmet in mind while the Nautilus was altogether less angular and based on the portholes found in transatlantic cruise liners.
The design with its flowing integrated bracelet was opulent and indicative of the burgeoning era of combining wealth with leisure. It was a time when sports watches no longer needed to serve a specific “tool” purpose such as the Submariner.
The new wave was designed to adorn the wrists of those who could afford them and survive any activities that their wearers chose.
Essentially, they were lifestyle watches for those who shunned delicate watches from haute horology manufacturers.
They had youth appeal.
Having fully approved of Genta’s napkin drawing and needing to create a model to fight both the quartz crisis and the boom of the Royal Oak, Patek Philippe threw caution to the wind and put the Nautilus into production. This was a massive leap for two reasons.
1) Patek until that point was utterly classical. Manufacturing a mixture of pure dress watches and “complications” such as moon phases and the occasional chronograph, they didn’t *do* water resistant sports watches, and the only time they ever used steel over precious metals was either when making prototypes or by special order to preferred customers.
Their steel watches from that era are so rare that they reach eye watering figures at auction.
2) At 42mm it was considered HUGE at the time, the equivalent to a 60mm watch today. Comparatively the Royal Oak was 38mm and the industry, which tended to stick around the 34-36mm mark, was only just recovering from the vapours.
The Nautilus was so large that its first iteration the 3700/1A was nicknamed the “Jumbo”.
Patek marketed the watch in direct competition with Audemars, declaring it to be the “one of the worlds costliest watches” and highlighting their use of steel as a sporting material.
They were also working on the “at home both under the sea and in the boardroom method of marketing” in order to place the Nautilus as a “one watch solution” for modern buyers. When it was launched, it retailed at $3,100. Nowadays, for a vintage example, expect to pay somewhere between ouch and eye-watering depending on condition and completeness.
Interestingly but not surprisingly, the Nautilus appalled the brands loyal and arguably conservative customers.
They couldn’t comprehend that their favoured manufacturer of subtle dress watches and elegant complications had just released a steel behemoth with what appeared to be ears growing from the side of its tv screen style case.
The perceived youth and thuggery did not go down well AT ALL.
It was the antithesis of the brand but also a watch that was, like AP and Royal Oak, the one that would become and remain Patek Philippes most coveted model.
The patented case is formed of a solid monobloc module (case/caseback), with movement inserted via the dial side. On top of that sits a second module, composed of the smoothed octagonal bezel, the crystal and the hinged “ears” (continuing the porthole theme) for closing the case. These kinds of builds are affectionately known as top loaders as they are assembled from the rear up. It was rated with 120m of water resistance.
The Stern Frères manufactured dial of the steel 3700 is a smoky grey colour with a subtle blue tint which appeared almost black in some lights and silvery in others. With hallmark grooves running horizontally and twinned with simple tritium filled hands and baton markers the face of the Nautilus was an exercise in magnificent simplicity.
The only complication present was a date.
As was often the way in the 70’s, Patek outsourced the movement to Jaeger-LeCoultre and equipped the 3700 with their ultra-thin 920 calibre which at only 3.05mm thick is still one of the worlds slimmest automatic movements with a full sized rotor.
If you’re a follower of the channel you may have seen me waxing lyrical about the calibre 920 before as it also serves as the base for the AP’s Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar Ultra Thin RD2 5133 movement amongst others so has most certainly and quite literally stood the test of time.
Strap manufacture was taken care of by Gay Fréres who were la crème de la crème of intricate bracelet making.
Patek Philippe produced a prototype “Albino” Nautilus in 1978. It was a one off white dial by Stern on behalf of Patek and included a spare standard dial as part of the package. The Albino sold at Sothebys auction for a cool 250,000 CHF (approx £210,000) in 2015
At the time of the auction the winning bidder was unknown, but prominent collector Claude Sfeir revealed himself to the New York Times as part of an interview and said of the watch “This prototype is the symbol of the success of the Nautilus and proof of the genius of Gérald Genta. This watch carries the history of all the Nautilus watches in a simple design that is still very current. My Ref. 3700 is unique, and its real market value is in the millions.” … He’s not wrong.
The second notable one-off is the spectacular platinum 3700 with black dial and diamond markers. The same manufacturers were all at play when this one was built in 1981. Stern dial, GF stamped bracelet in the full Patek package. It was auctioned by Christies as part of their “Important Watches” auction in 2013 and sold for CHF 784,000.
The tidy little package that we’re taking a look at today is not a one off, but it is a bit rare and different as its the Nautilus Jumbo 3700, but presented in full yellow gold rather than steel.
This is reference 3700/11J-050 from 1982
It is a member of the OG line-up so is pure Genta design.
42mm mono-block top loading case, full 18ct gold, and super slim.
It is the Nautilus in its original form and it is SPLENDID.
One thing that I find completely fascinating about the vintage heavy hitters is that quite regularly you see them being produced through cooperation.
This Nautilus for example, Its a Patek Philippe, with a dial manufactured by Stern, a base movement from Jaeger LeCoultre, and a bracelet by Gay Freres. And you know, to my mind, you can’t get much better than when the titans of their respective fields put their talents together.
The movement in this 3700 is the Patek ultra-thin Cal. 28-255 (JLC 920 base)
The dial is a glorious inky blue with its very specific horizontally embossed striping topped off with tritium hands and markers which have turned to that lovely eggshell colour beloved of collectors. The dial on this particular watch has maintained its dark blue gloss which just works so well against the warmth of the yellow gold.
If you check out some of the original 3700 dials, many of them have browned over the years and taken on a tropical appearance ranging from chocolate to golden bronze which personally, I love, but equally, seeing one that shows no degradation is a real time capsule treat.
It was manufactured by Stern Freres (brothers), latterly Stern Creations who were founded in 1898 and were one of the most famous and proficient dial manufacturers in Switzerland. They had mastered everything from tapisserie, guiloche, feather set, enamel, and diamond pave and were the “go to” for dial work.
Plot twist -
Patek Philippe was bought by the Stern brothers during the great depression of 1932, a move which helped the brand survive as the worldwide economy fell off a cliff.
That is why the name Stern is probably familiar to you.
Stern Dials, Thierry Stern, President of Patek Philippe. Same family. Boom.
I’ll give your minute to recover from that “WHAAAATTT” before moving on to the bracelet.
A lot of people tend to equate thick and heavy bracelets as being the optimum configuration on sports pieces as they work on the weight equals strength and quality theory, which is, in fairness, a logical but inaccurate belief which can result in the Nautilus, particularly the vintage models, finding themselves unfairly maligned due to being lightweight.
A heavier bracelet on the Nautilus would throw the design off balance, and would likely lose the supremely comfortable and effortless drape of the slender bracelet in its original, and in my opinion, utterly perfect form. As an aside, it may be slim, but its as secure and as strong as an ox.
It might be handy at this point to talk a little about Gay Freres, who supplied both the Royal Oak AND Nautilus bracelets, as well as designing and manufacturing for Rolex, Patek, Vacheron, Heuer, JLC, you name it.
If it was a big Swiss brand back in the 60s/70s, it was likely attached to the wrist by Gay Freres.
They were a giant of Swiss bracelet manufacture who started operations in 1835 making them older than Patek by 4 years.
Theres a high chance that if you see vintage bracelets such as Beads Of Rice (BOR) “Ladder” “Bonklip” “Folded link” etc going for high prices on the pre owned market or at auction, Gay Freres will be mentioned somewhere on that listing or GF will be engraved on the clasp. They are quite legendary.
So legendary in fact, that Rolex acquired them in 1998 so GF became no more, as they were absorbed into the Crown.
Its a bit of a shame really that the march of progress has seen the old Titans of the industry being acquired, absorbed, and disbanded, as the work that they did together produced some of the finest and most sought after pieces on the market today.
This Patek 3700 Nautilus is not only an absolute legend, but a prime example of what Swiss manufacture achieved in the 70s and 80s by working together in a time before everything under the sun was brought “in house” and “in house” became the sought after key words by collectors today.
The early Nautilus came in a compacted cork and steel box with a NAUTILUS plaque gracing the front, which has become a grail on its own merit.
We have seen asking prices of $12-18,000 USD for the box alone so I expect that a few tears may have been shed as it was quite customary to stick your new watch on the wrist and junk the packaging in the 70s.
Quite the different story these days with collectors shedding salty tears if so much as a case-back sticker is missing from the “full set” !
This legendary box received a comeback in 2016 when Patek released two Nautilus 40th Anniversary editions, the Nautilus 5711P and Chronograph 5966G.