The Nautilus watch from Patek Philippe was introduced in 1976 as the first sports watch for the brand in its 137-year history. It was the brainchild of Philippe Stern, then an executive at his father’s brand (and now, in 2016, its owner). He was an avid sailor who liked to compete in regattas on Lake Geneva.
With designer Gérald Genta, Stern created the big, forceful Nautilus with his maritime pursuits in mind; the case outline is meant to echo the two-part seal of a porthole on an ocean liner, and the alternating matte and gloss steel finishes were intended to impart a sense of casual ruggedness. Some say the beveled bracelet reminds them of a mollusk, as well.
It was viewed as daring at the time, since, at $3,100, it was expensive for a steel timepiece (a bit more than $13,000 in today’s dollars). No surprise, then, that in the years since, the watch has become a beloved star in the Patek pantheon, and this year, to honor its 40th anniversary, the brand is releasing two limited edition versions for die-hard collectors.
The first is the Ref. 5711/1P, which boasts a solid platinum bracelet and case and diamond baguette markers. The familiar blue grooved dial is stamped with an anniversary emblem (reading “40 | 1976–2016”) and there’s a tiny diamond embedded on the inside of the bezel at six o’clock. Seven hundred will be made, and they will retail for $113,400. It comes in an old-fashioned cork box, which was inspired by the packaging of the original Nautilus watches from 1976.
The second watch is a little bit more out-of-the-box. (Platinum Nautiluses have been made before in small quantities, according to Hodinkee.) The white gold 5976/1G is an automatic flyback chronograph with a beefy 60-minute and 12-hour monocounter at six o’clock, which you’ll recognize from the ref. 5980. But this is bigger than that watch, at 44 mm across. The markers here are also diamond, and the dial is also stamped with the anniversary emblem. Patek will make 1,300 of these, and they will retail for $96,390.
Recently, rival brand Piaget released a new stainless steel watch at a low price point, the Polo S, to much fanfare, and watch fans couldn’t help but notice its similarity to the Nautilus. But the anniversary of the latter—a true early entry into the steel luxury timepiece game—and the appearance of these new watches in precious metals seem to underscore that there is really only one Nautilus. And Patek is betting that its fans will be quick to scoop up these limited quantities.