Whether you consider yourself an experienced luxury watch collector or a fairly new one, the chances are you’ll have heard of one of the most expensive steel sports watches in the world – the Nautilus watch by Patek Philippe. World-famous and recognised just about everywhere you go, the Nautilus makes a solid investment and in recent years has skyrocketed in value. Some models from the historical series of Nautilus watches sell for astronomical prices. The demand for a Nautilus watch is years long. Pre-owned – the watch is hard to come by and is one of the costliest in history. Its world-famous porthole-inspired aesthetic was created by Gerald Genta and some of the top models offer complications like a second time zone, a chronograph or a perpetual calendar.
When Patek Philippe released the Nautilus design in 1976 it broke traditions for the famed watchmaker. The design was completely new and differed drastically from the company’s more elegant rounded dress watch designs. It was controversial for a few years but despite an uncertain start, soon came to be one of the most sought-after steel sports watches of all time. Still to this day, the Nautilus remains true to its original design and has barely changed. It is characterised by its octagonal-shaped bezel, rounded case edges, and its satin-brushed and polished links that form its integrated bracelet. Much of this DNA runs through the steel sports watch category today.
Inspired by the submarine in Jules Vernes' famous novel "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea." – the watch was a far cry from the brand’s elegant guilloche-adorned dials, switching this feature out for a dial in horizontal relief with luminous baton hour markers that created a resolutely sporty aesthetic. Gerald Genta – creator of the iconic Royal Oak watch designed the Nautilus for Patek Philippe, and the very first model ref. 3700 (later nicknamed the “Jumbo”) was released. The watch followed in the footsteps of the Royal Oak’s success during an important time for the luxury watch industry. It was the combination of its wide lugs and lateral ears that made the Nautilus watch particularly water-resistant, providing uniform compression over the rubber gasket of the watch and enabling it to resist water penetration.
In 1980, a ladies version of the Nautilus was released by Patek Philippe, closely followed by the mid-size ref. 3800/1A. It offered a broad 37.5mm diameter and featured central seconds. This was followed by the 3710/1A in 1998 with an added complication to the small date. It offered a power reserve at 12 o’clock surrounded by classic-looking Roman numeral hour markers. In 2005 a triple complication model was released - ref. 3712. Powered by the 240 PS automatic movement. It featured a gold micro rotor put on show through a sapphire crystal glass caseback. Sadly, the 3712 was discontinued after a year, giving way to a new generation of Nautilus watches. This included the Nautilus ref. 5711/1A with an enlarged case measuring 43mm and was powered by Patek's calibre 324 SC. It also featured a new three-part case construction and a more comfortable double folding clasp.
The model ref. 5712 soon followed – a successor to the original 3712 model. The Nautilus Chronograph ref. 5980 was released in 2006 with an even larger 44mm case, as well as the 30th-anniversary Nautilus ref. 5800. An entire decade later, Patek Philippe released its 40th-anniversary Nautilus edition with stunning baguette-cut diamond indices. These were produced, in a limited production run of just 700 pieces making them incredibly rare yet sought-after on the pre-owned market.
Even if you are somewhat new to the world of luxury watch collecting, you may have recalled the headlines back in 2020 driven by Patek Philippe when it revealed it was discontinuing the white edition of the Nautilus, followed not long after by the blue version the year after. As a result, the demand for the Nautilus went through the rough. Prices have risen considerably thereafter, including other iconic steel sports watches from the likes of Audemars Piguet with its world-famous Royal Oak design.
The fact is, the demand for the Nautilus has always been down to Patek’s restricted production of these models. By doing this, no single steel model has come to dominate the brand’s catalogue – they are all highly sought-after. People will wait years and pay the highest prices for a Nautilus watch because of its rarity and status. Added to that is the stylish steel sports watch credentials of the Nautilus. The iconic design recalls the steel sports watch craze of the 1970s – a look that is still considered most desirable today.
The ref. 5712 has a moonphase indicator, as well as a beautiful pointer date feature and a small second sub-dial. In addition to this, its power reserve indicator shows the remaining energy levels of the in-house calibre 240 PS IRM C LU. This engine provides a useful 48-hour power reserve and sits inside a case offered in a range of materials from 18ct white gold to stainless steel to 18ct rose gold. The most expensive of these three variations is, of course, the steel version. The ref. 5712/1A features a stunning deep blue dial adorned with the brand’s horizontally embossed decoration. The moon phase display located at 7 o’clock is framed by a date window and balanced by the small running seconds counter at 5 o’clock. The power reserve indicator resides at 10 o’clock, surrounded by baton indexes that have been treated with luminous material and the watch’s iconic porthole-inspired case crafted from brushed stainless steel is integrated with 60-meter water resistance.
Case/Dial: 40mm Stainless steel, Blue
Movement: 240 PS IRM C LU, Self-winding
Functions: Date, seconds, moonphase, power indicator, 48h power reserve
Strap: Stailess steel
The Nautilus ref. 5980 is a chronograph complication that is offered in 18ct white gold or a two-tone stainless steel and 18ct rose gold version. It is a higher priced model to own, with a price tag only slightly less than the three-handed ref. 5711. On the pre-owned market, the two-tone version can sell for around $121,000. On a leather strap, this Nautilus watch sells for around $120,000 – the same as the two-tone version. From the brand’s current catalogue, the ref. 5980/1R is an all rose gold version with a black gradient dial with gold applied hour markers and a luminescent finish to assist with timekeeping in the dark. The 120-meter water-resistant watch features the small seconds, 30-minute and 12-hour functions in a concentric sub-counter at 6 o’clock. This combined feature is accompanied by a date window at 3 o’clock, dressed against a white background for enhanced readability. The Caliber CH 28‑520 C with its 60-minute and 12-hour mono-counter is an innovative engine that produces a power reserve of 50 hours and performs at a rate of 28,800 vibrations per hour.
Case/Dial: 40.5mm 18ct rose gold, Black
Movement: CH 28‑520 C, Self-winding
Functions: Date, Calendar, Flyback chronograph., 55h power reserve
Strap: 18ct rose gold
The Nautilus ref. 7118 is a model for ladies. It was released in 2019 making it one of the most recent designs to join the iconic series. It featured a somewhat narrower bezel to create a more delicate, feminine-inspired frame and was offered in rose gold or stainless steel. More options revealed a diamonds or non-diamonds version, as well as a blue, golden brown, grey or silver dial colour. These watches feature a central second hand and are powered by the calibre 324 S C. Today the ref. 7118/1A is a particularly popular model. Its parred back dial design keeps timekeeping simple and to the point with a blue horizontal surface, gold applied hour markers and hands, a 60-meter water-resistant stainless steel case, date window at 3 o’clock and one single Arabic numeral hour marker representing the 12 o’clock location.
Case/Dial: 35.2mm Stainless steel, Blue
Movement: 324 S C, Self-winding
Functions: Date, Calendar, 45h power reserve
Strap: Stailess steel
Like their designs, which have remained unchanged over the years, Patek Philippe Nautilus watches all have one thing in common – they are all expensive. The most coveted of all is the ref. 5711 with a blue dial, which, before its discontinuation was selling for around $76,000 in early 2021. After the brand shared its decision to cease production, prices shot up to $110,000. The white dial version of the Nautilus ref. 5711 is considered its sister model, which sold for only slightly less at $104,000. This too was retired from production. Its successor, set with scintillating baguette-cut diamonds sold for around $92,000. The rose gold version of the 5711 Nautilus is still in production and now sells for around $54,000. Although hard to come by on the pre-owned market and expensive to purchase brand new, the Nautilus will always make a solid investment and, right now on the current market, is expected to continue to appreciate.