The Story of the Aquanaut
With the Nautilus having famously been penned by Gérald Genta, Patek Philippe decided to produce their own take on the luxury steel sports watch, designed entirely in-house. In 1996, they delivered the 5060A, which is widely considered as the first Aquanaut to have been introduced, integrating the signature elements that have endured to this very day: a stainless steel case, the recognisable checkerboard dial and a rubber strap.
These design elements were geared towards something much sportier and more contemporary than the manufacturer was then known for at the time. Though unconfirmed, rumour suggests that the model was first commissioned by high level military personnel, hence the utilitarian design and dial pattern reminiscent of a grenade. Ever since its introduction, the Aquanaut has acted as a sort of modern canvas for experimentation, giving the manufacturer the ability to deviate from their otherwise reserved and classical offering.
A year after the model was first released, Patek Philippe introduced three more references, further developing their offering: The ref. 5064, with a practical quartz movement, the ref. 5066, integrating an open caseback, and finally, the ref. 5065, which became the largest of the first generation Aquanauts. Specifically, the 5065 offered a larger version of the original design, upscaling the case from 36mm to 38mm, hence why it has come to be known as the “Jumbo” Aquanaut.
An early tritium dial
With a texture reminiscent of a hand grenade, this military-inspired dial stands apart from the manufacturer’s more traditional designs. Each accurately bevelled brick gives a satisfying depth and definition to the otherwise pared back colour scheme. This texture is extended over to the brick style metal bracelet, with both of them complementing each other and creating a general sense of coherence.
This early reference also features high contrast indices, hands and date wheel, which help with legibility, further proof that the watch was designed with usability in mind. The simplistic style of handset is still used to this day, showing a continuity from the earliest of designs. We also find polished and applied Arabic numerals, alongside a stark white seconds hand.
An interesting feature of this example is the tritium lume used on the hour markers, which has developed a warm patina over time. Patek Philippe used tritium between approximately 1998 and 2004, before transitioning to superluminova for their later pieces, between 2004 and 2006. Even if the tritium dials were used for longer, it is believed that Patek Philippe scaled-up production of the reference in the final two years, such that superluminova dials and hands are understood to be more common. Thanks to their tendency to develop patina with age, earlier examples have become particular sought after, displaying some vintage elements which are lost on later pieces.
The "Jumbo" case
The 5065 represents one of the first variations on the Aquanaut design. It took the original 36mm size and upscaled it to 38mm, in order to satisfy those looking for a larger case diameter, in line with changing tastes at the time. Housed in stainless steel, this 5065 draws on the distinct octagonal case proportions of the Nautilus, though with somewhat more pared back features overall.
With finely polished edges and a flat, brushed bezel that frames the dial, well executed finishing is found throughout the case. At 38mm, this watch wears well on a variety of wrist sizes, balancing its vintage and contemporary aesthetics. The watch has a heft and robustness about it, synonymous with sports watches. With a sapphire caseback and larger dimensions, the ref. 5065 has become for many, the most wearable of the vintage Aquanauts, more finely attuned to modern tastes.
In line with offering a wider choice to consumers at the time, a small number of these early Aquanauts were offered with brick-linked bracelets, as seen in this example. Looking at catalogues from the period, it appears that that this bracelet was made available for the ref. 5065 from 1998, showing that it had been planned from the very the first year of production.
This Patek Philippe Aquanaut 5065 is powered by the self-winding calibre 315 CS, which was used in the earliest Aquanauts, up until this reference. This was later updated to the calibre 324 SC, which was introduced at the time of the Aquanaut 5167. The movement features 29 jewels, a straight-line lever escapement, shock absorber mechanism and a self-compensating flat balance spring. The yellow gold rotor is on full display, with Côtes de Genève exquisitely executed throughout the rest of the movement.
This Patek Philippe Aquanaut 5065 with tritium dial is accompanied by its outer box, inner box, cloth pouch and Certificate of Origin (confirming its sale in Hong Kong in November 1999). It also comes with a Patek Philippe maintenance leaflet in Japanese, which was potentially added after purchase. The watch is fitted onto a brick link style bracelet with 12 links (excluding end-links).
To find out more about the the Patek Philippe Aquanaut, you can read our in-depth article on the topic.