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 1997, they delivered the 5060A, which is widely considered to be the first Aquanaut, 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. 5065, which became the largest of the first generation Aquanauts and finally the ref. 5066, integrating an open caseback. The latter is the most faithful to the original Aquanaut design from 1997, whilst also offering the appeal of an open caseback.
A captivating design
An all-gold Aquanaut is a bit of a paradox. The Aquanaut was originally conceived as a luxury steel watch, yet its design and proportions translate wonderfully into yellow gold. An all-gold case with black dial and white date disc emphasises its visual richness and vintage inspiration. Though stainless steel has traditionally been the most popular variant, the vintage aesthetic and enigmatic nature of early 5066J pieces have recently seen a growing appeal amongst collectors.
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, which is extended over to the brick styled rubber strap, with both of them complementing each other and leaving a harmonious impression.
This early reference also features high contrast indices, hands and date wheel, which help with legibility; 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 in complimentary yellow gold, alongside a stark white seconds hand.
Another 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 particularly sought after, displaying some vintage elements which are lost on later pieces.
Usually more susceptible to wear than its stainless steel equivalent, this 5066J is nicely preserved. As we have come to expect from Patek Philippe, the case is excellently finished, with angular, bevelled and polished edges. At 36mm, this watch wears well on a variety of wrist sizes, balancing its vintage and contemporary aesthetics. The 5066J has a noticeable heft to it, serving as a gentle reminder that this watch is been executed in a precious metal. A highlight of the watch is the view into the inner workings of the watch, through a sapphire caseback.
This Patek Philippe Aquanaut 5066J is powered by the self-winding calibre 330 SC. It features 29 jewels, a straight-line lever escapement, shock absorber mechanism a self-compensating flat balance spring and a monometallic balance, adjusted to cold, heat, isochronism and 5 positions. The yellow gold rotor is on full display thanks to the sapphire back, with Côtes de Genève exquisitely executed throughout the rest of the movement.
This Patek Philippe Aquanaut 5066J comes with the original outer black paper box, inner box, suede Patek Philippe pouch, leather folio with Certificate of Origin, instruction manual and additional Patek Philippe product literature. Included is also a new, uncut Patek Philippe beige tropical rubber strap, along with the manufacturer's original, corresponding yellow gold deployant clasp.
If sold within the United Kingdom, this Patek Philippe 5066J will be subject to 20% VAT.
To find out more about the Patek Philippe Aquanaut, you can read our in-depth article on the topic.