History of the Nautilus
The early 1970s was a time of great change within the watch industry. At the time of its release, the world was already shifting towards highly-commercialised, quartz watchmaking. In 1969 Seiko launched the first quartz wristwatch, and its success drove the mechanical watch industry to critically low levels of production by the early 1980s.
Furthermore, the concept of a luxury watch in steel was a truly revolutionary idea. In 1976, the introduction of Patek Philippe’s Nautilus firmly altered the direction of luxury sports watch design – offering a true competitor to Audemars Piguet's then four-year-old Royal Oak, equally designed by Mr Genta. The Nautilus offered a different take on the idea of a luxury sports watch, though - like the Royal Oak - it was made in stainless steel for the standard version.
The ref. 3700/001A was not only unprecedented in its design, but also in its initial pricing to consumers. When the Nautilus was released, the retail price for the watch was $3,100 - considerable for the time, and comparable to many of Patek Philippe’s gold dress watches.
Remarkably, Gerald Genta is said to have sketched the 3700’s design whilst dining meters away from Patek Philippe executives. His “five minutes of work”, is today considered one of the masterpieces of modern design. Its etymology comes from Jules Verne’s novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, after the ‘Nautilus’ submarine, used by Captain Nemo.
Like the Royal Oak, the Nautilus’ water-resistant technology (120 meters) required innovative strategy. Gerald Genta’s inspiration for the iconic Nautilus architecture was to replicate that of the secure ‘porthole’ windows, found on transatlantic ocean liners, complete with a two-piece, solid mono-block and octagonal bezel, secured by four lateral screws (concealed at 3 and 9 o’clock), holding the case tightly together.
An early 3700 example
This steel Nautilus 3700/001A watch is the perfect balance between utilitarian function and elegant design. The case and bracelet are excellently finished, with beveled, polished and granular surfaces. The all-original bracelet (with a full complement of links) has limited stretch (more pronounced on the first link at 12 o'clock), though overall remains relatively tight. At 42mm in diameter, and only 7.6mm thick, the 3700 case is a beautiful twist of perspectives and size. The inner-case-back correctly displays the watch’s unique serial number (533 XXX), as well as the reference number ‘3700/1’, below the manufacture’s signature. The underside of the hinge-inspired 'ears' (located at 3 and 9 o'clock) also display a 3-digit serial number, appropriately matching the last 3-digits on the inner case-back.
The hand-made, ridged dial, manufactured by Stern Fréres, displays horizontal grooves. Over time, the dial has developed a warm patina, displaying copper and golden tones in different sections. The applied hour markers are tritium-filled, with ‘dot’ outer-minute divisions, original polished baton-hands (with luminous inserts) and a date aperture at 3 o’clock (with original date-disc, which displays some spotting and flaking on certain dates). The hands, markers and date disk have all developed a warm patina, which further reinforces the character of the watch. With this example, the index-markers and hands are manufactured from white gold, indicated by the lower case Greek letter ‘sigma’ at the bottom of the dial.
Two versions of the Patek Philippe Nautilus 3700 existed, carrying the references 3700/001A and later, the ref. 3700/011A - with two subtle variations in bracelet design. The links of the ref. 3700/001 are noticeably-wider and straighter than the ref. 3700/011A, which featured a more exaggerated bracelet taper. Further to this, the bracelets found in earlier examples (like this 3700/001A) have fewer links, owing to each individual links’ larger size). The steel 3700/001A (with larger bracelet) was produced from 1976-82. The clasp of this 3700/001A bracelet was replaced during service, and is engraved with "Nautilus" alongside “PATEK-PHILIPPE” and “STEEL INOX”.
The Nautilus 3700/001A is powered by the ultra-slim calibre 28-255C, derived from Jaeger-LeCoultre’s legendary ultra-thin JLC 920 calibre movement. The caliber 2121 was based on the caliber 2120, an initial project of Jaeger-LeCoultre in 1967, funded and contributed to by Patek Philippe, and famous for its adoption by Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin (found in the Royal Oak 5402 and VC 222). The 28-255C calibre features Patek Philippe's famed free-sprung Gyromax balance, with four ruby wheels to support the full-diameter rotor, which runs on a beryllium rail for stability. The solid-gold rotor is finished in classic Patek Philippe style, with circular Geneva stripes. The Patek Philippe calibre 28-255C remains one of the thinnest full-rotor self-winding movements in the world, considered by many as one of the most stunningly refined and technically impressive wrist-watch movements ever made. Importantly, its movement serial number (1.300.XXX) corresponds with its year of production.
The present example was sold in December 1978 in Antwerp, Belgium, as confirmed by an accompanying letter from retailer Jacques S. Goldstein. All the reference numbers (on the caseback, 'ears' and movement) have been confirmed by Patek Philippe and an Extract from the Archives has been ordered (to follow shortly).
In 2006, Patek Philippe marked the 30th anniversary of the Nautilus by introducing the reference 5711/1A, which itself has already achieved something akin to a cult-like status. Our original, 3700/001A therefore represents an exceptional opportunity to acquire the founding reference of what is today, one of the world's rarest and most desirable vintage sports watches.
Viewings can be arranged in Central London by appointment.