What was Patek Philippe aiming to achieve with the Nautilus? When it was introduced in 1976, it was supposed to be a maritime lifestyle luxury watch for wealthy men and their family members who spent time boating or living by the sea. Genta pulled in design cues such as boat portholes for the design of the bezel and flanks, and the horizontal lines on the dial are meant to resemble teak wood boat decks. Not only was the starkly contrasting brushed and polished finishing on the case common practice for other watches produced at the time, but it was also evocative of the metal hardware of a yacht deck.
At the time Genta became involved in design, product design for watches was just as significant as product design of, for instance, automobiles. Everyone had them and used them, so because of the wide variety of these items, people were genuinely interested in unique designs. Thus, Genta was designing something that would be both worn and seen by everyone. In this case, the people wearing those watches were the rich elite that comprised Patek Philippe’s consumer base in the 1970s, and it’s the same demographic, albeit in larger numbers, that still wear Patek Philippe today.
My conclusion is that the Patek Philippe Nautilus is an excellent example of a men’s bracelet jewelry that just so happens to have a watch attached to it. The steel construction of the case and bracelet prevents it from being overly pretentious as well. Not only does a very respected watchmaker give the design the finishing and construction it deserves, but it also equips the watch with the finest non-complicated mechanical movements. Unlike Rolex, the movement isn’t hidden behind a solid caseback. Rather, Patek Philippe wants Nautilus owners to strut and show off that shiny in-house made caliber 324 S C through the sapphire crystal caseback.
In my opinion, the Nautilus is a perfectly made, modern sports watch for guys who are equally unlikely to wear their watch into the water today as they were in the past. Patek Philippe has maintained the same Nautilus archetype, while continuing to make it a more efficient and reliable timekeeper. In a way, there is no real 21st century Nautilus, and I’m not sure there ever will be. Despite much of its former creative glory, Patek Philippe today is an extremely conservative brand. I would love to see a Nautilus 2.0 (so to say) that transports the concept of a luxury sports lifestyle watch into the modern era. It would definitely be of Patek Philippe quality, but it would be more representative of contemporary values and aesthetics. Would that happen? Could that happen? If Patek Philippe chooses to take on that project, they could create something very cool.