The Patek Philippe Aquanaut is not the watch I had initially wanted to cover this week. I really wanted instead to take a look at the modern Patek Philippe Calatrava series, but after some deep introspection and the final acceptance that I was bound to miss some key, passionately-held detail on that watch, I decided to push that article back a little while longer. Thus, we come to the Aquanaut—a watch about as appropriate in second place here as Michael Phelps is in the pool; neither really belongs there, but that’s just what seems to be happening today.
The Patek Philippe Aquanaut, a series as lovingly controversial as the Nautilus is to Patek purists, but as contemporarily appealing to everybody else since its initial release in 1997, is a watch conceived with some heavy historical inspirations. Much like the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore series is to the original Royal Oak, the Aquanaut is a heavily influenced descendant of the 1976-released Nautilus, and thus another piece in some way or another connected to the mind of watch-design legend Gérald Genta, creator of both the Royal Oak and the Nautilus.
The flagship reference in this modern series is Ref. 5167 (above). The piece is a 40-mm, steel-cased beast. With a porthole-inspired, brushed-steel bezel, accentuated “ear” crown guards, and a number of distinctive dial features, it is fairly obvious to most how the Aquanaut is descended from the Nautilus. The watch is powered by the beautifully finished automatic Caliber 324SC (below; the same movement used in the current Nautilus), and has a power reserve of 45 hours— a relatively low reserve for this luxurious price tag, but most likely betting heavily on the fact that watch would become its consumer’s daily wearer.
On the dial is a matte black, curved checkerboard pattern, which is possibly a reference to the globetrotting meant to be done while wearing the watch. In addition, the watch has extra thick hour and minute hands, a 120-meter water resistance, Arabic numerals and boxes for each hour and, finally, an understated square date indicator at the 3 o’clock mark. This piece, available in steel or rose gold, and with the option for either a metal bracelet or rubber strap, starts in price around $19,500.
As I have mentioned three or four times already, the Aquanaut draws heavily from the reservoir of inspiration in the Genta-designed Nautilus series (above). From the porthole-inspired case, to the movement and date indicator, even to the somewhat similar hour markers and thick hands — nobody is going to argue the fact that this watch has a forefather. But, interestingly enough, the Nautilus is not the only one.
A very interesting feature in this series is in the non-integrated bracelet with the watch; while at first this could seem purely practical — a rubber strap is easier to clean, replace, etc., especially with the daily beatings Patek encourages you to give this watch — it is also somewhat of a hat tip to the long history of rubber straps, divers, and summertime. It is a reference that becomes a little more obvious with knowing the name of Patek’s only composite strap: “Tropical.”
There is a reason the Aquanaut remains controversial with Patek purists — it is, like the Nautilus many years before it, a watch that did not, and does not, fit the traditional notion of a luxury timepiece. Similar to the AP Royal Oak and the Offshore (above) release in 1993, all of these series defy what we believe a watch needed to fit a certain price tag — and for that we should be grateful to Patek Philippe for keeping horology interesting. While, personally, even if the cost was not a deciding factor, I don’t think I would ever own one, I fully understand why many want to. The Aquanaut is bold, it’s interesting, and — unlike the Offshore’s relationship to the Royal Oak — Patek wanted it to be independent enough of the Nautilus family while still giving the watch a very interesting history.
For last week’s article, in which I compare the modern and vintage IWC Ingenieur Automatic, click here.
Caleb Anderson is the Director of Outreach at the online vintage watch boutique theoandharris.com. Since starting at Theo & Harris, he has garnered extensive knowledge on vintage watches, and spends much of his time sharing his opinions within the field. Currently located near New York City, he is a persistent student in all things historical, a writer on watches, and a casual runner.