This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Aquanaut, Patek Philippe’s follow-on from their prodigal son, the Nautilus. As is the norm for Patek Philippe, they have released a celebratory edition, the 5168G, which is the same watch by all means just slightly larger, ever-so-slightly tweaked and in white gold. Today, however, we have a version that does as good a job as any and it comes in what to me is its most flattering metal, rose gold. Here are a few words on it.
To the newcomer the Aquanaut might be something of an enigma. It’s a sports watch, which essentially puts it in the same bracket as the likes of the Rolex Submariner, yet it’s twice the price. While it has some inherent value on the Rolex—it’s a larger chunk of gold and the movement is handmade and finished—there’s still some extra price tag to be accounted for. This difference is in fact what makes it special. The Patek Philippe Aquanaut might be a sports watch but it’s only for the very select few. And in rose gold this elitism is taken to another level because, well, you just shouldn’t be using rose gold for sports.
There is a genre for this type of watch and it’s known as the luxury sports watch or sports luxe watch. It was actually part-invented by Patek Philippe with the Nautilus, in the seventies. I say “part” as it came a few years after the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, it’s main competitor, but both were in fact designed by Gérald Genta. These watches were aimed at a younger crowd, albeit one that had the cash to aim for the top watches. Many critics at the time highlighted the absurdity of charging such prices for sports watches and were convinced they wouldn’t succeed. By the nineties, however, they were everywhere and naturally Patek Philippe decided to expand their offerings.
The Aquanaut had roughly the same case shape as the Nautilus—a rounded octagon loosely based on a ship’s pothole. It was edgy and butch with contrasting brushed and polished finishing, and it was even sportier with its rubber strap. It’s actually the only watch that Patek Philippe has ever issued on a rubber strap (although you can get it on a metal strap). It’s made of a tough composite with an embossed checkerboard pattern that roughly matches the dial. Visually it has a big overall effect on the watch and on the wrist it’s also exceptionally snug. Personally, I’m a big fan of rubber straps if they suit the watch aesthetically, as they are generally more comfortable, water and scratch resistant, and they can be easily cleaned.
The dial’s emboss is shaped more like the longitude and latitude lines on an atlas and this gives it just enough detail to make it interesting. It has applied Arabic numerals in rose gold with Superluminova filling and sharp-edged baton hands, again filled with Superluminova, with a fine white seconds hand. Flip it over and the detail is stepped up a gear. It’s here you discover where you’re money is really going. The movement is the self-winding 324SC calibre, which is the same one used in the Nautilus. It’s decorated with a number of exquisite Patek finishing techniques, such as the circular graining and perlage on the gold rotor, which has the iconic Calatrava cross etched into the middle of it. The bridges are spruced up with polished surfaces and Geneva striping.
The size is ideal. It’s 2 mm bigger than the original 1997 version, at 40 mm. It’s as hefty as it looks on the wrist but thanks to the rubber it grips firm. It’s water-resistant to 120 m, which means it can actually be worn in the pool and shower, although given the price tag you might think twice.
I guess the real question is though, which would you choose, this or the Nautilus? Well, the rose gold Nautilus comes on a rose gold bracelet and is a fair sight more expensive at around £37,000 pre-owned, compared with about £20,000-25,000 for the Aquanaut. I’d find the choice a bit of a headache given the money difference, but despite my praise of the rubber strap I’d probably go with the slightly tighter design of the Nautilus. What about the Royal Oak? Again it’s a good few thousand cheaper than the Aquanaut but it would be my third choice of the three. Either way, if you’re making this call then, well, you’re in the right area for me.
For more information visit our dedicated pre-owned and vintage Patek Philippe watches page.