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Watches - Head-to-Head

Patek Philippe Nautilus Comparison: Old vs New Model

The introduction of new luxury timepieces onto today’s invigorated and enthusiastic market of fans and collectors never fails to cause ripples of excitement. However, few new releases are anticipated with the kind of baited breath and expectations which surround reimaginings of truly timeless classics; those rare and thrilling moments in the watchmaking industry, when the treasures of the past are made anew to delight a whole new generation of luxury watch enthusiasts.

This was certainly the case in 2006, when iconic timepiece maison, Patek Philippe, decided to launch a new version of their edgy, controversial, and instantly adored Nautilus. Prior to the release, there was plenty of speculation surrounding this addition to their legendary lineup of watches: would it pay homage to the original, but with a wealth of new features? Would it rely on retro charm, or stay true to the Nautilus’ modernist leanings? Perhaps most importantly of all - would the re-release be as popular, as influential, and as much of a must-have item in the serious watchmaker’s collection?

All of these questions, and many more besides, were answered pretty much instantly. The 2006 Nautilus 5711 proved to be hugely popular, and continues to be an enormously enthused-after model to this day. While it may not have yet reached the headiest heights of popularity and iconic status of the 3700 from the 1970s (and which sequel ever does better than the original?), there’s plenty to recommend the 2006 version of this beautiful, sleek, and stylish watch.

Let’s dive into the depth of the Nautilus, and take a closer look at the similarities and differences between these two remarkable watches. Four decades may separate their release, but the Patek Philippe spirit of innovation, excellence, precision, and timelessness is more than present, nonetheless.

The Nautilus 3700: A Brief History

Patek Philippe, in the 1970s, was regarded rather as it is today: as a luxury watchmaker, specialising in high-end luxury timepieces which make remarkable use of precious metals, mind-boggling complications, and all the delicate and precise features one would expect of a Swiss haute-horlogerie firm of their calibre. However, in 1972, the world of luxury watchmaking was rocked in no small amount by the decision of Audemars Piguet - very much a rival maison - to release the Royal Oak. This was luxury watchmaking as it had never been seen before; a sleek, modern, stainless steel sports watch, boasting a contemporary stripped-back elegance, and an artistic approach aligned with minimalism rather than old-world sophistication.

Patek Philippe wasted no time in putting together plans to demonstrate their capability in satisfying a changing and dynamic market, and promptly hired Gerald Genta, the designer behind the Royal Oak’s masculine and effortless modernism. Genta, in turn, demonstrated that he was no one-trick pony when it came to designing watches which captured the essence of a changing zeitgeist, and gave them the Nautilus; a timepiece with a burly use of stainless steel, a naval flourish with a porthole-inspired bezel, and a fascinating new string to the Patek Philippe bow. 

Perhaps inevitably, the Nautilus was released to mixed reviews by fans of Patek Philippe’s previous output. Many of their most dedicated collectors were somewhat shocked, even appalled, by the Nautilus; where were the complications? Why was there nothing on the dial but a pair of hands and a date feature? Where, perhaps most importantly, was the gold? Quite simply, a sports watch made little sense to a sizeable section of the Patek Philippe clientele, who had always gravitated towards the brand for the luxury leanings, and dress watches showcasing a rather decadent use of precious metals. However, perhaps also because of this idiosyncratic approach and against-the-grain sensibility, other sectors of the watch-collecting public flocked to the Nautilus in their droves, dazzled by its bold design, contemporary and uncompromising sleekness, and masterful use of stainless steel.

The Case: Similarities and Differences

At first glance, the 3700 and 5711 Nautilus watches are almost identical when it comes to casing. After all, the bold and fearless porthole shape is the trademark feature of this particular timepiece; to alter this would be to change the watch in entirety, and defeat the point of issuing a re-release in the first place.

However, look at a little closer, and updates and changes can be detected. The first and most obvious of these is the size of the case. The case and the bezel of the 3700 Nautilus was considered large for the mid-70’s (indeed, the Nautilus was often referred to as the ‘jumbo’), and is made of the two components, bolted together. While the original Nautilus was 42mm in diameter, the 5711 takes this up to 43mm, and adds a little extra thickness, too, just to ensure that the solid, masculine feel of this timepiece has not been lost with the passing decades. Furthermore, the 5711 has a case made up of three components (the caseback is now a separate part) - something which purists have been known to criticise, claiming the two-part 3700 stays truer to the original porthole-inspired concept.

The Dial: Necessary Additions?

Again, the old and new dial of the Nautilus remains in essence identical; those beautifully sleek and bold hour markers remained every bit as impactful in 2006 (and indeed today) as they did thirty years previously. Tilt the dial of the 5711 Nautilus back and forth, however, and you’ll detect a slight irridescence and change in colour in direct comparison to the original - a delightfully subtle new inclusion making use of thoroughly contemporary colouration techniques that Genta would doubtlessly have adored.

While there are other subtle differences, most notably the slight shift of the wording on the dial towards the 12 o’clock marker, and a thinning of the font used also, the key change here is the inclusion of a second hand on the 5711 which was remarkedly not present on the original. Genta clearly had a preference for watch faces with only two hands (he was, after all, the ultimate champion of minimalism in luxury timepiece design), and again, purists might suggest his original version stays most true to its intended vision. However, times have changed, and a luxury watch without a second hand today would perhaps not have the same impactful appeal as it would have done in 1976.

Reimagining The Nautilus Movement

When the Nautilus was first released, Patek Philippe were proud to proclaim that it featured the 3.05mm high mechanical automatic winding movement calibre 28-255C. This was a remarkably ultra-thin movement, among the thinnest in the world, and was based upon the 920 calibre movement made famous by Jaeger-LeCoultre, and which was also present in the Royal Oak release in 1972. Because the Nautilus didn’t feature a second hand back in 1976, the movement could be made in a stunningly elegant fashion, utilising rails on which the movement could roll.

Today, things have changed somewhat: the 2006 re-release aimed to showcase the very best of Patek Philippe ingenuity, and as such, the 5711 model boasts an automatic winding movement calibre 324SC - completely made in-house by Patek Philippe. This movement really is a thing of beauty, and while it may not be quite as flat as its predecessor (again, something which comes down to that addition of the second hand), it features a truly gorgeous finish which more than justifies the 5711 decision to include a separate caseback through which it may be admired.

Old vs New: Which Nautilus Rules the Waves?

Make no mistake, both the 1976 and 2006 Patek Philippe Nautilus models are truly remarkable watches, which delight in modernism and a surprising sense of masculinity and precision, and the 5711 is more than a fitting homage to a truly iconic original. They are favoured by no shortage of celebrities, including Drake, Trevor Noah, Brad Pitt, Mark Wahlberg, and many others; all men who have balanced traditional masculinity with a contemporary outlook, sense of wit, and personalised approach to style. To choose between the two would be no mean feat - both have clear merits, both boast subtle differences which reflect two very different decades, and both look and feel magnificently avant-garde upon the wrist.

The decision would come down to, one would suspect, the watch collector’s dedication to originality and authenticity. If you’re a purist when it comes to horology, then Genta’s vision of modernity in all its original glory simply cannot be beaten. However, if you’re more of a fan of the subtle additional features of the 5711, then that caseback, second hand, and delicate flourish of colour is sure to delight. After all, the 2006 version has been so popular and praised, it is quickly becoming a classic in its own right… and not without good reason, thanks to the precision and excellence that Patek Philippe has piled into this spectacular release.

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