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WatchesHow The Patek Philippe Nautilus Became An Icon

How The Patek Philippe Nautilus Became An Icon

How The Patek Philippe Nautilus Became An Icon
By Nicolette Wong
November 05, 2018
Patek Philippe’s thinnest perpetual calendar watch

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When it was first created at the height of the quartz crisis in 1976, the Patek PhilippeNautilus was one of the two luxury steel sports watches that would come to redefine the modern watchmaking world. Where even high-end watches were once seen as everyday tools doing their best to approximate the right time (an endeavour then made obsolete by quartz watches and now by smartphones), luxury watchmaking today is an industry driven largely by emotion, craftsmanship, and heritage—with a healthy dose of mechanical innovation.

The newest iteration of the Nautilus is an excellent exemplar of that set of requirements—not only is the Ref 5740/1G-001 the first grand complication in the Nautilus line, it is also Patek Philippe’s thinnest perpetual calendar watch, period.


When it was first launched during the quartz crisis, the Patek Philippe Nautilus was deliberately priced and marketed as a luxury item, whose craftsmanship elevated it above the precise but pedestrian quartz watches

The Nautilus 5740, despite being a new release for 2018, is actually the result of decades of Patek Philippe’s work in perfecting the art and craft of mechanical watches. As mentioned before, the Nautilus itself was one of the two watches that created the category of luxury sports watches. It, along with the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, was created by the legendary watch designer Gérald Genta.

As the story goes, Genta apparently designed the Nautilus in a few minutes, sitting at a restaurant during the Baselworld fair. The design was based on the rounded squarish shape of a porthole on a transatlantic liner—hence the name Nautilus. The ship had windows with large hinges on the sides to make them watertight, and that same hinge design was translated to the wide bezel and “ears” on the Nautilus case. And while the Nautilus has undergone some minor tweaks to its design over the years, with variations on the dial, size, and movement, its case shape has generally remained steadfast.

(See also: 11 Luxury Watches We're All Very Curious About)

What also remains from the original is the slim profile of the watch. The original 3700/1 introduced in 1976 was only 7.6mm thick. The new Nautilus Ref 5740, even with its perpetual calendar complication, is only 8.42mm thick. This is all thanks to the incredible movement that is inside the watch. The original 3700/1 used the calibre 28-255C, which was an ultra-slim Jaeger-LeCoultre calibre JLC 920 that was finished in-house by Patek Philippe. (The JLC 920 also happens to be the same movement found in the original Royal Oak.)

The new Nautilus Ref 5740, however, plays host to the famous ultra-slim Patek Philippe in-house self-winding calibre 240Q, which debuted in Ref 3940J in 1985 and has been in uninterrupted production ever since. The Q in its name stands for quantième, meaning calendar in French. Its base movement, the calibre 240, has a slightly longer history—it was created in 1977, just one year after the birth of the Nautilus itself, and today can be found in numerous other Patek Philippe watches, including the Ref 6102, which has several modules to enable the function of its numerous celestial complications. The 240Q measures only 3.88mm in thickness, and this combined with the overall slimness of the Nautilus design means that the Nautilus Ref 5740 only measures 8.42mm thick, and is the thinnest perpetual calendar in Patek Philippe’s collection.

2.jpgThe Nautilus collection began life as an elegant steel sports watch. The Ref 5740 adds even more sophistication with its perpetual calendar complication and case in white gold

Functionally, the sporty Nautilus Ref 5740 perpetual calendar is just as refined as its more classic counterparts in Patek Philippe’s stable of perpetual calendars—no surprise, since the brand has had over 150 years to cement its expertise. Patek Philippe first started building perpetual calendar watches in 1864, and was one of the first Swiss brands to do so despite the fact that the complication was invented by Englishman Thomas Mudge in 1762. The perpetual calendar complication accounts for the difference in the number of days per month, whether a month has 28, 30, or 31 days—or 29 days, in the case of a leap year.

The real difficulty comes about once every 100 years or so, when a centurial year—that is, a year ending in 00—is not a leap year despite being divisible by four. By dint of our unusual calendar, every centurial year will not be a leap year if it cannot be divided perfectly by 400 without any remainder. The year 2000, for instance, was a leap year because it can be divided by 400, but the year 2100 will not be. This is the only type of leap year that the perpetual calendar cannot account for. Otherwise, assuming that the watch is kept wound, it will keep perfect time and date until it has to be adjusted on March 1, 2100. Should you need to adjust it, however, doing so is simple.

The corrector for day of the week can be found on the left side of the case, along the “ear”; the date on the left side of the top lug, and the month and year corrector on the top right. The moonphase corrector can be found on the bottom right, although that should not see much use either—the Nautilus Ref 5740 has a precise moonphase complication that will only deviate from the actual position of the moon by one day every 122 years.

 3.jpgThe ultra-thin calibre 240Q is Patek Philippe’s workhorse perpetual calendar movement, and is what allows the Ref 5740 to maintain its slim profile

Aesthetically speaking, the Ref 5740 keeps to all of the codes of the modern Nautilus, including the satin-brushed bezel and polished chamfering on the bezel, the characteristic blue dial with horizontal striping, and the gold-edged luminous straight hands and hour markers. There are three subdials, one each at three, six, and nine o’clock. The three o’clock subdial indicates the month and whether or not it is a leap year, the six o’clock subdial contains the moonphase aperture and date indication, and the nine o’clock subdial has a 24-hour indication, as well as that for the day of the week.


The ultra-thin calibre 240Q is Patek Philippe’s workhorse perpetual calendar movement, and is what allows the Ref 5740 to maintain its slim profile

There is one big difference between the original Nautilus and its new perpetual calendar sibling—the new Ref 5740 has a white gold case and bracelet to befit its new grand complication. On top of that, Patek Philippe has introduced a new patented fold-over clasp, which features four independent catches to optimise usage and prevent unintentional releases of the clasp.

Given the popularity of the Nautilus collection, which has famously long waiting lists, we’re certain that this new sibling will be welcomed into the collector fold in no time. 

(See also: Bare Bones: 13 Luxury Skeleton Watches We Love)


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