As we all know, the Gérald Genta-designed Nautilus was first released in 1976 and is a founding member of the ‘1970s steel sports watch club’. The Nautilus ref. 3700/1A – along with its contemporary, the also Genta designed Audemars Piguet Royal Oak ref. 5402ST from 1972 – where the first of its kind. Catering to a new breed of watch wearer: the international, perma-tanned, pleasure seeking, Maserati Merak driving, Riva Aquarama sailing, playboy. Able to accompany its wearer on everything the dolce vita might throw at him (or her) – from the beaches of Cannes, to the slopes in Gstaad and dinner in Paris.

However, its genesis was nowhere near as relaxed as its archetypal louche wearers. It came from an industry in crisis; traditional Swiss watchmaking was under serious threat of extinction from quartz. The grand old houses of horology needed to innovate and find their place in a brave new world. And Patek nailed it – the integrated bracelet, its almost industrial design, coupled with slim elegant lines and shapes all mean the Nautilus still looks as contemporary today as it did 40 years ago.

It has gone on to become an icon and a textbook example of modern luxury wristwatch design at its best. The story goes that Genta came up with the Nautilus over a quiet meal during a Basel fair. Speaking in 2009 he said: “I was at the restaurant of a hotel and some people from Patek were sitting in one corner of the dining hall, while I was sitting alone in the other corner. I told the head-waiter: ‘Bring me a piece of paper and a pencil, I want to design something’ and I designed the Nautilus while observing the people from Patek eating!… It was a sketch that I completed in five minutes…”

To please its demanding and ever growing clientele, Patek has released several different variations of the Nautilus over the years: in differing metals, featuring additional complications, on leather straps and also with new dial variations, colours and more. Below is a list of five standout examples from the last four decades of the Nautilus:

1.

Ref. 3710/1A

Released in 1998, the ref. 3710/1A was the first Nautilus to feature a complication beyond the common date wheel. A power reserve indicator can be found on the dial at 12 o’clock, and the unique display of the power reserve has earned the watch the nickname “Comet”. Driven by Patek’s own movement – as opposed to the Jaeger LeCoultre base calibre used in the original – updates to the Comet also included a seconds hand and Roman indices.

2.

Ref. 3700/1A (Khanjar dial)

There is a long lineage of Omani Khanjar dial watches commissioned by Sultan Qaboss bin Sa’id as gifts. From the Rolex Sea Dwellers given to British soldiers to this – one of only two know Khanjar-signed dial, steel, A-series Nautiluses. The two 3700/1As actually have sequential serial numbers and were paid for on the same day in 1978. Up for sale through Christie’s in Dubai on October 19th, the watch forms part of the auction house’s “Nautilus 40” sale celebrating the wristwatch’s landmark birthday. As with all Oman dial watches from this period the 3700 in question was originally commissioned through Asprey.

Also worthy of note on the subject of co-signed Nautilus (and Patek in general) dials, are those retailed and signed by Tiffany & Co. Tiffany is actually still selling co-signed Pateks, but they are highly limited and only available through their flagship New York, Fifth Avenue store.

3.

Ref. 5980/1

On the occasion of the Nautilus’s 30th anniversary in 2006, Patek introduced a chronograph version of its lauded sports watch. Found at 6 o’clock, a single auxiliary dial displays the information from the 5980’s lead complication – with two hands from the centre and an inner and outer ring displaying hours and minutes respectively. The start-stop-reset pushers are discreetly nestled into the case at 3 and 4 o’clock, with their shape echoing the existing curves of the Genta original. The 5980’s case actually needed a complete re-design to incorporate the chronograph movement and its pushers. It’s since become a popular member of the collection, and incorporates, as subtly and elegantly as possible, what could have been an obtrusive addition to the Nautilus.

4.

Ref. 3800/108

Stone set Nautiluses are now pretty habitual, but the 3800/180 takes the bejewelled crown. This particular example, made circa 1990 and measuring 37mm, was gifted to a former Yakuza boss called Jiro Yanagawa. A Korean migrant to Japan, at the peak of his criminal enterprises Yanagawa controlled his own syndicate of several thousand men. He eventually disbanded his organisation in 1969, going on to become a goodwill ambassador between Korea and Japan and also the first commissioner of Japan’s branch of the International Boxing Federation.

Produced in yellow gold, the case, bracelet and dial are factory pave-set with 7.49 carats of diamonds and the 12, 9 and 6 o’clock hour makers are baguette-cut rubies. The watch also features a caseback engraving indicating its original status. Antiquorum sold this example, accompanied by an extract from Patek’s archives, in a 2015 Hong Kong sale for 750,000 HKD.

5.

Ref. 5711R

Shown at last year’s Baselworld to almost universal acclaim, the rose-gold, brown-dial, 5711 Nautilus builds on the original’s 1970s cool with a decade-appropriate colour palette. A contemporary re-issue of the original, departures from the 3700 also include a seconds hand, slightly larger and thicker 43mm case and an exhibition caseback – displaying Patek’s self-winding 324 S C movement, with a power reserve of 45 hours.