The Nautilus from Patek Philippe has attained holy grail-status for many watch enthusiasts. This is especially true for the stainless steel three-hand models, which most closely resemble Gérald Genta’s original 1976 design. Since its release, the Nautilus has been anything but affordable. Patek even marketed the timepiece with the slogan: “One of the world’s most expensive watches is made of steel.” But in recent years, prices for the Nautilus have truly exploded, climbing to absurd heights. As a reminder, we’re talking about a relatively simple stainless steel watch with three hands and a date display. What makes the Nautilus so special that people are willing to spend six figures on it? Let’s take a closer look.
What’s behind the price of a Nautilus?
A long-established Swiss watch manufacturer, Patek Philippe is considered one of the “Big Three” in the luxury watch world, alongside Audemars Piguet and Vacheron Constantin. Patek watches carry a lot of prestige, and the Swiss manufacturer charges a hefty sum for it.
At the same time, the quality Patek offers is of the highest caliber. The manufacturer’s motto has always been “quality, not quantity.” In practice, this means that Patek not only attaches importance to the finest materials, but also to the highest level of craftsmanship. To this end, the watch giant has trained a good part of its nearly 2,400 employees itself. Depending on the profession, this kind of training can take several years and costs a great deal of money. Likewise, manufacturing in-house movements is a lengthy and costly affair – not to mention the costs of high-precision manufacturing equipment, some of which also must be developed in-house.
Additionally, the efforts invested in producing the best possible quality effectively lower Patek’s production volume. The manufacturer produces a maximum of 60,000 watches per year. By comparison, Patek’s competitor Rolex produces an estimated 1 million watches per year. This means that Patek Philippe’s timepieces are relatively rare and therefore exclusive.
These factors naturally flow into the calculation of the watches’ prices. All things considered, a list price of $34,893 for the final edition of the Nautilus 5711/1A seems quite reasonable.
List Price vs. Market Price
There is a catch, however: due to the small numbers of pieces that left the hallowed halls of the Patek manufacturer each year, it was near impossible to acquire a Nautilus at the official list price. Waiting eight to ten years was the norm at Patek retailers – assuming, of course, you even made it onto one of the waitlists.
Because demand greatly exceeded the availability of the watch in official retail shops, many collectors and watch enthusiasts began to hunt on the open market. In accordance with the rules of supply and demand, prices here have always been higher than the list price, but tend to fall within a normal range. For example, in August 2017 you could still buy a Nautilus 5711/1A-010 with the iconic dark blue dial for under $34,000 on Chrono24.
Since then, however, prices have been rising nonstop. Two years ago, in August 2020, the average price was already over $60,000. When Patek president Thierry Stern announced at the end of 2020 that the 5711 would be discontinued, hysteria broke out in the watch world. Reports of record prices at auctions further stoked the frantic mood, and speculators who had identified the Nautilus as a lucrative investment with fantastic returns did the rest. As a result, prices on the open market climbed from one all-time high to the next, and soon enough the watch was traded at sums exceeding $200,000.
The market has since calmed down again slightly. But with a market price of around $169,000, the 5711/1A-010 still costs almost six times its original list price.
Does it have to be the 5711?
With all the hype surrounding the 5711, it can be easy to forget that the Nautilus collection has several other models to offer. Take, for instance, the Nautilus 5726/1A-001: this current stainless-steel model with a gray dial has the classic Nautilus look and comes with an annual calendar and moon phase display – all for a market price of just over $100,000.
You can also find vintage watches at competitive prices. The Nautilus 3800/1A – which as of August 2022 could be bought for around $60,000 on Chrono24 – is worth mentioning here: manufactured from 1980 to 1990, the 3800 has a diameter of 37 mm, which makes it smaller than the 5711 and hence an interesting timepiece for men and women alike.
If stainless steel is not a must-have for you, take a closer look at the 5711/1G-001. This watch is the white gold version of the 5711 with a gray dial. During the summer of 2022, the price for this model on Chrono24 was around $112,000 – several tens of thousands of dollars below the market price of the stainless-steel version.
The Patek Philippe Nautilus has always been an expensive watch. But with that hefty price tag comes an impressive watch with outstanding craftsmanship and the prestigious brand name of one of the world’s most respected watch manufacturers. However, low availability and years-long waiting lists in official retail stores mean that the Nautilus can effectively only be acquired for a substantial premium on the open market. Whether the watch is worth five or six times the official list price is ultimately up to you to decide.