In April, Patek Philippe, in the person of Chief Executive Thierry Stern, confirmed what was already a growing rumour: the Nautilus 5711/1A in steel will be discontinued this year. To soften the blow, the brand unveiled, at Watches and Wonders Geneva, this legendary model’s final iteration, namely the 5711/1A-014 with a “sunburst” olive-green dial (replacing the blue-back dial version that was released in 2010).
As watches go, the Nautilus needs no introduction. Launched in 1976, it owes its instantly recognisable silhouette to Gérald Genta who, four years earlier, had imagined the Royal Oak. Together, these two watches ushered in a novel trend for luxurious sport watches on integrated bracelets, made from steel but worth their weight in gold. As Patek reminds us, the Nautilus was “surprising in several respects,” starting with the choice of stainless steel over precious metal. The porthole-shaped case and octagonal bezel with rounded corners also departed from conventional design, using contrasting polished and satin finishes for emphasis. That the case should be water-resistant to 120 metres was an exploit for a watch in regular production.
After a slow but promising start, the Nautilus succeeded in making its mark and more. Now a grail watch, it was given a fresh look for its 30th anniversary in 2006 and, since 2019, has been fitted with the automatic 26-330 SC calibre with a stop-seconds function. Part of a collection of some thirty references for men and women, including five with complications, reference 5711/1A is the most sought-after by far, to the point that would-be owners face a wait of 12 years! A situation deplored by Thierry Stern who has always insisted on the fact there is more to Patek Philippe than the Nautilus, even broaching the subject of a possible discontinuation in a 2019 interview. The end of the steel Nautilus was in sight.
Is Patek right to kill the goose the lays the golden eggs? Industry observers appear to think so. Writing in Jing Daily, Daniel Langer, CEO of luxury brand strategy firm Equité and professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, describes Patek’s decision to discontinue its most iconic watch as possibly “one of the most clever luxury strategy executions ever. It creates hype around the brand, allows Patek to assess the true value of the product through the second-hand market and prepares to introduce future watches at potentially higher price points, further confirming Patek’s leadership position in fine luxury watchmaking.”
The watch’s pre-owned value is in no doubt. Whereas the current Nautilus reference 5711/1A-014 with green dial retails at CHF 29,500 ($34,000), earlier versions were already changing hands on the secondary market at around CHF 70,000 – and this was before the official announcement that production would be discontinued. Since then, prices on the pre-owned market have soared past the CHF 100,000 mark and are fast heading towards CHF 150,000. “That’s not quite Bitcoin territory yet, but it is more likely that you will find a buyer for a Nautilus ref. 5711/1A in five years than BTC at current prices,” muses Olivier Müller, founder of LuxeConsult.
Where does this leave disgruntled customers who will have waited years for their Nautilus 5711, in vain? Possibly they will be first in line for the future 6711, of which little is known. Commenting the lack of official communication on the subject from the brand, Oliver Müller concludes that, “Not only has Patek Philippe succeeded in creating a buzz amongst watch collectors, but in being the subject of endless speculation, it has also reinforced its status of the luxury watchmaker that can afford to choose its customers.” Maybe now’s the time to make the waiting list an institution, and let collectors bid for a place at auction!