Established in 1839, the company now known as Patek Philippe was founded by Polish watchmakers Antoni Patek and (Czech-born) Franciszek Czapek. A few short years later, the two went separate ways, leading to Czapek & Cie. and Patek partnering with French watchmaker Adrien Philippe. And the rest is history.
Not really, of course. The company has since developed a vast collection that currently includes over 160 watches and over 50 in-house movements. Patek made watches for royalty in the 1800s and hyper-complicated masterpieces like the famous Henry Graves Supercomplication pocket watch. But this doesn't quite explain the brand's rise to its current lionized status. Under first Philippe Stern and subsequently his son and current president Thierry, the brand has thrived in the modern era. It's known for highly complex and elegant perpetual calendar watches, some of the finest finishing in the business — and, of course, the sporty and legendary Nautilus.
For an exhaustive list of all that’s on offer, we suggest ordering a hard copy of the Patek Philippe catalog. It is an elegant picture book that deserves a spot on any serious watch fan’s shelf. For those who are looking to navigate this dense collection without wading through the complex marketing rhetoric, we have assembled the following relatively stripped-down guide to get you well acquainted with Patek Philippe in short order.
Patek is no ordinary watch brand. It's a darling of collectors for its approach to and execution of its craft, widely regarded as representing tradition and excellence in watchmaking — and it's deserving of this reputation. Call it art, if you will, but this kind of thing doesn't come cheap for a number of reasons (explaining exactly why watches can be so expensive can be tricky). While the sticker price of Patek Philippe watches start at five figures and goes (way) up from there, the brand isn't alone in its price segment.
The sticker price isn't what Patek watches are best known for. It's at auctions where you'll find the craziest watch prices, and two brands utterly dominate the scene: Rolex and Patek Philippe. The most expensive watch ever sold at auction is a Patek Philippe. The brand has a feverish following among collectors, but it's even broken into the mainstream consciousness thanks to, primarily, the coveted Nautilus as many celebrities' flex of choice.
Let’s first get our heads around the major categories within the Patek Philippe collection.
Nautilus: An icon of the 1970s that helped Patek Philippe enter the sports watch market in 1976.
Aquanaut: Brought out in 1997 as an affordable alternative to the Nautilus, these watches have become hard to come by, especially in steel.
Some would say that Patek Philippe was playing catch up to Audemars Piguet’s groundbreaking Royal Oak when it hired acclaimed designer Gerald Genta in the 1970s, but the resulting watch, the Nautilus, went on to be a disco-era classic unto itself. Today the demand is so high that you’ll have to wiggle your way onto a long waitlist to get one.
Patek announced it was discontinuing its insanely popular 5711 in 2021, but not before it got this final farewell version with a green dial. Many consider it the perfect luxury sports watch at 40mm.
The real deal is the steel, and it’s rarer than the gold versions with years-long waiting lists that often only regular customers can even join. The basic 5711 is the Nautilus model Patek riffs on the most, so we’ll be showing you more 40mm Nautilus models below.
You can get a Nautilus in different precious metals, totally iced out (covered in diamonds) or with various combinations of complications — it wouldn't make sense to simply list every one of them here, but the 5712 is a good example of some of the variety to expect.
This model is in steel with a moon phase and pointer date on one subdial, the seconds to another subdial, and a power reserve gauge all in an asymmetric but striking layout.
Though sporty by nature, we did say that the Nautilus collection could get complicated and ritzy, didn't we? Only available in steel and rose gold, the 5990 is a true world traveler, with jumping local hour hand and Patek’s unique AM/PM indicators for both local and home time — with the complex flyback chronograph function thrown in just for the heck of it.
The waiting list is long enough for you to save up the $100k+ you’ll need to hand over for it.
Launched in 1997, the Aquanaut was Patek’s attempt to offer a more affordable sports watch. It is, however, an incredibly cool, water-ready watch that has a sportier edge than the Nautilus, largely due to the bold numerals and its iconic mid-century dial engraving (until they pave it with diamonds, that is).
This is the most stripped-down Patek Philippe sports watch, and for those who think it doesn’t have enough going on, we suggest you get one on wrist and see if that doesn’t change your mind. The bezel is a subtle 16-sided affair, with brushed and polished casework that glimmers in steel and gold.
Patek Phillipe’s clever dual time complication with the date on a handsome subdial and dual-AM/PM indicators takes the Aquanaut around the world without a hitch. It’s 0.8mm larger than its simpler cousin above and feels like a genuine sport watch.