Fit At 40?

Horror filled the voice of a colleague at Rev✪lution, who, upon learning that I simply loved the celebratory engraving in the dial of the 40th Anniversary Patek Philippe Nautilus, thought I was mad. “Well, you’re the only one who does. Everyone else thinks it’s utterly naff.” She actually used a term more in keeping with the argot of sailors – apt in light of the watch’s maritime nomenclature and water-resistance – but that I did not expect.

If she’s right, then “everyone else” is lacking taste: not only is it elegant, it’s inarguably discreet. You have to look for it, none of the typical in-your-face braggadocio that is the wont of the watch industry. That is not the Patek way, despite its most recent anniversary celebrations reaching a scale that recalls Cecil B. DeMille productions. Oh, yes: the 175th will not soon be forgotten by those who attended the festivities.

As this “merely” honours an individual model, and particularly one imbued with enough of its own drama not to need any more, the 40th Anniversary Nautilus is a rather tasty morsel. Look too quickly and you’ll think it’s simply a Nautilus time-only model or the concentric sub-dial chronograph with blue dial. Even diamond indices can’t turn it showy – which is usually anathema to this gem-hater. I love it almost as much as the first-generation Jumbo.

For me, it wasn’t always such and I must admit that a deep and abiding loathing of Gérald Genta’s designs kept me from acknowledging this, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, Bvlgari-Bvlgari and most of his other acknowledged masterpieces. But just as the departing lover always lies, er, says, “It’s not you, it’s me,” but here it truly was my fault: I just thought the entire porthole shtick was forced, and I associated the watch – as well as the Royal Oak, if not quite the Bvlgari-Bvlgari – with a culture that holds no relevance for me: golfers.

Now that I’ve alienated 75 per cent of the world’s high-end watch buyers, allow me to admit to a damascene moment (though mine had nothing to do with religion). At some point around 10 years ago, I was discussing Nautiluses with Ricky Brown, an old friend in the high-end audio business, who collects Nautiluses. He and I have never discussed nor argued over our different approaches to the watch, any more than I would have a row because someone likes Primitivo wines.

At the time, if I remember correctly, Ricky was wearing a slim, rose-gold Nautilus, but, because he’s 6ft tall, it looked almost delicate on his wrist. He took it off, handed it to me, and for the first time in a couple of decades, I actually examined the thing. By then, I had acquired a Patek Philippe – a 1956 Ref 96 Calatrava – so my affinity for the brand (if not its sporting watch) had been demonstrated amply. But something happened and I experience one of those moments when everything clicked, fell into place and simply seemed “right”.

While I will not go so far as to say that I was suddenly prepared to sell off part of my record library to acquire a Nautilus, I was so taken – in an intellectual rather than in the watch connoisseur’s usual, near-carnal way – by the design that I even reassessed my antipathy toward the Royal Oak. Hands up – mea culpa! – I felt like a child who suddenly realised that spinach, olives and grilled calves’ liver-and-onions are utterly delicious (but not all at once, I hasten to add). Those of you hissing at what you deem to be my bad taste/ignorance/ill breeding at not worshipping Genta designs can stop right now: we are all allowed personal taste and/or preferences, and I would never try to stop someone from worshipping, say, a Chaumet Dandy, or, conversely, force them to love Lemania RAF chronographs. I didn’t know Genta, the man, thought his moustache was cool, but hated nearly every watch that bore his name – especially on the dial.

After the eye-watering, rather rococo grand complication that marked the 175th birthday of the maison, the 40th Anniversary Nautiluses are sheer perfection. The Jumbo-like, platinum Ref. 5711/1P would be my choice, as I have slight reading issues with tri-concentric Ref. 5976/IG Flyback Chronograph, and anyway, I look a real putz wearing a 49mm-plus watch. Not that my funds will stretch to either.


Here I nod to Genta’s enduring design and Patek Philippe’s admirable restraint. And as for the controversial recessed missive of “40” above “1976-2016”? What a classy way of declaring one’s age! And when you reach mine, you learn that the best way is to do it is in the manner of Patek Philippe: gracefully.

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