Many people say that the Aquanaut embodies the more dynamic and positive side of copy Patek Philippe. More sporty and uninhibited than any other watch from the brand, with its unconventional rubber strap and vibrant color scheme. Where else would Patek Philippe use bright orange or army green? It has long lived in the shadow of its older brother, the Nautilus, and only recently has it really started to appreciate.
Often known for its classic, retrained designs and traditional materials, the first major shift in this trend came from Gérald Genta’s mind. Then, it would take another two decades for Patek Philippe’s in-house team to produce its own sports watch. Although it was inspired by the porthole shape, the Aquanaut was the first modern sports watch that was truly designed by the brand itself. In the last decade of the 20th century, it was designed to appeal to young Patek Philippe collectors by offering steel instead of gold, rubber instead of leather.
The Aquanaut is a watch full of paradoxes and intrigues. The first reference comes from an increasingly interesting timepiece era, neither retro nor modern, where cream tritium lumens can be found along with more modern production techniques. Their current products also remain the canvas for the brand to continue experimenting with new designs, colors and complications. Aquanaut’s many forms have evolved into something more than Nautilus’ younger, neglected sibling. With this in mind, we delved into the origin of the model and the different forms it has taken over time.
Mysterious Origin Story
Around the time Patek Philippe was considering a new copy watch, it became clear that the public was ready for the more sporty designs of the legacy brand. In fact, this is almost to be expected. However, the main problem is that Patek Philippe’s only sports products are not designed by them. Sketch by Gérald Genta with his brilliant fingerprints. So when a valued client comes to them for a durable watch that can be given to a senior officer serving in their country’s military, they know it’s time to start over with the design.
That’s at least the story Nick Foulkes tells about the origins of the Aquanaut in Patek Philippe Magazine Volume 4. Thierry Stern himself was quoted describing the origins of the brand’s second sports watch. As he puts it, it’s meant to be “something that’s wearable, not for dinner, but for action. It’s for the best officers in the military, so the design needs to remind you of something military.” The mystery client The identities of these officials, or the countries these officials served, remain unknown to the public, which perhaps only makes this origin story more intriguing.
Introduced in 1997, the reference model 5060A is widely regarded as the first Aquanaut. It combines a rubber strap, a steel porthole case and a checkered dial, all of which are fundamental features of the Aquanaut design. However, Aquanaut’s origin story is complicated in some ways. First off, the first Aquanauts were not actually sold as Aquanauts. Instead, they are sold as part of the popular Nautilus series. This makes sense, considering the design was intentionally derived and Patek Philippe wanted to incorporate the Aquanaut into its existing sports watch collection.
Second, the transition between the Nautilus and the typical Aquanaut as we understand it is a gradual and fuzzy transition. Input reference 5060S. This model was introduced in 1996, a year before the release of the reference 5060A. While it shares some of the features that define the Aquanaut, notably the redesigned porthole case, it’s also distinctly different in other ways, with its precious metal case, smooth dial, Roman numerals, and leather strap.
The 5060S clearly represents Patek Philippe’s first attempt to reinterpret the Nautilus design away from a one-piece bracelet. It can be found listed alongside the Nautilus 3800 in catalogues of the period, with identical dials, hands and date discs, making this lineage even more evident. The fact that it was originally offered on a leather strap rather than a rubber one may suggest that Patek Philippe originally wanted to create a more dressy Nautilus rather than the Aquanaut design we’re already familiar with. This is due to the fact that the 5060S is produced using only precious metals such as rose or gold. As a result, some collectors started referring to the 5060S as “Pre-Aquanaut.” Not exactly Nautilus, not exactly Aquanaut, but somewhere in between.
Expand the collection
referee. 4960, 5064, 5065 and 5066
One year after the referee. The 5060 was a success with existing Patek Philippe customers, and the company decided to update and expand its Aquanaut offering. The 5064, 5065 and 5066 were released, all bringing something different to the Aquanaut family. The 5064 introduced a more functional quartz movement, the 5066 was a repeat of the previous model but with an open caseback, and the 5065 was an upgraded version of the previous design.
With an E 23 SC quartz movement and a reduced diameter of 34mm, the 5064 is the entry-level Aquanaut and one of the brand’s most affordable timepieces. Contrary to popular belief, it was primarily aimed at male collectors, and the 29.5mm reference 4960 was also released in 1998 for the brand’s female audience. Due to their reduced diameter and non-mechanical movements, the 5064 and 4960 Aquanauts have largely failed to capture the attention of contemporary collectors looking back on earlier Aquanauts.
However, the reference 5066 and 5065 are probably the prototype and most desirable of the new retro Aquanauts. The 5065 took the original design from the previous year and enlarged it to 38mm, so it’s often referred to as the “giant” Aquanaut. As for the 5066, it maintains the same dimensions and movement as the previous generation. Both watches showcase their internal mechanics through a sapphire caseback, something the 5060 lacked before.
Both reference 5065 and 5066 were produced from 1998 to 2006. They share almost all design features, except for their size and movement. This period in Patek Philippe’s history is particularly interesting because it marked a shift from more traditional production methods and materials to a more modern one. Legacy of the past, such as closed casebacks and tritium dials, slowly gave way to more modern, often commercial considerations.
One area where this modernization is particularly evident is the transition from tritium to superluminescent materials. Roughly speaking, Patek Philippe used tritium from 1998 to 2004 and then Super Luminous from 2004 to 2006. Even though tritium dials have been around for longer, it is believed that Patek Philippe expanded the production of the reference in the last two years, making super luminous dials and hands actually more common than one might initially think. Distinguishing between tritium and superluminescent materials is fairly easy. The former generally produces a warmer brown patina, while the latter retains its color over time. Superluminova also has a trend towards green instead of white. These superluminova versions of the 5066 and 5065 are generally less popular than the tritium examples,
It’s worth noting that in 2004, when Patek Philippe transitioned from one material to another, some interesting component overlap may have occurred. In fact, a handful of watches are believed to combine tritium and ultra-luminous components. For example, while a 1999 watch with a tritium dial and ultra-luminous hands would obviously have service hands, the same watch from 2004 might feature these hybrid elements in a new product. Considering this coincides with a period when Patek Philippe started mass-producing components, it seems plausible that they would be more casual with the parts available in their inventory.
We also had a chance to deal with the 5066 from 2004, which had an ultra-luminous dial and tritium hands, which was even more interesting. Given that the hands are so much more delicate than the dial, it seems unlikely that swiss Patek Philippe would opt to install an ultra-luminous dial while retaining the tritium hands. In this case, the notion of a service component is even more unlikely (as we know the history of the watch), although in a limited and anecdotal way it supports the idea that tritium and superluminescent elements were sometimes combined around 2004.