Thank heaven I don’t need to own every watch I like, see, and try on. If I did, my life would be a living hell. Instead, when I come across one of the most exquisite, rare, complicated, or coveted timepieces, I just try to savor the moment as much as I can. And because I have limited time with a mesmerizing watch, the experience is more intense. So when one of Fratello’s close friends swung by HQ with a Patek Philippe Nautilus 5980/1A-001, I didn’t feel envious of him or sorry for myself that I didn’t own that awe-inspiring chronograph. On the contrary, I felt lucky to be able to wear, operate, and find out what it’s like to sport it for a couple of hours. Well, the time-counting 5980/1A-001 didn’t disappoint. Far from it.

Not too long ago, I wrote a story stating that most Patek Philippe Nautilus owners don’t care about their watch; instead, they care about the status symbol it has become. While my observation is correct, I would be an exception that proves the rule. If I owned the impressive Patek Philippe Nautilus 5980/1A-001, my love for it would be based on the watch’s history, the design, the finishing, the proportions, and the movement. Everything about the 5980 is fascinating and worth finding out more about.

Nautilus 5980

The awe-inspiring Patek Philippe Nautilus 5980/1A-001

Imagine if Patek Philippe organized an event to introduce the next generation of Nautilus models and the name of the venue and the exact time and date leaked out online. I strongly believe that huge crowds would turn up outside the event location, roads would be blocked, police would show up, the tension would build up to a boiling point, and things would get completely out of hand. I imagine influencers, collectors, celebrities, gray-market dealers, and bloggers having a go at each other. If you think I’m exaggerating, please let me remind you how chaotic things were in certain cities when the MoonSwatch first became available in stores.

Anyway, I don’t think my theory is completely bogus because Patek’s recent launch of the very important Nautilus 5811/1G was an online affair. Maybe the brand decided that was the safest option. But the 30th anniversary of the Nautilus didn’t cause any riots back in 2006. Instead, the event in Geneva that Patek put together to celebrate the Nautilus and introduce the 5711 and other Nautilus references was a subdued affair — boring even, some would say.

Patek Philippe

The Nautilus 5980/1A-001 took some getting used to

The attending press and worldwide Patek dealers had a glass of champagne, ate a canapé, and walked around in a venue decorated in blue, Nautilus style. They got to see the 5711 as well as the then-new references 5712, 5800, and 5980. The mood that night was neither frantic nor overexcited, and “hype” was certainly not a term used to describe the event or the launch of the new Nautilus models. Back then, hype didn’t occur in the world of fine watchmaking at all. What the guests observed and experienced was the logical launch of a model that got a much-needed evolutionary overhaul. But the 5980 proved to be a watch that took quite a bit of getting used to.

Patek Philippe Nautilus 5980

Not exactly love at first sight

The introduction of the 5711 didn’t create shock waves. Neither did most of the debuting Nautilus variations, but the 5980 did create some sort of stir. Whereas the 5712 with power reserve, date, and moonphase indicators on the dial was seen as a mix between classic and contemporary Patek, the 5980 was harder to understand. The main reason, of course, was the chronograph counter at 6 o’clock. Not that the mono-counter was completely new. The same 60-minute and 12-hour mono-counter debuted before in the platinum 5960, an annual calendar chronograph. But the striking, large, and contrasting sub-dial was still a novel feature. A bit too novel, it seemed, because sales of the 5980 didn’t exactly go through the roof.

Patek Philippe Nautilus 5980

When the 5980 went on sale, the price of the watch was around €25,000, and it was considered rather expensive for a steel chronograph with an odd, not very “Patek-ish” look. Buying one at a dealer with a bit of a discount was very possible. And since I mentioned the original list price of the 5980, I think I also need to inform you that the once-unloved chronograph now goes for an average price of around €120,000 on Chrono24. The steel 5980 didn’t break hearts when it came out, but nowadays, nine years after it was discontinued, it mainly breaks wallets and shatters watch dreams while it’s at it. Not mine, though; as I explained earlier, I’m okay.

Patek Philippe Nautilus 5980

Inside the Patek Philippe Nautilus 5980/1A-001

Since I mentioned the remarkable chronograph sub-dial, I will now let you know how it works. It’s easy. The central chronograph hand counts the seconds in the traditional way, while the two hands of the mono-counter display the elapsed minutes and hours. And operating the chronograph is a private but sensational affair because the way the caliber CH 28‑520 C functions is phenomenal. Feeling is believing. Yes, as you would expect, the pusher at 2 o’clock starts and stops the chronograph, and the pusher at 4 o’clock makes the hand either fly back or reset to zero. The feeling through the pushers is crisp, precise, and ever so subtle. The 4Hz movement is also gorgeous. There’s the 21K gold central rotor that winds the movement, for instance, plus a Breguet overcoil hairspring and a four-arm Gyromax balance to behold.

The Nautilus 5980/1A-001 on the wrist

Wearing the 5980 is quite an experience. For one thing, it’s a substantial watch. Measuring from the 10 to the 4 o’clock position, it comes in at a modest 40.5mm. When you measure it from 9 to 3 o’clock, though, it’s 44mm wide, excluding the crown. It’s also surprisingly slim. No, not 8.3mm slim like the 5711, but with a 12.2mm case thickness, it’s also anything but porky. It’s still substantial because of the weight and design. You feel the watch on your wrist, and you certainly see it there too. Okay, I admit, since I only got to wear the watch for a short amount of time, my experience was more intense than it would be if this watch were my daily companion.

Nautilus 5980

The great thing about having an extraordinary timepiece like the 5980 at your disposal for a limited amount of time is that it makes an impression similar to the sensation when you go bungee jumping. I’m not sure if the clasp on the comfortable, satin-finished H-link bracelet with polished central links could handle an actual bungee jump, but that’s way beside the point. I may have written that Nautilus owners don’t care about the watch, but I’m sure that they’d all care just enough to not wear it when they’re about to jump off a bridge.

Image: Sotheby’s

What’s up for auction?

It would be silly to talk about other watches after the stuff I wrote about the grandiose Nautilus 5980/1A-001. That’s why I will only mention two upcoming watch auctions, which could let you quench your thirst for a Nautilus if you’ve answered the “to own or not to own” question positively. Maybe you would like to own something like the Nautilus 5740/1G-001. That’s a white gold perpetual calendar from around 2020 with moonphase, 24-hour, and leap year indicators. It will be at the live auction on March 7th at 12:00 EST at Sotheby’s New York. The 40mm × 8.32mm 5740/1G-001 that will go up for auction is a sleek and sophisticated watch with a sapphire case back that shows the exquisite automatic caliber 240 Q. The dial is also quite marvelous and shows a shade of blue that differs from other Nautilus references.

Image: Amsterdam Vintage Watches

Do you want something a bit simpler, still sporty, and with Patek Philippe on the dial, but you find the Nautilus overhyped? If so, check out the more understated Aquanaut 5165-001 that will come up for auction at Danish auction house Bruun Rasmussen on March 8th in Copenhagen.

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