Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo is thrilled to welcome you to The Geneva Sessions, Spring 2023, online auction, running from 10:00 AM CET, Thursday, March 9, to 4:00 PM CET, Thursday, March 16. Featuring more than 50 different high-end luxury wristwatches, the sale covers everything from F.P. Journe and Daniel Roth to Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe. It even includes a Patek Philippe Aquanaut Chronograph ref. 5968A-001, as featured in this story.
– By Logan Baker
The Aquanaut is a full-fledged ‘90s baby. Outside of the Twenty-4 family, the Aquanaut is the youngest collection at Patek Philippe. In human demographic terms, its 1997 birth year would place it right on the cusp of the millennial and Gen Z cohorts. It’s also a bit of a late bloomer. Although it’s been in production for 26 consecutive years now, it’s only really started to live up to its full potential in the last decade.
There are a few factors supporting the Aquanaut’s recent success, including the simple fact that it exists as a high-end luxury sport watch in an era when interest in that genre is surging. But more importantly, the success came once Patek Philippe began to invest in new complications and movements for the Aquanaut.
For example, what collection did Patek choose to debut its new Travel-Time movement back in 2011? Yup, the ref. 5164A was the very first complicated Aquanaut. And where did Patek go when it decided to expand its Advanced Research program into the sport-watch category? Not the Nautilus.
And finally, in 2018, the Aquanaut series took its most significant step forward yet with the introduction of the Aquanaut Chronograph ref. 5968. It was the largest Aquanaut yet, not to mention the most complicated, but what got everyone talking in the Baselworld halls that year was how unexpectedly colorful it was.
It’s been five years since the Aquanaut Chronograph entered the picture, which is just enough time for us to reflect on the general impact it's had on watch culture as well as its placement within the larger world of Patek Philippe.
How We Got Here
The early reaction surrounding the first Aquanaut Chronograph can be summed up in two words: orange strap.
Patek Philippe had not only dared to add a chronograph to the Aquanaut, but they had done it with a major splash of color.
The dial of the inaugural ref. 5968 had a tropical-esque black-to-brown gradient tone that is fairly neutral and keeps close to the military-adjacent aesthetic the Aquanaut had always had – but that was the only conservative choice visible on the watch.
The chronograph minutes and seconds hands, the chronograph minute track, and the seconds hashmarks on the periphery of the dial were all doused in a bright pumpkin orange color. It was straight out of the '70s. And those dial elements weren’t even the most dramatic element of the watch! That came courtesy one of the two composite rubber straps that the watch was delivered with, in a perfectly matching highlighter orange hue that could probably be seen from outer space. (The secondary strap the watch was delivered with is a neutral black color.)
The vibrant orange color scheme had people talking about the Aquanaut in a big way, something that I know realize is perfectly in keeping with the founding principle of the collection as a whole. The Aquanaut, after all, was designed from the very beginning to be versatile and dynamic. That’s why it was delivered on a composite rubber strap and not an elaborate bracelet. It’s why the dial has remained aggressively textured without compromise for more than 25 years. Thanks to a bit of color and complications, the Aquanaut finally embraced its inner rebel with the ref. 5968.
The Aquanaut Chronograph (ref. 5968A-001) was offered only in stainless steel and with the single dial color for the first three years of its existence. That changed in 2021, when Patek Philippe released a pair of white-gold examples with a midnight blue dial and strap (5968G-001) and a khaki green dial and strap (5968G-010). The dial color and case material were the only changes between the 2018 steel model and the 2021 gold editions.
All three watches share large-for-Patek dimensions of 42.2mm × 11.9mm; the water resistance is specced to a solid 120 meters, like all Aquanauts. The fold-over clasp on the rubber strap is a patented design that’s secured by four independent catches; the strap can also be changed at home using a special tool that comes with the watch. The self-winding caliber CH 28‑520 C inside remained the same between the steel and white gold models as well.
In fact, the 5968 series actually borrows its chronograph movement from the Nautilus Chronograph ref. 5980, which debuted in 2006. The Nautilus and Aquanaut share the same chronograph layout as a result, with a central chronograph seconds hand and a 60-minute totalizer at the six o’clock position. It’s an excellent quality movement that comes from Patek’s first generation of in-house chronograph calibers, with an integrated architecture offering flyback functionality and outfitted with a column wheel, a vertical clutch, a 21k gold oscillating weight, a Gyromax adjustable-mass balance fitted to a Spiromax silicon hairspring, a 4 Hz operating frequency, and a power reserve between 45 and 55 hours.
The 5968 has been tremendously popular since its introduction, and it remains an incredibly difficult watch to obtain. According to our research, only 15 examples in all three case metals have appeared at the three largest watch auction houses since the reference’s debut (including five at Phillips). Celebrities such as Jay-Z, Mark Wahlberg, and Drake have all been spotted wearing a 5968 over the past few years, and the secondary market value has soared tens of thousands of dollars over retail for all three references, ending up far past the six-figure mark. Based on previous auction performances, the original stainless steel 5968A-001 has consistently maintained a slight premium over its precious metal siblings, but the khaki green 5968-010 isn’t far behind.
Where Might The 5968 Go Next?
It’s hard to say. The Aquanaut celebrated its 25th anniversary last year, and the biggest Aquanaut news we received at the time was the introduction of the ladies’ 39mm Aquanaut Luce "Rainbow" chronograph ref. 7968/300R-001, with a retail price well over $200,000 USD. I'll admit I was hoping for something else.
But there’s still a chance something might be coming later this month at Watches & Wonders 2023, where Patek Philippe will be exhibiting many of its 2023 releases. We’ll just have to wait and see for confirmation, but I think there’s at least one clear chronograph-based direction that Patek could take the Aquanaut.
I feel like they could easily take a cue from the Nautilus Travel-Time Chronograph ref. 5990 and combine the two complications into a single watch. The movement used in the 5990 is a variant of the caliber CH 28-520 anyway, so I can’t imagine there would be too many issues in placing the movement inside the Aquanaut case. The Aquanaut was the first watch at Patek to have the Travel-Time complication; I think it would only be fitting for it to receive the same two-in-one complication treatment as the Nautilus 5990.
Or maybe Patek will keep things simple and just add another case material to the mix. Either way, we'll be waiting to see where the Aquanaut goes next.
About Phillips In Association With Bacs & Russo
The team of specialists at PHILLIPS Watches is dedicated to an uncompromised approach to quality, transparency, and client service. Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo holds the world record for the most successful watch auction, with its Geneva Watch Auction: XIV having realized $74.5 million in 2021. Over the course of 2021 and 2022, the company sold 100% of the watches offered, a first in the industry, resulting in the highest annual total in history across all the auction houses at $227 million.
About Logan Baker
Logan has spent the past decade reporting on every aspect of the watch business. He joined Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo at the start of 2023 as the department's Senior Editorial Manager. He splits his time between New York and Geneva.
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