Patek Philippe is known for its highly complicated dress watches, but two lines of timepieces in their catalogue fall outside of this category: the Nautilus and the Aquanaut.
The genesis of the Aquanaut line is rooted in the cultural and economic climate of the late 1990s. A number of new, young, dynamic entrepreneurs spawning from the success of internet companies needed to be catered to. There was of course the Nautilus, but it had been launched some two decades before: the time was ready for a new sports model.
Patek Philippe Aquanaut Ref. 5065, from the first year of production, sold by Phillips PERPETUAL - link
There are many similarities between the Aquanaut and the Nautilus designs. This is because the former is more than simply inspired by the latter. Originally, it was envisioned as part of the Nautilus collection, possibly a dressier version with lugs (ironically the Aquanaut turned out to embody an even sportier lifestyle than the Nautilus) and with a leather strap. In fact, the first series of reference 5060J (with solid caseback) was introduced in 1996 as a new Nautilus model. A press release illustrating the new Aquanaut line was issued only the year after, on the occasion of the launch of the 5060A in 1997. It is more than conceivable that market feedback obtained in 1996 directed Patek Philippe to make a 180 on their idea of a dressier Nautilus: the crocodile strap was abandoned in favour of a - for Patek Philippe, extremely iconoclastic - rubber strap (even though a metal bracelet was also available), the flat dial was given a checkered embossing, and the ambassador for the line was the steel model (the gold version was strategically left out of the press release completely).
Lot 118 of The Geneva Watch Auction: XI - link
As an interesting bit of folklore, there are rumours that the model came instead to be in a completely different way: allegedly, a Middle Eastern army approached Patek Philippe asking for the development of a suitable timepiece - which resulted into the Aquanaut. The checkered pattern of the dial somehow resembling the pattern found on a hand grenade is used to support this theory, but no official confirmation form the company has ever been given, nor external evidence found.
The Aquanaut line can so far be divided into two generations.
The first generation models were released in the late 1990s (with one exception), beyond the original model 5060 (and its glazed back evolution 5066, launched in 1998), there are only two additional gentleman’s models - the Jumbo version 5065 (1998, with a diameter of 38mm) and the quartz reference 5064 - and two ladies model (4960 and 4961). In 2004, mid-size diamond-set lady’s quartz reference 5067 ended the first “round” of Aquanaut releases.
Lot 120 of The Geneva Watch Auction: XI - link
Second generation models were instead all released after the tenth anniversary of 2007. Two models were released to commemorate the milestone: ref. 5165 (successor to ref. 5065, and now discontinued) and oversize ref. 5167 with a 41mm case. Four years after these models, in 2011, the market was taken by surprise by the first complicated (beyond date indication) Aquanaut: travel time reference 5164.
Lot 119 of The Geneva Watch Auction: XI - link
The second complicated model was released as a 20th anniversary limited edition in 2016: reference 5650G, featuring the same travel time complication as ref 5164, but featuring groundbreaking components devised by Patek Philippe Advance Research department. Finally, in 2019 the - so far - last complicated piece was revealed: chronograph ref. 5968, available with a striking orange strap.
Patek Philippe Aquanaut Ref 5968A sold by Phillips PERPETUAL- link
The time-only range of the line enjoyed an upgrade for the 20th anniversary of the model, with the introduction of white gold ref 5168, featuring a very large 42mm case and blue dial. A khaki variation of this reference was introduced last year, rediscovering a color previously employed in variations of ref 5167A and lady’s 5067.