Editorial: When the Most Desirable Watch Become an Inaccessible Icon

The Patek Philippe Nautilus ref. 5711/1A.

The president of Patek Philippe, Thierry Stern, has publicly mused about discontinuing the Nautilus, the brand’s bestselling luxury-sports watch. My first reaction – madness. But now the mythical Nautilus ref. 5711/1A-10 – collectors love model references that they recite to you like a mantra – will disappear from the catalogue, despite long waiting lists of up to 12 years.

This said, Mr Stern is not taking an unusual risk, as the ref. 5711/1A will most likely be replaced by a new model, perhaps the ref. 6711, that will probably address the few disadvantages of the outgoing Nautilus. Amongst them, an upgraded bracelet and clasp perfect for a watch of this price, and perhaps a hacking seconds, the norm in watches from more accessible brands. And possibly a slightly enlarged case that would be more in line with today’s tastes.

Going against the tide

The Nautilus was designed by legendary designer Gerald Genta, who was also the father of another legendary watch, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. Both of his creations were totally at odds with the prevailing taste of the era, which was focused on classical aesthetic canons, favouring gold cases to elevate the perception of the product.

When the Royak Oak was launched in 1972, it was an aesthetic and commercial gamble. Conceived to conquer a new segment at the high end, it was a sports watch in steel but priced like a solid-gold watch, with an octagonal bezel secured by visible screws – a design recognisable across a room. At Patek Philippe, it was quickly understood that despite the Royal Oak’s rather slow initial sales, this segment would grow in importance and so in 1976 Patek Philippe launched the Nautilus ref. 3700.

An example of a Nautilus ref. 3700

A sharp design with subtly-octagonal bezel and an integrated steel bracelet, the Nautilus was a little more rounded in form. Yet it embodies the design ethos of the 1970s, with a magnificent dial stamped with horizontal lines, allowing the blue dial finish to take on a graduated finish that varies in colour depending on the light.

In four decades, the two rivals have become fabled objects that still inspire watch design today. In the last two years, we have seen an endless stream of watches strongly inspired by the two leading products of the segment, all having an integrated metal bracelet, blue dial, and a rather sharp case style.

An impressive rise in value…

The official Swiss retail price of a steel Nautilus ref. 5711/1A was CHF28,500, while its price on the secondary market was about CHF70,000 – a multiple of 2.5. Since the confirmation of the Nautilus’s departure from the collection, secondary-market values have soared to over CHF100,000, a 50% increase over the recent values, and a 250% premium to retail.

Some market observers think that could rise to CHF130,000-150,000 – as much as four times retail – in the short to medium term as the hype reaches its peak.

The average asking price of the Nautilus ref. 5711/1A on Chrono24 from November 2020 to January 2021. Source – Chrono24

And from end 2013 to 2021. Source – Chrono24

And then there’s the “double-signed” Nautilus with the Tiffany & Co. logo on the dial (meaning it was sold by the American jeweller). Already selling for substantially more than the standard ref. 5711/1A, these uncommon examples have gone from about US$75,000 to over US$250,000 – from double to eight times the retail price.

That’s not quite Bitcoin territory yet, but it is more likely that you will find a buyer for a Nautilus ref. 5711/1A in five years than BTC at current prices.

The Tiffany & Co. signature on a ref. 5711/1A. Photo – Phillips

… And many frustrated buyers

What happens to the thousands of clients on the waitlist for a Nautilus? There are enough of them the order book is filled to as far out as 12 years. After, for example, a six year wait and to be told to move along, how will they react?

Anger? Or turn to a competing brand? Or wait for the new Nautilus ref. 6711?

What intrigues me the most is not the fact that Patek Philippe has decided to take one of its flagship watches out of production, but the fact that the news of this decision has been playing out on social media, rather than being announced by the brand itself.

Admittedly, the first rumours of a discontinuation emerged from an interview given by Mr Stern to GQ in December 2019 where he noted – quite rightly – that a brand’s success could not be based on a single model, and the Nautilus had sold enough for the brand to move on to something else.

But instead of complete opacity, there is room for improvement in communication that will be potentially beneficial to the brand. In the age of social media and its ability to spread unfounded rumours – like the oft-discussed takeover of Patek Philippe – it is better for a luxury brand to remain in control of the messages it wishes to convey.

The limited-edition Nautilus ref. 5711/1P made for the model’s 40th anniversary (left), and the departed ref. 5711/1A in steel

A case study in branding

I have the privilege of occasionally teaching marketing to university students, so I am delighted to be able to add the “Nautilus phase out” case to the syllabus. Not only has Patek Philippe succeeded in creating a buzz amongst watch collectors, but in being the subject of endless speculation, it has also reinforced its status of the luxury watchmaker that can afford to choose its customers.

Notably, the phenomenal increase in the value of the Nautilus benefits Patek Philippe in neither sales nor profits – at least in any tangible or direct sense – since the company continues to sell it at the official retail price, which no doubt still leaves room for a very comfortable margin.

But the uncontrollable increase in demand is of course boosting its brand equity, something succinctly summed up by HEC marketing professor Jean-Noël Kapferer in his book The New Strategic Brand Management: “Brand equity is the future ability of brands to generate surplus profits simply by virtue of their name – all the values associated with the brand in the minds of the public”. The Nautilus has generated a vast surplus, proving the monumental brand equity of Patek Philippe.


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Hublot Unveils the Classic Fusion Takashi Murakami All Black

Spinning, glittery whimsy.

Fresh off the press at LVMH Watch Week – which like most trade fairs was entirely online – the Hublot Classic Fusion Takashi Murakami All Black is one of the highlights amongst all the new launches.

A collaboration with the Japanese contemporary artist known for his anime-inspired “superflat” creations, the Classic Fusion Murakami is a time-only watch with a twist: free-spinning, diamond-set petals that bring Mr Murakami’s “smiling flower” to life.

Initial thoughts

In photos the Murakami edition seems, at a glance, dull and static, in contrast to Mr Murakami’s signature style. But the watch glitters and spins, and despite not being serious haute horlogerie, it is cool and compelling.

When I first heard that Hublot would be collaborating with Mr Murakami, I expected it to be dressed in psychedelic colours, so the muted All Black livery was a surprise.

But as it turns out, it was Mr Murakami’s idea. Commenting the launch announcement, he said, “The one thing I did request was to go all black on our first collaboration… because the very first impression I had when I learned about Hublot was its signature black rubber [strap].”

Still, the Murakami edition manages to convey the artist’s exuberant style without using colour, but instead relying on motion, texture, and the smiling flower emblem.

And the all-black aesthetic makes sense given the diamonds and large size of the watch. The sparkle of the stones contrast well against the brushed bezel and black ceramic case.

The only bit of the watch I would change is the narrow insert in between the bezel and case. As with most Classic Fusion models of this type, it is made of a hard resin, something that feels out of place even if the plastic is a fancy one.

The plastic insert just above the flower-shaped crown

Priced at a bit over US$27,000, the Murakami edition does cost more than twice as much as the standard, all-ceramic Classic Fusion. The disparity is, however, made reasonable by the movement, which is an in-house Unico instead of a Sellita, and the black diamonds on the front. Admittedly black diamonds have little value in themselves, but they inevitably cost more when installed on a watch, as most things do.

The success of this watch – and it will surely sell well – makes it certain that additional versions are to come. Hublot tends to do too much of a good thing, so hopefully there’ll be more of the Murakami watches, but not too many.

Spinning flower

Arguably the most interesting artist collaboration Hublot has done in recent years – contemporary art is a key element of Hublot’s branding – the distinguishing feature of the Murakami edition are its free-spinning petals.

Set with 456 black diamonds, the petals are actually a single disc set on ball bearings and weighted only on one edge, allowing it to spin with the motion of the wrist. Though uncommon, the mechanism is not new. Jaeger-LeCoultre once had something similar in the Master Twinkling Diamonds, and various watches with “mystery” rotors rely on a similar partially-weight disc.

Both the hour and minute hands sit on an extra-long pinion, allowing them to clear the petals. But only the tips of each hand are visible, with the centres being hidden by the face of the flower, which is an domed insert mounted onto the sapphire crystal and secured with adhesive.

As a result, though the case is the usual 45 mm of the standard Classic Fusion, the Murakami edition is about a third thicker at 13.45 mm high. As with most All Black models, the case is entirely ceramic – finished with either a mirror polish or linear brushing – save for the resin bezel insert.

While most watches of the Classic Fusion line – the brand’s entry-level range – are equipped with Sellita movements, the Murakami edition has upgraded mechanics in the form of the MHUB1214 UNICO, an automatic movement with a three-day power reserve, as well as a silicon escapement.

Typically combined with a chronograph module, the Unico movement is almost always found in chronographs. The Murakami edition is the first time-only Classic Fusion be equipped with the Unico, here in its simplest version.

Key facts and price

Hublot Classic Fusion Takashi Murakami All Black
Ref. 507.CX.9000.RX.TAK21

Case diameter: 45 mm
Case height: 13.45 mm
Material: Black ceramic; flower and petals set with black diamonds
Water resistance: 50 m

Movement: MHUB1214 UNICO
Function: Hours, minutes, and seconds
Additional features: Silicon escapement
Frequency: 28,800 beats per hour (4 Hz)
Winding: Automatic
Power reserve: 72 hours

Strap: Black rubber with folding clasp

Limited edition: 200 pieces 
 From Hublot boutiques and retailers
Price: US$27,300; or 37,400 Singapore dollars

For more, visit Hublot.com.

Correction January 27, 2021: The Murakami edition is the first time-only Classic Fusion to be equipped with a Unico movement, and not the first time-only Hublot of any type.

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Zenith Introduces the Pilot Type 20 Chronograph Silver

Brightly finished retro metal.

Launched alongside the Chronomaster Sport at LVMH Watch Week, the Zenith Pilot Type 20 Chronograph Silver is a limited edition that’s a nod to Zenith’s long history of aviation watches – with a twist.

While the style is the 1920s-inspired look typical of Zenith’s Pilot range, the new chronograph is dressed entirely in sterling silver, giving it a bright finish. Inspired by the aluminium bodies of vintage aircraft, the silver case will darken with time as the alloy oxidises, but the dial will remain pristine, protected by the case.

Initial thoughts

Zenith has been on a tear in recent years, introducing a diversity of watches, ranging from the Chronomaster Revival A385 to the mind-boggling Defy Inventor. Few of the new launches were Pilot models, resulting in a quiet spell for the line, a shame considering Zenith’s storied heritage in aviation watches. The new chronograph will no doubt do its part to revive the line.

Pilot’s watches are often aesthetically conservative – not so here. The Pilot Type 20 Chronograph Silver is meant to stand out on the wrist, and I’m all for it.

I had the opportunity to interact with a prototype, and the riveted, silver dial looks even better in the metal. The brushed surface has a shimmering quality that changes under different light, allowing it to catch the eye from every angle.

Clad in silver

The Chronograph Silver is cased in sterling silver, or 925, indicating it is 92.5% silver by weight. While not the first Pilot model to feature a silver case – that would be the Pilot Type 20 Extra Special Silver – it is the brand’s first chronograph in all-silver livery.

The watch retains the proportions of the standard Pilot Chronograph, measuring 45 mm in diameter with an oversized, onion-shaped crown.

The solid-silver dial is finished with a stamped pattern with a randomly-brushed finish meant to evoke the aged, riveted aluminium panels of vintage aircraft. And it’s matched with the Gothic numerals and cathedral hands that are typical of the Pilot line, both of which are naturally filled with Super-Luminova.

Inside, the watch is powered by the automatic El Primero 4069, a variant of the famed, high-frequency El Primero 400 sans the date window and hour totaliser.

Key facts and price

Zenith Pilot Type 20 Chronograph Silver
Ref. 05.2430.4069/17.I011

Case diameter: 45 mm
Material: Sterling silver 925
Water resistance: 100 m

Movement: El Primero 4069
Functions: Time and chronograph
Frequency: 36,000 beats per hour (5 Hz)
Winding: Automatic
Power reserve: 50 hours

Strap: Brown calfskin leather strap with rivets

Availability: At both retailers and boutiques
Price: US$9700

For more, visit Zenith-watches.com.


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