SOLD – 1993 Patek Philippe Nautilus Ref. 3800/1
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This stunning Nautilus ref. 3800/1 with original box and Extract of the Archives places the production in 1993 and sale in 1994. Presented in excellent “unpolished” condition, this ref. 3800/1 appears to have been very rarely worn since it was originally purchased. 37m case width, original “black” horizontally embossed Sigma dial in excellent condition, automatic cal. 330 movement, this timepiece combines understated elegance with modern utility and luxury. Featuring all of the hallmark design signatures of the Nautilus, this ref. 3800 features its original integrated bracelet in exceptionally “tight” condition. Overall, an exceptional example of one of the most iconic timepieces of the modern watchmaking era.
The Nautilus’ History and Context
Within the world of watchmaking, we have several genuinely iconic timepieces that eclipse all others, with the Patek Philippe Nautilus ranked very highly amongst them. Like most icons, no matter the industry, the history and context behind that icon is instrumental to its development, and the Nautilus is no different. To explore the Nautilus’ heritage, we must go back to 1976. At the time, the Quartz Crisis was peaking, and Audemars Piguet had just released their Royal Oak a few years before in 1972. The world’s first luxury steel sports watch, the Royal Oak was AP’s defensive reaction to the Quartz Crisis. Much in the same vein, the Patek Philippe Nautilus was a means of competing with AP and shielding the company from the onslaught caused by the Quartz Crisis. Designed by the same man as the Royal Oak, Gerald Genta, Patek knew fighting fire with fire was better than sitting by the wayside and allowing AP to dominate the market.
Caused by an influx of cheaper, trendier and more accurate Japanese quartz watches entering the market, the Quartz Crisis of the ’70s and ’80s saw Swiss brands robbed of their ability to compete. With hundreds of brands going defunct, Audemars Piguet knew the same fate was fast approaching them. With their financial woes, AP decided to reach out to famed watch designer Gerald Genta to create a new luxury stainless steel sports watch in 1972. Unlike anything anyone had seen before, Genta’s Royal Oak made the necessary impact on enabling AP to remain solvent. While quartz watches didn’t threaten Patek’s market share to the extent of other brands in 1976, they knew they had to stay on AP’s heels given their traditional competition thanks to their standing as a fellow holy trinity brand. Following four years of unbridled dominance, Patek knew they had to bring AP into check.
Luckily for Patek, Genta had been inspired to draw the Nautilus’ original sketch onto a napkin when he saw a group of Patek executives across from him in a restaurant in Geneva in 1974. With a porthole-style window above them, Genta’s inspiration for the Nautilus came naturally to him, and the Nautilus has mainly remained unchanged ever since. Having sat on the design for two whole years, Patek eventually released the Nautilus ref. 3700 in 1976 in direct contrast to their ordinary precious metal complicated pieces and elegant dress watch offerings.
The Nautilus ref. 3800 is Released
The original Nautilus, the ref. 3700 was a big watch for its time with a still-large-to-this-day 42mm case. Compounded by its very distinctive aesthetic, ref. 3700 was largely unsuccessful from the get-go. Seemingly, the Nautilus was failing to tap into the Royal Oak’s pretty well-established market niche. A stainless steel 42mm Patek Philippe was just too strange for collectors. With that, Patek decided to take action and remedy the problem. Finally, the reason you are here, the Nautilus ref. 3800 enters the picture.
Released in 1981, the Nautilus ref. 3800 is largely credited as the reason we still have the Nautilus to this day. Coming in at 37mm in diameter, the ref. 3800 was released with the explicit purpose of introducing consumers to the Nautilus and allowing them to overcome their reservations about its size. Patek’s intuition was that if they could get people past the Nautilus’ size, they would eventually grow to accept its rather unique design language.
Unique Design Language and Popularity
Featuring all of the iconic design elements that have made the Nautilus what it is today, it is no surprise that the ref. 3800 proved to be a massive hit with collectors. While its sibling reference, the ref. 3700, failed to win the public over with its porthole-inspired case design, rounded octagonal bezel, integrated bracelet and stunning dial options, the ref. 3800 oozed enough elegance through its smaller case design to enable the public to see the design for what it was and still is beautiful. With its slightly slimmed-down design, thanks to its 37mm case, the ref. 3800 is regarded as an exceedingly elegant execution of Genta’s Nautilus design.
Fitting onto wrists far more appropriately given preferences at the time, the ref. 3800’s slimmer design and noticeably more elegant aesthetic was a massive win for Patek. With the Nautilus’ radical silhouette (relevant to its competition) becoming more commonplace, the ref. 3800 snowballed into an increasingly popular offering as others saw it in the wild and grew accustomed to the Nautilus’ unique design. The ref. 3800’s impact on the Nautilus collection’s survival as an offering from Patek cannot be overstated.
Thanks to its role in broadening the Nautilus’ audience, it is argued that the ref. 3800 was more important to the Nautilus’ existence than the original ref. 3700. While just another early Nautilus reference at the time, the Nautilus was on track to be pulled from shelves and the ref. 3800 changed that.
The “Nauti” Details
Beyond its design, size and overall aesthetic, the Nautilus ref. 3800 also features an iconic movement, the cal. 330 SC. Debuting in 1992, the cal. 330 SC replaced the outgoing cal. 335 SC. Initially an effort to bring the Nautilus inhouse and separate it from its competitors, the cal. 335 SC was swapped for the cal. 330 SC which qualified for the Geneva Seal. The particular type of cal. 330 used in the example we have here saw production until 1997 when another variant of the cal. 330 replaced it. In use in one form or another from 1992 to 2006, the cal. 330 movement is an integral piece of the Nautilus’ appeal as a quintessential part of its neo-vintage engineering.
Moving onto the Nautilus’ iconic vertically embossed dial, you will notice our ref. 3800 features a signature at the very bottom of its dial at 6 o’clock, reading “σ SWISS σ”. Flanking the word “SWISS” on both sides, the Greek letter Sigma can be found. This signature is used as a means of signifying that gold was used in the dial or hands. A rule created by l’Association pour la Promotion Industrielle de l’Or (PRIOR), Swiss watchmakers used this “Sigma” symbol to emphasise the presence of precious materials in the timepiece’s dial. An important means of delineating between various vintage timepieces, precious metals are far more resistant to corrosion, patina or other forms of discolouration. Thus, “Sigma” dials are very sought after in vintage timepieces. As the original hands and dial furniture (indices, subdials, logos etc.) will not need to be replaced, collectors prefer the creature comforts “Sigma” dials provide.
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