From Zeros To Heroes: The Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711/1P And 5976/1G Anniversary Watches
On October 3, 2016, Patek Philippe launched two hotly anticipated limited-edition watches in commemoration of the fortieth anniversary of its Nautilus line: a chronograph in white gold (Reference 5976/1G) and a time-and-date model in platinum (Reference 5711/1P).
In departure from prior practices, there was no lavish launch event: British GQ’s watch and jewelry supplement published an exclusive photo feature on the 5976G the day prior to the full-scale launch, and extensive online coverage of both watches followed the next day pursuant to the press release being disseminated.
Reaction from the watch community was immediate – and scathing. Yet barely a few weeks later, opinions were much more positive. By early December even many early critics declared themselves enthusiastic converts and eager buyers.
What happened, what are these watches really like when seen in person, and what can we learn from all of this?
How events unfolded
More than one of my Nautilus-loving friends spent a decent amount of the late summer and early autumn speculating on the potential form of the upcoming anniversary watch or watches.
And while they had hoped for invitations to a Nautilus anniversary launch event, none materialized for one simple reason: to some extent in recognition of current industry conditions, Patek Philippe had decided on a more virtual strategy for introducing its two new watches, among other things depending heavily on a set of photographs taken by noted commercial photographer Jean-Paul Cattin to provide the visuals for the launch.
I’ve visited Cattin’s website several times now and have been impressed on each occasion with the way that he has brought a variety of Swiss-made luxury products to life.
As an amateur photographer, I’ve also noted that in some campaigns he utilizes a bright and fairly uniformly lit style that is dramatic, but can make objects appear quite different from how they would look in natural light.
In the case of the Nautilus anniversary watches, several of the launch images were brightly lit in ways that accentuated the watches’ most provocative features: applied diamond hour markers and what rapidly became known online as “tombstone” inscriptions on the dials that designate the 1976 origin of the Nautilus, the fortieth anniversary, and 2016 issue date of the pieces.
There was also some initial confusion about the size of Reference 5976: in actuality the diagonal distance across the bezel is 44 mm, but that dimension was incorrectly reported in many accounts to be 49.25 mm (originating with the GQ post), which is the total distance across the case including the nautically themed flanges.
Neither of these sizes is tiny, but envisioning the larger diameter led to visions of a truly gargantuan watch.
A sampling of online commentary immediately following the launch:
- “Vulgar, cringe-worthy, and stunningly weak”
- “Mindless and uninteresting”
- “As a purist, without a shadow of a doubt I would never buy these”
- “Genta must be turning in his grave”
- “RIP Nautilus”
- “The best part is the cork box”
The most benevolent posts I can find from that early period were from some folks counseling caution in judging too harshly until the watches could be seen “in the metal.”
And over the next weeks, as collectors began to handle these two pieces, the tenor of online commentary did in fact begin to shift until the predominant tone consisted of comments such as:
- “Isn’t she [the 5711P] lovely?”
- “A very handsome watch. A winner; no more criticisms here”
- “These diamonds are so much better than the LumiNova on the regular 5711”
- “In the flesh, a really cool watch”
- “The 5976 is stunning and the size is just perfect”
- “I feel foolish! I bashed the anniversary models from just one photo”
For its part, the brand reached out to its loyal customers, including those who had made negative remarks.
One leading Patek Philippe collector reported, “Even though Patek Philippe was very aware of my earlier comments, I was offered an opportunity to study the watches closer.” And it appears that he has placed an order for one of the anniversary pieces.
The anniversary watches in hand and on the wrist
Like everyone else, I had the opportunity to view the initial press photos and to read the initial reactions online.
Happily, I also had the opportunity in early November 2016 at Patek Philippe’s Geneva salon to handle both the 5711P and 5976G and to see one “in the wild” on the wrist of a good friend who took delivery of a 5711 during our visit.
I subsequently saw a second example of the same watch worn by another watch pal.
- These are crisply executed watches and provide real visual pop on the wrist without appearing to be ostentatious
- A major contributor to the visual interest is the applied diamond markers, which in person one might well judge to be brightly-polished metal rather than gemstones if you were not already in on the secret
- The dial colors are a deep blue that is somewhat changeable depending on the light, adding even more intrigue on the wrist; and the variations in color and texture of the chronograph dial on the 5976G are both harmonious and interesting
- The anniversary date inscriptions are barely visible in most light conditions and don’t overly distract from the appearance. Like many, I would have preferred a more subtle placement of the anniversary script on the rear of the watch, but that’s a matter of personal taste
- Both watches are quite heavy, as you might expect; but for me their heft is quite satisfying and well-balanced around the wrist
- The 5976G is a big watch, to be sure, perhaps even a bit too broad for my mid-sized but flat wrist. But the ratio of diameter to height is just right and for many wearers it will sit quite well
- While some folks dislike the shape and location of the chronograph pushers on the 5976G, I actually like them pretty well
One topic of curiosity for me is the intended market segment aiming point for these two watches, as in some ways they seem to me to be “tweeners”: not literal enough recreations of historic Nautilus watches to delight old-liners, but not step-out pieces, either – which, for instance, the ceramic-bezel version I hoped we might see would have been.
For me, the clear lesson in all of this for collectors, enthusiasts, and commentators is pretty clear: whenever possible, see a watch in person before passing judgment (and do note that here at Quill & Pad that is generally the case).
At a level below that, however, perhaps there’s a lesson for us to be a little more willing to believe that watch manufacturers really are exerting their best efforts to create appealing pieces and to give credit where possible before turning to criticism even if a particular watch isn’t right for us as individuals.
And for Patek Philippe enthusiasts, perhaps the additional thought that it is possible to build one’s expectations so high in advance of the release of “special” editions that no watch released by Patek Philippe could possibly meet them.
If I might be so bold as to offer a few thoughts to my friends at Patek Philippe, they would be:
- Get new watches into the hands of enthusiast collectors early! Collectors still influence others, drive sales, and influence buyer perceptions
- Recognize the deep emotional investment in your enterprise’s success of your collectors and supporters and structure your launch tactics to engage them and shape their expectations, especially for highly-anticipated anniversary introductions
- First impressions matter! In future “virtual” launches, first present images that represent the watch in a natural way and add more impressionistic views later
It’s easy to blame the photographer, and certainly the first images presented by Patek Philippe did not create the intended effect.
That said, had I been presented with the challenge of creating a photo portfolio of these two watches, I might also have thought first about how to highlight the diamonds and dial embossing rather than creating a more balanced and subdued set of views.
Happily, enough “real life” photos and hands-on impressions are now available to allow enthusiasts to draw their own conclusions.
Having seen the tremendous enthusiasm that my friend’s 5711/1P generated among collectors during the Geneva auction weekend, I can testify that these watches have their ardent admirers!
Quick Facts Patek Philippe 5711/1P
Case: platinum, 40 x 8.3mm; bezel set with brand-characteristic flawless diamond at 6 o’clock
Dial: embossed gold dial with sunburst decoration beneath blue PVD finishing, applied diamond baton hour markers
Hands: 18-karat white gold hour and minute hands coated with Super-LumiNova
Movement: automatic Caliber 324 S C; 28,800 vph/4 Hz; 35-45-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date
Limitation: 700 pieces
Quick Facts Patek Philippe 5976/1G
Case: white gold, 44 x 12.16 mm
Dial: embossed brass dial with sunburst decoration beneath blue PVD finishing, applied diamond baton and princess-cut hour markers
Hands: white gold hour and minute hands coated with Super-LumiNova
Movement: automatic Caliber CH 28-520 C; 28,800 vph/4 Hz; column wheel chronograph with vertical clutch; 45-55-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes; flyback chronograph with 60-minute and 12-hour indications, instantaneous date
Limitation: 1,300 pieces