The suffix a after THE PATEK PHILIPPE model number represents acier, the french term for steel, G=GRIS for white gold, J=JAUNE FOR YELLOW GOLD AND P FOR PLATINUM.
The Aquanaut was only introduced in 1997, the brainchild of Thierry Stern who wanted a more youthful, sportier, more ergonomic, yet cheaper Nautilus. I think he succeeded in creating such a different watch yet retaining a semblance of Gerald Genta’s original iconic Jules Verne porthole. But he also succeeded in making the Aquanaut distinct by incorporating a polymer bracelet, creating more legibility and appealing to a more youthful demographic. The Aquanaut is often viewed as the cheaper alternative to the Nautilus, but considering today’s demand for the watch, I think it’s fair to say that the Aquanaut truly stands alone today as a distinct Patek model and will remain that way for the future.
Because I was so focused on obtaining grail Rolex pieces, it had prevented me from discovering my true niche in watches, ultra light and ultra thin. The Patek has made me re-learn and re-discover my true tastes in this expensive hobby, so thank you Patek. The Patek has also opened my eyes to a whole new world of haute horlogerie, where bigger and better does not equate to superior watchmaking. Rather, the true traditional art of watchmaking is the ability to efficiently fit such complicated movements with world class accuracy in such a compact case. While most watch manufacturers (e.g. Rolex, Panerai, IWC, Lange & Sohne and others) have trended towards wider, thicker and heavier cases, true artisans, like computer engineers know the true value of a timepiece, compact elegance. I truly hope that the watch world will revert back to ultra thin and light and modernize the vintage era.
The first thing I noticed about the Aquanaut is the comfort. It is by far the most comfortable watch I’ve ever worn, mechanical or otherwise. Compared to the Rolex supercase, the Aquanaut’s mass is about half as much at 80 g but feels much less than half as heavy and bulky. Wearing it is effortless. The composite band must be made of polymer feather because it is barely noticeable. The second most striking feature of the Aquanaut is the 8.3 mm thickness or should I say thinness. The side profile is barely perceptible and is a huge relief in mass and thickness from Rolex supercases. I must acknowledge The Watch Baron for these feelings, for they are exactly as he described in his website after he crossed the chasm from Rolex to Patek. I was more impressed by the wearability of the watch compared to my previous watches and other watches I have tried. However, the overall aesthetics of the watch are no slouch either and must be described starting with the dial.
The dial is not one color but several blended into a sunburst reflection. It is at times dark slate and at times black and sometimes even silver gray depending on the angle of incident light but never dull. A geosphere pattern has been cut into latitudinal and longitudinal lines which clearly represent the earth. The band also matches these geographic cuts. Although, only a CNC machine could have produced such micrometer precise etching of those lines, it does not take away from its beauty. The dial and band on older Aquanaut models such as the 5065 were also cut into geosphere curves but the lines in previous versions were also cut into deeper and more pronounced grooves. I prefer the newer grooves which are cut in a more refined and sinewy curve than the previous more rugged grooves.
The lumed colors of the white gold numerals are pure white which matches the hour hand, the minute hand, the second hand and the date. The second hand is not lumed and seems a purer and fuller ivory white than the other hands. The numerals number from 1-12 and to me illuminate the most perfect aesthetic and legible font. They are proportioned large enough to have more than adequate legibility but not large enough to crowd the dial. The illumination at night is more than adequate. The polished stainless steel rehaut reflects the lume on the hour indices doubling the lume light. The way the lumed hour indices, the second indices and the numerals in combination pop out at you, are distinctive of only the Aquanaut and no other watch.
Another distinctive feature of the Aquanaut that is not noticeable at first is that the numerals do not align horizontally. The 11 and 1, 10 and 2, 8 and 4, 7 and 5 do not align even without a loupe and I’m not sure what the reason is. Perhaps due to the curvature of the geosphere lines or because of obstructions from the inner mechanism or maybe just by design to distinguish from counterfeits. I have noticed this misalignment on all of the pictures of this model on the internet and it used to bother me as an imperfection from such a high brand like Patek, but now I kind of like it. Because the misalignments are consistent in all examples across the same model, it makes the watch distinct, although I was secretly hoping that mine was the only one, so I could own a piece unique. My watchmaker friend later explained to me that the numerals are offset because of a well known watchmaking phenomenon called “décalage horaire” where the hour hand’s wheel teeth point differently at 11 and 1 o’clock. I don’t pretend to understand this phenomenon but I’m sure watchmakers are well versed about it.
CASE AND BEZEL
The case, bezel and lugs are made entirely of stainless steel, the lightest of the three Patek Philippe metals. The bezel is satin polished immediately adjacent to the sapphire crystal and the circumferential side slope of the bezel is mirror polished. The finishing polish on a Patek Philippe is second to none, perhaps due to the fact that Antoni Patek was Polish (bad joke I know).
The bezel is satin finished immediately adjacent to the sapphire crystal and is prone to scratches although the watch is protected by its thinness and lack of protrusion.
The lugs are mirror polished and once paveed with sunlight, I could stare at those lugs all day. The lug shape and proportions alone were so meticulously designed that they deserve to be mentioned as an independent entity from the watch. While it is very difficult to describe a shape in words, these lugs present perfectly aerodynamic angles that whimsically reflect light with such precise convexity that they provide this exaggerated sheen to it. The contrast of the black composite band in between the lugs I think is what makes them more visibly stunning. The shape and polish of the lugs must have been patented and curiously, I find myself fixated on them more than any other part of the watch.
BRACELET AND CLASP
The bracelet is made of very light composite rubber polymer, what Patek labels as “tropical” presumably referring to temperature regulation. The composite rubber is supple enough to conform to the contour of my wrist but with enough rigidity so as to not to slide up and down. It is very comfortable and most times feels non existent compared to metal bracelets. Sizing the bracelet requires manually cutting along the grooves in order to attach the pins on the clasp. I had mine sized loosely for added breathability and to have the flexibility to cut more if necessary. Once cut though, enlarging and finely adjusting the bracelet is impossible compared to the Rolex easy link oysterclasp fine adjustment. Wearing it in hot summer conditions does accumulate sweat but not as much heat as metal bracelets. In order to circumvent and attenuate the sweat and heat buildup, I find that wearing it loosely helps somewhat but it is unavoidable. However, it is still more comfortable than a metal bracelet because it is lighter and more breathable.
The symmetrical clasp is very cleverly designed and easier to fasten and release than the Nautilus models. The clasp can only release whilst pressing on both pushers simultaneously and therefore cannot be released accidentally. The Calatrava cross on the exposed side of the clasp is a mosaic marvel in itself. It is perfectly symmetrical and I find myself diametrically staring at the clasp as often as the dial. Of course this requires the act of excessive supination to the point of afflicting me with golfer’s elbow. I also love playing golf but ironically I have never actually suffered golfer’s elbow from golf. I have left the stickers on the exposed surface of the clasp until they fall off to prevent scratching for as long as possible. I find that the hinge on the undersurface of the clasp occasionally pinches my skin in between the hinge and the rubber.
FUNCTION AND MECHANISM
The 324 SC movement powers the 5167a and has a decent 45 hr power reserve. I find it very accurate standardized to the Hodinkee app clock. The rating is certified for -3/+2 secs per day but I find it to be superior achieving an accuracy of less than 1 sec per day oftentimes with daily wear. In fact, the watch can run for weeks synchronous to Hodinkee’s digital clock, which shows remarkable consistency for a mechanical watch.
When shaken on the wrist, the rotor makes a spinning whirring sound which at first I found annoying but after prolonged wear, I felt reassured by this sound. It tells me everything is in perfect Patek working order. In fact if you shake it in just a certain way, you can make the rotor spin for an extended time. A gold fidget-spinner. It’s quite cool.
There are a few minor things are slightly bothersome about the movement. One is the lack of stop seconds which can be bypassed by holding the crown slightly counterclockwise while adjusting the time. The date function slowly shifts downwards around 23:00 until it changes instantaneously at midnight. And the third inconvenience is that one cannot change the date from 21:30 to 00:30. The crown is screw down but at its maximum tightness doesn’t feel as secure as Rolex crowns and I never feel sure when it’s tight enough for the 120m water depth rating. Patek is a much thinner mechanism than Rolex accounting for the lack of conveniences such as stop seconds, but I’d much rather suffer these inconveniences than wear a thicker and heavier Rolex supercase.
I will use cliche and superlative terms only because this is the best watch I have ever worn predominantly because of the comfort due to the ultralight and ultrathin case and strap. The visual aesthetic appeal does not appear at first glance which is good because it means that this is an understated watch. But after repeated wear, its elegance and beauty become more apparent. I dare to say that this may be the benchmark sportswatch to which all others are compared. The thought has also developed that I may never find a better watch for me (even the Nautilus), unless Patek invents another improved Aquanaut model. It has become my predominant daily wearer.
It is the watch that made me break free of chasing all things Rolex and opened my eyes to superior craftsmanship and horlogerie. It made me realize that my priorities lie in ultra thin and light so much so that I find myself looking for vintage watches (mostly Patek) that offer these two most important criteria.