The Patek Philippe Aquanaut Ref 5065A is on my wish list. It’s been on there for as long as I can remember. Every time I see one in my Instagram feed, I emit an involuntary grunt of pleasure. It’s not a grail watch for me as such, but it is does hold a special place in my heart. Unfortunately, we don’t have one in the Shop at the moment. I guess it’s a good thing as I’m not sure I could part with it if we did. That may change in due course but in the meantime, let me tell you why I love the Aquanaut Ref 5065A.
A (Very) Brief History Of The Patek Aquanaut
The Aquanaut collection from Patek Philippe has always been an intriguing one for me. For years, collectors referred to is a Nautilus Junior. And to be fair, that description was somewhat accurate. To understand where this nickname comes from, you need to look at what was happening at the time of its creation.
In the mid-1990s, the world was going a bit crazy. This little thing called the dot-com boom was starting to pick up some real steam. As a result, new millionaires were being minted about every other day. On paper at least. This was thanks in large part to easy access to cheap debt. Especially if your “technology” company had .com in its name. Over-subscribed IPOs became the new norm. This in turn drove the Nasdaq Composite stock market index up 400% between 1995 and 2000.
As a result, a lot of savvy young people found themselves flush with disposable income. And, they were keen to spend it. In response, many luxury brands developed and launched new products during this period. Most tried to appeal to this younger audience who had a more casual approach to luxury.
One such brand was Patek Philippe. With the company launching its first new steel luxury sports watch in two decades. And while it drew inspiration from the Nautilus, the new Aquanaut had a personality all its own. This was a watch created for a new and younger clientele. Patek made no secret of that. And by all accounts it was well-received by that audience. Even if the brands more established customers were harder to convince.
Let dig into the details.
Ref 5060A – The First Aquanaut
The first Aquanaut is the Ref 5060A, which made its debut in 1997. The case measured a mere 35.6mm. Smaller than the current Nautilus at the time – the so-called ‘mid-size’ Ref 3800/1A, which measured 37.5mm. (We sold a Ref 3800/1A recently. Click here if you’re curious what that model looks like.)
The similarities between the Aquanaut and the Nautilus were immediately obvious though:
- the port hole-inspired eight-sided bezel conceived by legendary watch designer Gerald Genta;
- the satin-brushed case, albeit with a more contemporary feel; and,
- a solid, screw down caseback and screw-down crown ensuring water resistance to 120m.
Two defining features set the Aquanaut apart though. Its distinctive dial – unique to the Aquanaut collection – and its rubber strap.
Only available in black, the dial on the Ref 5060A features a central raised guilloché motif. Some have compared its appearance to a block of Swiss chocolate. Modern Arabic numerals in white gold mark the hours. The hour and minute hands, also in white gold, featured a luminous coating for easy reading in low light. So too did the minute markers on the peripheral chapter ring. Standard stuff today but a very striking aesthetic at the time.
The use of a rubber strap was a first for Patek Philippe and a rather bold move for the brand at the time. Hublot had already pioneered the concept in the 80’s. But it only became more mainstream in the 90’s. In development for over a year, it comprised more than 20 materials. These made it impervious to saltwater, UV deterioration and bacteria. It had even undergone testing by the US Food and Drug Administration. And for good measure it was also hypoallergenic. This led Patek Philippe to name its new strap “Tropical”.
Being a rubber strap though, Patek couldn’t exactly integrate it into the case. (Although this has improved over the years.) That said, the integrated bracelet is a defining feature of the luxury sports watch. Thanks to the original AP Royal Oak. And it’s a key selling point of the Nautilus collection as well.
So, to create that sense of continuity, the texture on the strap instead mirrors the pattern on the dial. A subtle design element that still permeates through the collection today. Closing the strap was a steel folding clasp, embossed with the brand’s Calatrava cross emblem.
Inside was the self-winding Calibre 330 SC. This 3.5mm thick manufacture movement offers a sweep second hand and date indicator. Equipped with Patek Philippe’s patented Gyromax balance wheel, it beats at 21,600 vph. And stores enough power for 48 hours of use.
Although not visible due to the solid caseback, finishing of the movement was of a high standard. Attested to by the application of the Geneva Seal. (The Patek Philippe Seal wasn’t introduced until 2009).
All this might have you wondering, why isn’t the Ref 5060A on my wishlist instead? After all, it was first. Plus, they made less of them. Which should in theory make it more collectible. And while there might be some truth to that, the fact is I like the Ref 5065A better. And here’s why.
The Patek Philippe Aquanaut Ref 5065A
I’m not alone in my appreciation of the Patek Ref 5065A. In fact, this is the model many watch lovers think of when it comes to first-generation Aquanauts. You see the Ref 5060 was only produced in low volumes by Patek Philippe. It wasn’t a limited edition as such – although that’s often reported to be the case. Rather, it was the first watch to test the waters.
The Aquanaut Ref 5065A followed soon after in 1998, adopting the same design cues as the original. That means a satin-brushed 2-part case. A distinctive ‘block of chocolate’ pattern on the dial. And, of course, a Tropical rubber strap with matching pattern.
But there are a few key differences. Improvements made by Patek Philippe based on market feedback. And these are what make the Aquanaut Ref 5065A more desirable in my eyes.
The big one for me (get it?) was the introduction of a ‘jumbo’ brushed steel case. This measures a contemporary 38mm. It’s more in-line with the luxury steel sports watch aesthetic. And it made the gap in size between the Aquanaut and the Nautilus a lot smaller. Nowadays, of course the two models are the same size. With the popular Aquanaut Ref 5167A measuring 40mm. And the Ref 5168G even bigger at 42.2mm.
The increased real estate of the case also means the dial has a bit more room to breathe. Not that the design felt crowded to begin but the proportions are more balanced on the Ref 5065A. It’s more open, with space for everything stretch out a bit.
The Aquanaut Ref 5065A also features a newer movement, in the form of the Calibre 315 SC. A minor variation of the earlier Calibre 330 found in the Ref 5060. The two movements are almost identical, but the newer calibre is thinner at 3.22mm (vs. 3.5mm).
a straight-line lever escapement;
a shock absorber mechanism;
a self-compensating flat balance spring; and,
a monometallic balance, adjusted to cold, heat, isochronism and 5 positions.
In the same year, Patek also debuted the Ref 5065 /1A-010 variation. This model introduced a stainless steel, highly-polished Aquanaut bracelet. Still not integrated though, so you could switch in the pre-cut rubber strap that came with it. It was a bit at odds with the luxury sports watch aesthetic. Very shiny – like the bracelet found on the Ref 5960A, although a different design of course. Still, very much unlike the brushed steel bracelet on the Nautilus. A year later, Patek introduced a yellow-gold version in the Ref 5065 /1J-001.
Price & Availability
Interest in the Patek Philippe Aquanaut Ref 5065A has taken off over the last year or two. Driven no doubt by the general mania around steel sports watches from the brand. Whereas a few years ago you could find a nice example for US$15,000 or so, now you can expect to pay more than double that. Budget at least US$35,000 – US$40,000 for a nice example. Higher for one in excellent condition with solid provenance.
I wouldn’t go as far as saying the Ref 5065A is a super rare watch. But finding a good one, in the right condition, will involve some searching. Patience is the key here. Or you can send us an email, and we’ll find one for you.
Is It Collectible?
Without fail the question I get asked most often is, “will it go up in value?” It’s important to distinguish collectability from potential return on investment. As a watch lover, I would definitely love to have a Patek Philippe Ref 5065A in my collection. Quirky dial. Clean, minimalist aesthetic. High-quality movement. It’s all very attractive to me. That’s why it’s on my wish list.
Would I buy this watch because it’s also going to increase in value? Probably not. For one thing, it’s hard to distinguish “value” from the hype currently surrounding luxury steel sports watches from Patek. The Aquanaut Ref 5065A may have already hit its ceiling price wise. It’s not a significant watch as such for Patek Philippe. It doesn’t represent any major milestone or technical breakthrough. It looks cool, sure. And is very well made. But buy this watch because you love it. Not as an investment piece.
Technical Specifications: Patek Philippe Aquanaut Ref 5065A
- Case: Steel – 38 mm x 9.3mm – screw-down crown – sapphire crystal caseback – water resistant to 120 metres.
- Dial: Black embossed dial – time and date – gold applied numerals with luminescent coating.
- Movement: Calibre 315 S C – mechanical self-winding – date, sweep seconds – Gyromax® balance – centre hour, minute and seconds hands – Geneva seal.
- Strap: “Tropical” composite black strap – steel fold-over clasp.
- Price: discontinued/ ~US$35,000 – US$40,000 on the secondary market
What’s On Your Wish List?
I’d love to hear about what model or models are on your wish list. Shout them out in the comments below or drop me an email. I will pick some to cover in more detail in future articles.