The question of which watch stands out in a collection is a common one. Yet, it’s a challenging question to answer, particularly when you’re a collector of timepieces, and each watch holds a special place in your heart. This sentiment resonates with me as well.
It’s a question that’s as difficult to answer as being asked to pick a single watch as the only one in my collection, essentially forming a one-watch collection. Some might liken it to choosing a favorite among their children, a comparison that’s often uncomfortable because we don’t like to play favorites. Nevertheless, when my editor tasked me with this challenge, I felt compelled to respond. But before I reveal my choice, allow me to share the timepieces I contemplated writing about.
- My Rolex Sea-Dweller ref. 1665 “Double Red” from 1972 with not only a lovely tropical dial but also with a solid military provenance as it was owned – and used – by a military diver until he realized the watch’s value.
- My Rolex GMT-Master ref. 1675 with a stunning, almost burgundy tropical gilt dial and still fitted with the original butterfly rotor was also a contender for this article.
- My other Rolex GMT-Master ref. 1675 from 1968 that was owned by my childhood hero, journalist, author of fifteen books, and war correspondent Jan Stage. He wanted the same watch as his heroes, Che Guerra and Fidel Castro. Hence, Stage’s choice of timepiece when he joined the Cuban Intelligence in 1968, was the GMT-Master with the illustrious Pepsi bezel insert.
- My Rolex Daytona ref. 16520 with a wonderful black “Patrizzi”-dial from 1999, which I purchased last year. It was somewhat of a surprise purchase, as I was hunting a “normal” five-digit Daytona and by chance was offered this rare iteration.
However, the watch from my collection that I chose to write about is my Patek Philippe Nautilus “Jumbo” ref. 3700 from 1976. I chose this watch for a special reason – it was the first timepiece that caught my attention during my childhood.
A childhood dream
In the 1970s, the first pages of National Geographic were adorned with advertisements featuring watches from renowned brands like Rolex, Omega, and Patek Philippe. It was within the pages of this legendary adventure magazine that my fascination with watches first took root.
I noticed that many of the advertised timepieces, particularly the sports watches by Rolex, graced the wrists of the mountaineers, divers, and explorers featured in the magazine’s articles. This transformed watches into hero products for me, capturing my imagination like nothing else.
I first saw the Patek Philippe Nautilus when I was just six years old, back in 1976. It was a time when this luxurious timepiece had just made its grand debut, although I wasn’t aware of its prestige initially. The épée captured my attention in front of the watch.
You see, as a six-year-old, I often dreamt of becoming a police officer, a firefighter, a soldier, or even better, a gallant knight. That sword-shaped hand had my undivided attention. However, as I continued to leaf through National Geographic magazines and saw the ad repeatedly, my focus shifted towards the watch itself, and I found myself admiring its revolutionary design.
The Nautilus stood in stark contrast to watches like the Rolex Submariner, GMT-Master, or Explorer, which frequently graced the magazine’s ads and the wrists of its heroic figures. Instead, the Nautilus featured a striking design, and as the ads evolved, it was showcased in more daring settings. It was originally presented as “One of the costliest watches is made of steel,” and later portrayed in a pool, headlined simply as “Handcrafted,” and shown with a couple holding hand, each wearing a Nautilus with the caption “They work just as well with a wetsuit as they do with a dinner suit,” emphasizing the water resistance (of 120 m) as well as the elegant design.
The Nautilus left a lasting impression. From the very first advertisement in 1976 until the 1980s when my dad decided not to renew his subscription.
In 1989, after I graduated, I moved to London, and it was during this time that I first encountered the Nautilus adorning the wrist of a genteel individual. The watch left a profound impression on me, serving as a constant reminder that true love never wanes. However, it took several years before I finally acquired a ref. 3700 Jumbo Nautilus.
A phone call
It wasn’t until 2016 that an opportunity to acquire this watch presented itself. It’s important to note that during this period, I had spent a decade working at an auction house, where I had the privilege of evaluating numerous Nautilus watches. I took great care when inspecting each one, often trying them on to understand their fit and feel.
I had grown accustomed to receiving calls from individuals looking for estimates due to my role at the auction house. However, my curiosity was piqued when a gentleman contacted me on my private phone to discuss my affinity for the Nautilus. This gentleman explained that he owned a Jumbo Nautilus he no longer wore, as he said, “I can’t play golf with it,” and “my son has no interest in the watch,” when asked why he did not hand it down to his family.
His story was not unique; I had heard similar narratives from clients at the auction house who were looking to sell their cherished timepieces. However, this conversation unexpectedly turned when he suggested, “You should buy this watch, Kristian. You would be the rightful next owner of this Nautilus.”
While it was a friendly suggestion, I had just purchased a new home and expressed that I couldn’t afford the watch. To my surprise, he calmly responded, “We haven’t discussed the price yet.”
When the price was mentioned, he acknowledged that it was likely below the market value but emphasized his desire for me to acquire it. The asking price was well below market rates at the time, even though the watch required servicing. He assured me he would contact me once the watch returned from service in Switzerland.
As weeks turned into months, I began to think that this offer was too good to be true, and I accepted that sometimes dreams don’t come to fruition. Then, one day, my phone rang. The seller introduced himself, and I initially mistook him for an old schoolmate. The Nautilus had returned from service, and it was time to complete the deal. I was taken aback as I had previously decided this transaction wouldn’t occur. But it did, and I was about to meet the seller and see the Nautilus for the first time.
The seller’s office was located on the top floor of an older building in the heart of Copenhagen. His office was dimly lit, filled with heavy furniture, and the computer seemed more dated than modern. I had entered a room that had not been optimized for years. The seller arrived an hour late and cheerfully offered me coffee. Despite my initial refusal, he persisted, asking if I preferred milk and sugar. In his office, it was his rules, and I found myself accepting the cup of coffee in front of me
Then, the moment arrived as he placed the watch on the table. I looked at it for the first time, unmistakably a Patek Philippe. It was a Jumbo ref. 3700 from 1976 and appeared to be in decent condition. The bracelet showed signs of wear, but I wasn’t concerned. After all, it was a Patek Philippe Nautilus Jumbo, fully serviced by the manufacturer, and I was in awe.
Since acquiring this remarkable watch, I have continued to be in awe. I wear it with immense pride and joy. Due to frequent use, I decided to have a new bracelet installed after a few years of ownership because the original one was in poor condition, risking the loss of the watch.
I know the watch’s value and rarity, understanding that it is a grail watch for many, including myself. Throughout most of my life, this timepiece has remained one of the most treasured items in my collection, as it truly is a childhood dream come true.
Even though this watch represents a lot of money, I can’t fathom parting with it. This watch may accompany me to the end of the line. I find it challenging to imagine anyone else wearing this precious watch that ignited my passion for timepieces.