Review: Patek Philippe Aquanaut Chronograph
If you’re lucky enough to own a Rolex Daytona, you may find yourself wondering where to go next. After all, when it comes to luxury sports chronographs that balance a high-end feel with a laid back informality, there aren’t really too many avenues to go down—most other watches either lean more towards function, or the other way, to luxury. Maybe there is nowhere to go? Maybe—until now.
What this is, is an Aquanaut, Patek Philippe’s watch for the new millennium, a little fresher than the Nautilus, more modern than the Calatrava. Until recently, the Aquanaut was a surprisingly dainty time-only thing, the kind of sports watch that was small and subtle, a favourite of people who wanted a dollop of luxury with their daily wear without shouting about it.
But that subtlety is not for everyone, and this is something Patek Philippe has come to realise in recent years. The current generation Daytona, for example, with its ceramic bezel, carries more visual weight than its predecessor despite being the same size—and there needed to be something from Patek Philippe to move on up into.
Funny thing is, the watch Daytona owners have been upgrading to has actually been in existence since before the Aquanaut was even a twinkle in Philippe Stern’s eye. It’s the watch this Chronograph 5968A has been expressly built to compete with, even though the Patek Philippe is some quarter-century late the game. Can you guess what it is? Give up? I’m talking about the Royal Oak Offshore.
Like the Nautilus, the Royal Oak is very much of an era, and so way back in 1993 the updated Royal Oak Offshore was born. It was so ahead of its time that even MB&F founder Max Büsser thought it was a monster, and it was—at 42mm it was a slab of a watch compared to everything else out there—but it did open up a whole new avenue of watchmaking that caught the attention of a younger generation.
It’s been about for so long it’s almost part of the furniture, and it’s only now that Patek Philippe has decided to do something about it. It’s a bold move—especially for a £10,000 premium over the Royal Oak Offshore and a whopping £25,000 premium over the Daytona—but is it too little too late?
Before we explore the Aquanaut Chronograph in any detail, let’s have a think as to why it took so long to come to fruition in the first place. Audemars Piguet has long been a rival of Patek Philippe, the two traditionally trying to outdo each other with more and more complicated watches.
It was during the quartz crisis that the two brands parted ways, Patek Philippe sticking to its guns with traditional watchmaking, Audemars Piguet trying something daring, putting all its eggs in one basket with the controversial Royal Oak. It was so successful that it came to identify the brand, while, despite covering its bases by effectively copying Audemars Piguet with the Nautilus—to the extent where the same designer was recruited—Patek Philippe upheld its reputation for traditional mastery.
This necessitated a heavy reliance on the Royal Oak for Audemars Piguet, and the need to drastically refresh the model to keep the brand alive—hence the 1993 introduction of the Offshore. Patek Philippe, on the other hand, had no such problem, thus able to take its time and make its moves with more consideration.
So, with 25 years to think about it, it’s got to be good, right? Well, it’s big, that’s for sure, at—you can probably guess—an Offshore-ish 42.2mm. It’s also orange, and can be even more so with the optional orange rubber strap—there’s no doubting that Patek Philippe’s sights are set firmly on Audemars Piguet’s flagship.
The flyback calibre CH 28-250 C movement is borrowed from the Nautilus 5980, minus the chronograph hours counter for a cleaner look, and with both chronograph hands coloured a bright orange to keep them distinct from the main timekeeping display. This at least makes it less disconcerting to see what appears to be a running sub-seconds hand standing perfectly still.
The movement, the chronograph fully integrated, offers three benefits over the Offshore’s modular arrangement—that is to say, a chronograph module sat on top of a typical time-and-date movement: the first is less thickness at 11.9mm versus 14.4mm, the second a flush date window, unlike the cavernous hole in the Audemars Piguet, and the third a nice, even arrangement of the pushers and crown, rather than the staggered positioning dictated by the stacked modules.
And there’s not really much else to speak of. It’s a simple game plan, really, very much following Audemars Piguet’s proven lead. It’s like the Nautilus and the Royal Oak all over again, and let’s not forget—that certainly turned out very well for Patek Philippe.
This watch is typical Patek Philippe, and that means exceptional refinement, despite being a steel watch on a rubber strap with orange highlights. If you’ve been hunting for that next move after the Daytona and the Offshore is just a bit too cumbersome for you, this could well be what you’ve been looking for. It’s been a long, long time in the making—almost too long—but now it’s here. We can only wait and see if it dethrones the mighty Royal Oak Offshore.
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