This is one of the stranger stories I've chased down in a while. When I first stumbled upon this watch in the catalog for Antiquorum's upcoming Geneva sale (happening this Saturday, May 11), I was sure it had to be a fake. I mean, look at it! A stainless steel Patek Philippe Aquanaut prototype that actually says "prototype" right on the dial? How could that be real? But then I started talking to experts, asking collectors what they thought, and it turns out we might be looking at something truly special here. Consensus is that this unique Aquanaut is the real deal or at least mostly the real deal.
The Aquanaut launched back in 1997 with the reference 5060. It's hard to appreciate today, but introducing a 36mm stainless steel watch with an automatic movement and a rubber strap was a wild thing for Patek Philippe to do back then. The 1990s were not the all-Nautilus-everything days we're experiencing now, and this was by far the most casual and approachable watch Patek had ever made. Later we'd get the ref. 5165 Aquanaut, the first in the larger "Jumbo" size, and then we'd see a stream of complications and variations added to the mix. Watches like the travel time ref. 5164A, the 5968A chronograph, and even the new 5168G in khaki green are fan favorites and typically come with years-long waitlists.
The standard production version of the Aquanaut ref. 5060A.
The watch we have here is a prototype Aquanaut 5060A, but not one like any 5060A that you've seen before. Typically these watches only show the time and date, but this prototype has a power reserve up at 11:30. This is because the movement inside is a caliber 330/196, which was also used in the Nautilus ref. 3710 (which has an identical dial layout). The 330/196 never actually made it into the Aquanaut, with the more basic caliber 330 SC stepping in for the final production version of the 5060A instead. Even since then, we've never seen an Aquanaut with a power reserve indicator like this, and as far as anyone knows this is the only example with such a movement and display. Speaking of that movement, it's uniquely signed too. Right next to the 330/196 engraving it reads "LABO No.04," indicating that it was likely part of an experimental batch.*
The dial is another element that differs from what you'll find in a standard-issue 5060A. There's no grid pattern in the center, and the outer track is much more subtle, with applied luminous markers at the hours. The hands are like those you'll find on various Nautilus models, not the wider set that you typically see on Aquanauts. Stamped right below the Patek Philippe signature at four o'clock is "PROTOTYPE" in all its value-adding glory. My favorite thing here is that you can clearly see the way that the Aquanaut grew out of the Nautilus product family, getting a bit of an inside look at how Patek adapted and changed things to eventually give the model its own distinctive design language.
Note the unique code on the movement above the caliber number.
Now, like I said, when I first saw this watch I assumed it was either an outright fake or something less-than-perfect. Would Patek really put "prototype" on the dial like that? If this is real, why is it kind of buried in the middle of an Antiquorum catalog instead of getting pride-of-place as a cover lot? I started asking around, checking in with folks who are far more in-touch with the Patek market and the watchmaker's inner machinations than I am, and the results surprised me.
Over the course of the last week or so, I've talked to a mix of dealers, collectors, and experts, all of whom spoke to me on the condition that they could remain nameless here. Nobody wants to get in the middle of a fight involving Patek Philippe and Antiquorum, and for good reason. I fully expected to get a lot of "stay away" responses, but opinions seem to be much more varied and nuanced than that.
The dial has certain elements from the Nautilus, as well as the "Prototype" designation.
The first few people I spoke with vouched almost unreservedly for the watch, saying that while it might be strange it looks correct and doesn't seem particularly fishy. With Aquanaut and Nautilus collection where they're at these days, those experts expect this watch to go for big money far above the CHF 50,000 to 80,000 estimate. One expert hedged a bit, saying that while he thinks most of the watch is correct (about 80% in his estimation), he doesn't like that the dial is stamped "Prototype" while the case is not. That doesn't make the watch "bad," though it does make it imperfect.
The most interesting thing I heard during my investigation was a rumor that Patek Philippe inquired with Antiquorum about purchasing the watch outright ahead of the sale. The prices quoted back was deemed unacceptable and the brand ended up passing on it *though they also refused to provide an extract from the archive or any other concrete proof as to the watch's correctness. Again, this is a rumor offered up by a source that asked for anonymity, so it should be taken with a grain of salt.
This is unlike any other Aquanaut ever made.
Only one person I spoke with seemed outright skeptical of the watch, saying that they wouldn't encourage anyone in their orbit to bid, and for multiple reasons. They aren't confident in the dial printing and, even more troubling, they have concerns about the watch's provenance. If it's a true prototype and should be property of Patek Philippe, would the manufacture not pursue a title claim after the auction? That has happened in the past, and though there have been mixed results (including a famous incident in which the buyer of a prototype Rolex won the right to keep his new purchase) it's not something I think prospective buyers will want to have to worry about.
Ultimately, watches like this ask as many questions as they answer, and I think that's a good thing for the watch collecting community at large. They make us question our assumptions, they make us dig deeper into scholarship, and they make us ask questions about what we value and why. That produces a more interesting market and more dialog around watch collecting more generally and hopefully some compelling auction results too.
This watch is Lot 276 in the upcoming Antiquorum Geneva sale, taking place on Saturday, May 11. It carries an estimate of CHF 50,000 to 80,000, though it's hard to really know where this one is going to end up. This watch could fail to hit its low estimate or sell for hundreds of thousands of Swiss francs. We'll just have to wait and see. Check out the full catalog here.


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