The collector: Nick Foulkes on The Nautilus by Patek Philippe

The author, watch expert and contributing editor to Vanity Fair and the Financial Times on the radical concept and ageless appeal of Patek’s iconic timepiece

The Patek Philippe Nautilus is a watch that Nick Foulkes loves and has known for many years. ‘I am still struck by its boldness,’ says the author, journalist and editor of On Time, Vanity Fair’s twice-yearly watch supplement.

Foulkes confides that his interest in watches began in the 1970s. ‘I like them as objects of the past,’ he says. ‘Everything was going electric, digital and quartz, and for a few pence I could purchase a mechanical watch with wonderful patina that had this quality as if it was from another time.’

‘Nobody could have predicted that the complicated mechanical timepiece would make a comeback’

The Nautilus was launched in 1976, just as the watch industry was entering a period known as ‘The Quartz Crisis’. It was a watch that defied contemporary thinking and which heralded a new era. ‘Nobody could have predicted that the complicated mechanical timepiece would make a comeback,’ explains Foulkes.

What was significant about the Nautilus was not simply that it was made in steel, but that it was ‘made by Patek Philippe in steel’, says the collector. ‘It was moving with the times in all sorts of ways. The idea of a luxury watch [at the time] was of something that was thin, round and gold. The Nautilus wasn’t loud but it was different... It must have looked incredibly radical in the 1970s.’

Foulkes goes on to describe the Nautilus as ‘a watch that is almost all about the design’, with its integrated case and bracelet, and the iconic ‘porthole’ face. ‘If you’re on the road for 200 or 300 days a year and you can’t take your Picassos with you you can at least take a couple of watches and enjoy them. I find them very engrossing objects,’ he concludes. ‘They are, I think, examples of the applied arts.’

Bernard Buffet: The Invention of the Modern Mega-Artist by Nick Foulkes (Random House) is available on