Neither an Ellipse, nor a Nautilus, the Nautilus-Ellipse hybrid ref. 3770 is both gently mocked and celebrated. It is the kind of watch that raises eyebrows among collectors as well as those uninitiated in the world of watches. So why does the Nautellipse exist?
When I first saw this reference in 1997, I was cataloging a collection at Sotheby’s and instantly thought I’d found a fake. Its proportions were unlike any I had ever seen, from any maker, and the script ‘Quartz’ on the dial had me wondering. However, once I received word from the archive at Patek Philippe Geneva confirming that this enigma really did exist, I began my journey to learn more about this fascinating reference.
The ref. 3770 was launched in the spring of 1980. At that time, the Patek universe was dominated by the ‘hot’ watch of the moment – the Ellipse – and the brand was looking to expand its line to include a more desirable sports watch. The steel ref. 3700 Nautilus was selling, but not selling well… it was considered too big and too expensive at the time, retailing for approximately 4,000 USD. An automatic ‘Jumbo’ gold Ellipse with the exact same movement as the 3700 sold retail in the same era for 8,000 USD.
Aside from cost, the problem with Patek sports watches at the time was two-fold: thickness and design. In terms of size, the Nautilus ref. 3700 was considered a little heavy on the wrist. The quartz revolution had led to increasingly thinner movements, creating a new market for slimmer cases. Putting a quartz E27 caliber within the ref. 3770 meant it was only 6.5 mm thick. And, of course, the word Quartz was written boldly on the dial of most ref. 3770s to celebrate the amazing accuracy and functionality of a quartz movement of the era; we often forget how impressive that was with our 21s-century retro-mechanical obsession.
When it comes to the design, things get funky. Patek wanted to bring the bestselling Ellipse line to a wider audience and more importantly, create a truly water-resistant Ellipse case. The very existence of the Nautellipse comes down to the fact Patek wanted to move the Ellipse away from a dress watch into a sports watch. Advertisements from the 1980s even show people playing sports such as tennis while wearing the ref. 3770. Now that’s a fashion statement for the courts. Let the kids wear the Nautilus but the ref. 3770 is for real men!
It is important to note the cases for the ref. 3770s were made by the exact same casemaker as the ref. 3700. Favre & Perret, located in La Chaux-de-Fonds, was Patek’s casemaker of choice for the Nautilus and the Nautellipse. The same machines, the same hands, and the same finishing techniques were used on both references.
Like the Nautilus, the reference ref. 3770 was made in a variety of designs to appeal to different cross sections of buyers. Made in steel, two-tone, and yellow gold, multiple dial options were available, though these were mostly two-tone with an elliptical outer sector and batons. However, some were made with the classic Ellipse blued-gold dial, occasionally adorned with diamonds. The strap versions had no lugs; the strap was attached directly into the caseback as with the Ellipse. Bracelet models had a similar design to the Nautilus but, rather than rectangular bracelet links, the ref. 3770 bracelet has elongated Elliptical-shaped links. This subtle design feature truly makes the watch something to be appreciated.
In the early 1990s, the ref. 3770 was discontinued and the Nautilus became the watch of choice for Patek’s sporting elite. As the Ellipse fell into relative obscurity, the Nautellipse became a forgotten relic of the late quartz revolution. Today, we can celebrate this early experiment in design as it turns 40 years old, and enjoy its quirkiness with respect, appreciating the part it has played in the long march of horological history.
Visit the Collectability Shop to see the Nautellipse.