The Patek Philippe Nautilus ref. 5711 might be your grail of grails, or simply the perfect taste of ’70s glamour. There is a reason so many love the porthole-inspired steel perfection, which – in the present day – is flat out unattainable even with cash to spend. So, that pampering AD appointment with $40-60,000 ready to despatch, the complimentary espresso in a gold-rimmed cup, the satin-gloved handover … Not any time soon. Do we have alternatives? We found five.
Piaget Polo S
The unusual alternative, the unsung hero, a Piaget that isn’t ultra-thin? Yes, the Polo S will confound and surprise you, and what can we call this shape? This sports watch from the maison of Piaget is as confusing as it is different, but with its indefinable shape and vertically striped dial, a quirky but viable value alternative to the Nautilus. What triggers your synapses is the bright emerald dial, on which the polished pink gold indices pop like crazy. What gets you are similitudes like the horizontal stripes combined with a smooth rehaut minute track.
Like the 5711, the back edges of the indices follow the squaround (I’ll copyright that!) inner edge of the bezel. Classic sword hands are balanced in length, the Piaget logo sits within a recessed plaque-like rectangle, and then that seconds hand. We love the counterbalance of the needle second hand, a diamond-shaped logo with a P, an applaudable whimsical move by Piaget. An in-house 111P movement promises a 50-hour power reserve, while the brushed and polished H-link bracelet is superb. Main case body polished, large brushed bezel oval in shape, with a razor-sharp bevel, makes this a stunning 42mm alternative that wears smaller and, well, rocks. While showing inspiration that at first glance seems close to the Nautilus, it then twists your impression into something that can only be a Polo S. Price EUR 12,600
The angular option, Bulgari Octo Finissimo in steel
Not rounded off and friendly of shape like the Nautilus or the similarly squaround Piaget Polo, but wow! Nothing can prepare you for what is so angular, yet feels like silk on the wrist. And that’s understating the exquisite fact that the 5.2mm thickness will cause your system to crash, when you grasp this 40mm delicate sports watch. You will lose a good minute or two of feeling, weighing and examining this alien-feeling creation before trying it on. Don’t. Just don’t — unless you have the funds ready to go. An immediate feeling of “which watch can I sell?” will no doubt appear as the frontal lobe struggles to compute.
Sublime comfort is the term, the very wide angular bracelet looks razor sharp, and has no right to bestow the Octo Finissimo with this feeling of silky, delicate jewellery embracing the arm, not a tough steel bracelet. Like the Nautilus, this has a deep blue dial that perfectly counteracts the distracting facets of the case. What in low light is an inky, almost petrol, tone, transforms into a brighter shade in sunlight, with the delicate brushed finish setting a perfect stage for the almost fragile-looking indices, and running seconds at 7 o’clock. Beauty is angular, and with a 100m depth rating, tough enough to be The Only One. With the Octo Finissimo, monogamy isn’t the challenge you might think. Price $17,800 AUD.
The classic alternative, Girard-Perregaux Laureato 38mm
For me, this is one of the underdogs in the tough arena of the integrated bracelet battle, and I must admit to not having the Laureato on my top list, until this summer. I was doing a photo shoot for a story (yes, these shots, can you feel the love?), and I had the pleasure of the 38mm with a silver dial for a weekend. You might think of the Royal Oak when you see the Clous de Paris dial, but I was not prepared for the difficult to master blend of comfort and wrist presence the Laureato presented to me. This 38mm GP is a watch that has that enviable quality of instantly feeling at home on the wrist, and like many sub-40mm models, it will undoubtedly make you reconsider the larger pieces in your collection.
The Laureato 38mm with a silver dial has a delicate but strong presence you don’t expect from pictures: sporty, yet very light, with an exemplary bracelet. The case is a rounded shape quite similar to the Nautilus, and the same one-ness with the bracelet through a thin and perfectly polished bevel, running the length of the case and seamlessly onto the bracelet edges. The thickness of 10.2mm makes this a svelte, light watch, so as an everyday wearer the feeling is sublime. With the silver dial the effect is one of ice-cool elegance, and the dial catches the light at even the slightest angle. Yes, it’s a dazzler. The in-house calibre GP03300-0030 is a beautifully decorated automatic 28,800 vph (4Hz) movement, where we can clearly make out the expected high standard of bevelling and Côtes de Genève decoration on this 27-jewel movement, which, as yet another delicate part of the package, makes this superb value for what is a classic ’70s design, just like the Nautilus. Price $15,800 AUD.
The French connection, Bell & Ross BR05 in rose gold
Bell & Ross surprised everyone last year with the launch of the BR05, still a circle within a rounded-off square, but this ain’t no flight instrument, and it’s a slim-cased 10.4mm thickness with a Goldilocks 40mm width on a bracelet. The bracelet is a slim, sharp/edged brushed steel with the underside perfectly rounded off, so the comfort is there. Don’t underestimate the Sellita SW300, it’s an accurate movement and one of the reasons the BR05 comes in at only a smidgen over 10mm. The dial is a bright blue sunburst, while the polished indices and clean design of the baton hands create an eminently readable dial, while keeping the integrity of the Bell & Ross design language.
The inclusion of the sharp-edged broad bezel, with its four bolts countersunk, might remind you of a certain tree-inspired reference. I say no, this is a pure continuation of the flight instrument design of the black BR01 known as the quiet beginning of this French maison with manufacturing in La Chaux-de-Fonds. While this is the budget alternative to a Nautilus and similarly rounded of character, the angular mix is its own, and the steel model is just over $7000 USD. A bit boring? We put it to you that this is indeed an excellent alternative, but why not go all the way with solid rose gold, still $13,000 USD less than a plain old steel 5711. Price: $32,500 USD
The dream alternative, blowing your mind and all budgets, the Laurent Ferrier Grand Sport
Yes, the price of this will afford you all of the watches above and an extra Nautilus, but indulge me … aren’t we allowed to dream? After more than 30 years at Patek Philippe, including an instrumental role in the launch of the Nautilus, it seems somehow fitting to show you Laurent Ferrier’s smooth take on an integrated bracelet steel watch, with an intricate heart. The Grand Sport Tourbillon, which by its name already reveals the unexpected complication, is at once intricate and minimalist, yet minimalist in an exquisite manner, with risk of contradicting myself. In fact, to some, the entire concept of the Grand Sport is in itself a beautiful contradiction, with a host of unexpected details, like the very nature of Laurent Ferrier himself, 35 years a PP watchmaker and head of the creative department, while finishing third at Le Mans behind Paul Newman, driving a Porsche 935.
The recognisable Ferrier traits are all present: perfectly polished feuille hands, kissing the minimalist minute track, and the typical super-elongated applied indices, all filled with an intriguing shade of orange lume. The large 44mm case shrinks with the broad rounded square surrounding the darkest of fumé blues, clear white outstretched logo at 12, and a recessed small seconds register at 6. All is tied together with the most discrete crosshair you will have seen and, to be honest, it is impossible to avoid clichés.
For the dial I will resort to the word Perfection. Proportionate perfection. The case is pebble smooth with distinct brushing and impossible slight curvature changes in the polished bevels, while the bracelet is tough looking, central nugget-like links like brushed ingots of steel. The movement is a mind-boggling balance of horizontal contemporary bridgework, with hand-finished anglage and a delectable tourbillon you didn’t expect when turning a sports watch around. The manufacture movement from LF is hand-wound with an 80-hour power reserve and ruthenium-treated bridges. A pretty, traditionally round, onion-shaped crown completes the idiosyncratic impression of a singular mindset … is genius another cliché? Price CHF 172,000