Famed watch designer Gerald Genta sat alone in the restaurant of a hotel in Basel, Switzerland in the spring of 1974. It was lunchtime and the Basel Watch Fair was in full swing across the street. At a table tucked in a corner across the room, some staffers from Patek Philippe were quietly eating.

“Bring me a piece of paper and a pencil”, Genta said to the headwaiter. “I want to design something.” As the people from Patek ate, Genta watched and sketched. In a few minutes he was finished.

The subject of the sketch: the original design for the Patek Philippe Nautilus. Such is the genesis of legends. 40 years and dozens of Nautilus models later, Patek Philippe has come out once again with a genre-crusher, the Nautilus Travel Time Chronograph, ref. 5990/1A.

The Aquanaut Travel Time (ref. 5164/A) and the Nautilus Chronograph (ref. 5980/1A) are the Nautilus Travel Time Chrono’s forebears. No, it’s not another GMT, and it’s much more than a timer. A lovechild combining its parents’ best traits, it’s a truly utilitarian timepiece for the globetrotter. As he skips across timezones, the intercontinental traveler can instantly and painlessly reset the watch to the new “local” time at the press of a button, while leaving “home” time alone.


The black brass dial is marked with horizontal embossing, a look in keeping with other watches in the Nautilus family. Hour markers are applied with white gold luminescent coating. Since the hour in each timezone is indicated by its own hour hand (no military-time confusion here), our traveler must also instantly know whether it’s day or night in each location. Regardless, small indicator windows at 3:00 and 9:00 tell the tale for each, with white for day or deep blue for night.

The flyback chronograph with a 60-minute counter at 6:00 is a nice touch, just in case our globetrotter is an intrepid businessman who needs to time a phone call — for billing purposes, of course. And there’s an analog date sub-dial at 12:00 indicating local date, so he’s billing properly. A date correction pusher is discretely tucked into the upper right lug for those pesky months with less than 31 days. (No month indication, though.)

All of this globetrotting functionality is nailed by the new manufacture calibre CH 28-520 C FUS, designed specifically for this watch. The 34-jewel, 370-part movement is packaged into the now-familiar “porthole and hinges” silhouette of the Nautilus, without undue expansion of its dimensions. The Travel Time Chrono tips the calipers at a tidy 38.5 millimeters tall by 44 millimeters across, barely larger than the 38 x 43 millimeters of the plain-Jane Nautilus.

The flyback chronograph with a 60-minute counter at 6:00 is a nice touch, just in case our globetrotter is an intrepid businessman who needs to time a phone call — for billing purposes, of course.

One could say the shape of the Nautilus case was designed with this eventual application in mind. The “hinge” feature on the left side has been converted into twin push pieces for the travel time function; the “hinge” on the right serves as protection for the screw-down crown and, to a lesser extent, the chronograph pushers.

All these modifications to the case were not a cake walk for Patek designers. Additional penetrations in the case needed to be made for the local time change actuators and the date corrector. For a timepiece intended to be water resistant, more is less — as in, more holes is less desirable. Without proper attention, the thing would have leaked like a sieve. Of course, Patek designers accomplished the feat: the watch is resistant to a depth of 120 meters.

It’s all organized in a steel case, ensconced on a steel H-link bracelet that’s fully integrated with the watch, flowing in a single graceful curve from the case’s fully integrated lugs. A tasteful contrast of brushed and polished steel makes for an extremely refined watch, a worthy evolution of that noble, legendary — and brief — design exercise in a Basel restaurant in 1974.


Movement: self-winding calibre CH 28-520 C FUS
Power Reserve: approx. 45 hours
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; second timezone and local and home time displays; chronograph seconds and minutes up to 30
Case: stainless steel
Diameter: 40.5 millimeters
Crystal: sapphire
Water Resistance: 12 ATM (120 meters)
Strap/Bracelet: steel with fold-over clasp

Ed Estlow

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