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Review: Patek Philippe Aquanaut Ref. 5168G

Hands-on analytical review with high resolution live photographs.
by Frank Chuo on April 12, 2017

Patek Philippe Aquanaut Ref. 5168G

This year, Patek Philippe celebrates the 20th anniversary of a modern icon: the dynamic Aquanaut. First released in 1997, the Aquanaut remains the sportiest and one of the most accessible Patek Philippe timepieces today. The new Aquanaut Ref. 5168G, released in celebration of the line’s 20th birthday, retains the key design cues and proportions of the standard issue Ref. 5167. What is unique to the anniversary model though is its size, colour and case metal. Here we bring you the details and our thoughts on this novel Aquanaut.

The case, dial, and hands

The case of the Aquanaut Ref. 5168G is crafted from white gold, a first for an Aquanaut timepiece, and measures 42 mm in diameter. This makes the Ref. 5168G the largest in its line. According to the manufacturer, this format pays tribute to the original 1976 Nautlius of the same size that was nicknamed “Jumbo”, a name still used by enthusiasts today. Apart from the material and size, everything else about the case remains unchanged compared to the regular Ref. 5167. The trademark rounded octagonal bezel still comes with the same vertically satin-finished flats and chamfered polished flanks. Every (men’s) watch from Patek Philippe’s sports lines (the Nautilus and Aquanaut) has a substantial water resistance of up to 120 m. They, including the Ref. 5168G, are therefore perfectly suited for swimming or snorkelling.

Patek Philippe makes some of the best cases in the industry and this is evident in the new Aquanaut. The contrasting satin-brushed and polished finish is a lovely sight.

Perhaps the most distinguishing feature of the new Ref. 5168G is its mesmerising blue PVD-coated dial. Previously only available in black, we must say that the new blue gradient dial, going from lighter in the centre to darker on the outside, is far more spectacular to look at. The embossed structure of the dial sets the stage perfectly for the white gold applied Arabic numerals and 5-minute markers. For enhanced legibility in low- or no-light conditions, the numerals and markers are coated with luminous paint – this was also the case in the Ref. 5167. The hour and minute baton hands of the Ref. 5168G are both also made of white gold and luminous. Introducing a little bit of contrast to the otherwise sporty dial is the refined parfil seconds hand that is beautifully white-lacquered and counterbalanced.

The dial is mesmerising. The colour gradually darkens as it moves away from the centre.

The movement

Housed inside the Ref. 5168G is the 213-part, 29-jewelled Caliber 324 SC; this is the same movement used in the Ref. 5167. With a thickness of only 3.3 mm, the movement is delightfully slim; this specification is also reflected in the watch’s case thickness – only 8.25 mm. The self-winding Caliber 324 SC, which is equipped with the manufacturer’s Gyromax® balance and Spiromax® spring, has a power reserve of 45 hours while operating at a contemporary 4 Hz beat rate. The Ref. 5168G bears the Patek Philippe Seal; this in part means that the movement is precise and finished to the highest standard. The rate accuracy of the Caliber 324 SC is remarkable with a maximum deviation of only -3/+2 sec/day. While the Aquanaut can be considered an “entry-level” Patek Philippe timepiece, its movement finishing is anything but. Immediately noticeable from the case back is the unidirectional 21k gold rotor that is decorated beautifully with perlage and circular Côtes de Genève as well as an engraved Calatrava cross. The surface of the bridges are adorned with linear Côtes de Genève while its edges are tediously chamfered and polished to emphasise its shapes. It may not be the most elaborately finished movement but it is faultless and aesthetically-pleasing.

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A dignified anniversary model

Now, let’s take a trip down memory lane. The year was 2016 and Patek Philippe had just announced two 40th anniversary Nautilus models. As we recall, the two pieces were crucified by the watch community. Most of the complaints were directed at the size of the Ref. 5976/1G (the chronograph was 44 mm), the “tombstone” dial (referring to the scripted dial), the use of diamond markers and the price (SGD155,880 for the time-only Ref. 5711/1P). Having seen the watch live, we feel that the complaints on the scripted dial and diamond markers were probably exacerbated by the nature of press release photos. In actuality, they are subtle and quite tastefully executed. Even the exorbitant price of the Ref. 5711/1P is somewhat justifiable based on what Patek charges on similar pieces. Whatever one thinks of the two anniversary Nautiluses, one thing is for certain: they were controversial.

Not so much the case for this year’s birthday boy; the release of the 20th anniversary Aquanaut has been met with quiet admiration. While the frills on the anniversary Nautiluses were deemed by many to be garish, the anniversary touches on the new Aquanaut is simple yet effective. We love the blue gradient dial and feel that it suits the Aquanaut immaculately given its aquatic predisposition. Of course, the watch also comes with a matching blue embossed rubber strap and white gold clasp. While we tend to prefer the use of non-precious metals in sports watches, we feel that the use of white gold as the case material in the Ref. 5168G is entirely appropriate. After all, it is the Aquanaut’s birthday and a material more refined than stainless steel is called for. As mentioned previously, this is also the first time the Aquanaut comes in white gold – all the more fitting for a special anniversary model. What we feel is unnecessary (although not against), however, is the enlarging of the case from 40 to 42 mm. While it is normally fine to have a 42 mm case size on a sports model, it is not ideal when it does not match the movement diameter. Put bluntly, the movement looks way too small for the case and does undermine the otherwise flawless image of the 20th anniversary Aquanaut.

It’s not perfect but it is the next best thing. This is perhaps the best iteration of the iconic sports model.

Concluding thoughts

Overall, we believe that Patek Philippe has handled the 20th anniversary model of the Aquanaut with dignity and finesse. The changes may be purely aesthetic and simple but they result in an improved look and do enough to distinguish the special model from the regular one. And that is what matters in the end. It would have been great if they had come up with an improved movement to fit but that may just be too much to ask for. The new Aquanaut Ref. 5168G is priced at CHF34,000.

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