What is the best entry-level (if you can even call it that) Patek Philippe for someone looking to start collecting watches?
As much as there is a collection, there is always an “entry-level” into it. And well, the mighty Patek has one indeed.
The entry point into the Patek Philippe world is called Calatrava.
The Patek Philippe Calatrava Reference 96 is considered by many to be the model for the ultimate dress watch, and it is there, almost unchanged in shape, since its launch. Back then, it was of a very modern design, taking the hints from the Bauhaus, where the form follows the function.
And there is little as essential as this beautiful dress watch. No superfluous details, no unnecessary ornaments, nothing except the function of a watch made in a lovely design.
The Calatrava takes its name from the ornate Calatrava cross. This cross was used on the marching banners of the Calatrava knights who defended the Calatrava fortress against the Moors in 1158. Patek Philippe registered the symbol as a trademark in 1887, although they started using it consistently in the 1950s onwards, when it assumed the importance that it holds today in the company.
So, this is the basic Patek Philippe.
What you see above is the original ref. 96 which was in production for over 40 years (1932 – 1973). In the line you may find also other references, like the versions with indirect central seconds and some others without any sort of small seconds indicator. Also, the style of dials and the hour indices have changed in time, and to accommodate different needs of the wearers.
You can find well-kept references for this kind of watch around $8,000 on the second-wrist market, and double that for new timepieces. This is a model that won’t ever get out of fashion. It is sort of frozen in time. There have been countless iterations of it, and countless versions, but the basis has always stood the same, with its amazing, understated elegance.
What you see here is the original movement of the Calatrava. In time, the company has also manufactured several automatic references which are a bit thicker, but for sure are less of a hassle for making them tick.
Talking about other models from the Maison, the Patek Philippe Nautilus, while being gorgeous and extremely popular, is not at all an introductory model to the Patek world, nor it really represents the true style of the Maison: it is like the exception that confirms the rule.
And apart from these style considerations, you are not going to find a Patek Nautilus for less than $25,000, if you are lucky, so it is for sure not an entry-level watch at all.
If you are looking to invest in watches, well, that would be completely a different thing, but it is out of scope of this answer - I often warn people against entering into this field, especially as a rookie would have to suffer some heavy financial losses before beginning to orient himself.