The America's Cup watches ruling the waves in 2017

As the big brands battle it out at sea and on the wrist at the America's Cup, we look at how sailing boats and automatic watches form a natural alliance.

Omega Speedmaster X-33 Regatta watch at the America's Cup in Bermuda 2017

With Great Britain's hopes dashed of ending a 166-year sailing jinx to bring the America’s Cup home, the final between defending champion Oracle Team USA and challenger Emirates Team New Zealand in the Bermuda Sound – starting on 17 June – will determine which team takes home the coveted Louis Vuitton America’s Cup.

Regarded as the Formula 1 race of the seas, the vessels competing in the 35th edition of the America’s Cup are as precision-tuned and high-tech as a Formula 1 car. You can forget about any nostalgic touches of teak decking or brass in these high-speed foiling catamarans, capable of reaching speeds of 50 knots an hour.  The two carbon-fibre hulls of these catamarans literally fly above the surface of the water – known as foiling – on top of four razor-sharp blades that could sever a limb. Kitted out with crash helmets and protective gear, the six-strong crew of these vessels are elite athletes, many of them Olympian medalists.

An extreme sport with a price tag to match

An extremely expensive sport, the competing teams have been required to build at least three different boats for the various stages of the America’s Cup. During the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series, the teams sailed in identical AC45F catamarans and practised in AC45S models, but for the 2017 races in Bermudan waters, each team has had to build a brand new 15-foot America’s Cup boat (ACC). What does this mean financially? According to an article by Christopher Clarey published in the New York Times: “Land Rover BAR’s budget for this campaign is about £90 million or $116 million.”

Who puts the wind in their sails?

The names of the teams – Oracle, Land Rover, Emirates, Artemis, Groupama, Softbank – and the profusion of branding decorating just about every inch of the catamarans attest to the enormous amount of money involved in this sport and the vital role played by sponsors.

Because of the impressive degree of technology and reliance on natural forces, sailing boats and automatic watches form a natural alliance. The big watch players in the 35th America’s Cup are Panerai, currently ruling the waves as the official sponsor of the America’s Cup and Oracle Team USA, followed by Omega backing the Kiwis, Zenith with the Land Rover BAR team and Ulysse Nardin behind the Swedish team Artemis.

A trophy as big as a Louis Vuitton trunk

The most ubiquitous luxury brand of the America’s Cup is Louis Vuitton, a partner of the event since 1983. As patron of the America’s Cup World Series, a succession of qualifiers and playoffs to whittle down the challengers to just one team to go up against the defender, Oracle Team USA, Louis Vuitton will present the victor with the trophy. Known affectionately as the Auld Mug, this rather odd-looking silver ewer was made by Garrard & Co. in 1848 and given to the winner of the 1851 Regatta around the Isle of Wight. Much to Queen Victoria’s chagrin, the regatta was won by an American schooner and the ‘Royal Yacht Squadron £100 Cup’ would henceforth be known as the ‘America’s Cup’, after the name of the Yankee boat.

The most ubiquitous luxury brand of the America’s Cup is Louis Vuitton, a partner of the event since 1983 and in charge of presenting the victor with this silver trophy, known affectionately as the ‘Auld Mug’.

Panerai, official partner of the 35th America’s Cup, Oracle Team USA and Softbank Japan

In recent years, Panerai has sailed in calmer waters sponsoring classic yacht events and was in charge of the restoration of the beautiful Bermudian ketch Eilean, which flies the Italo-Swiss brand’s flag in classic yacht regattas around the world. Moving into the high-tech arena of the America’s World Cup, where avant-garde solutions and extreme athleticism are fundamental, makes sense for a brand like Panerai, with its remarkable history of producing high-tech luminous instruments for Italy’s underwater naval commandos.

As the official partner of the 35th America’s Cup, Oracle Team USA and Softbank Japan, Panerai has produced not one but five watches to mark this high-visibility collaboration. All the watches are from the Luminor family, Panerai’s professional dive watch of 1950, with the hallmark crown-protecting bridge and lever to ensure maximum water-resistance. Three models are dedicated to skipper Jimmy Spithill’s Oracle Team USA with sophisticated mechanical flyback chronographs housed in either a ceramic or titanium case and a Luminor Marina model with a beefy power reserve of eight days.

Luminor 1950 Regatta 3 Days Chrono Flyback watch
As the official partner of Oracle Team USA, Panerai has produced three watches to mark this high-visibility collaboration, including these two Luminor Marina flyback chronographs in ceramic and titanium (£12,400 and £14,450 respectively).

Omega and Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ)

A partner of the New Zealand team since 1995, Omega is backing the Kiwis, who “are hell-bent on getting their hands on the Auld Mug”. Each member of ETNZ has been kitted out with Omega’s new Speedmaster X-33 Regatta, one of the few watches associated with the America’s Cup that will actually be worn during the race. A hybrid display of analogue and digital functions with a quartz movement, the X-33 features a vital regatta countdown function marked by a series of alarms with differentiated ringing sequences.

Speedmaster X-33 Regatta Emirates Team New Zealand Chronograph watch
Omega has equipped each member of Emirates Team New Zealand with this new Speedmaster X-33 Regatta, one of the few watches that will actually be worn during the race (£3,920).

A second watch, the Seamaster Planet Ocean ETNZ “Deep Black”, below, embraces the patriotic blue and red of New Zealand’s flag and comes in a black ceramic case and bezel with blue and red rubber marking to highlight the pre-race 15-minute countdown. In addition to its race-ready look, the watch has a practical GMT function, is water-resistant to 600 metres and comes with Omega’s non plus ultra Master Chronometer certification.

Seamaster Planet Ocean Emirates Team New Zealand “Deep Black” Master Chronometer watch
Omega flies the colours of New Zealand’s flag in this Planet Ocean ETNZ “Deep Black” Master Chronometer equipped with a 15-minute regatta countdown and GMT functions (£8,320).

Ulysse Nardin and Sweden’s Artemis Racing

For a brand that started life as a purveyor of marine chronometers, Ulysse Nardin has always had a close connection to the sea and is the sponsor of Sweden’s Artemis Racing team. A combination of traditional sailboat engineering and aerospace technology, Iain Percy’s vessel packs in as much technology as one of Ulysse Nardin’s watches. Decked out in blue and yellow, like Sweden’s flag, the Diver Chronograph replicates the Artemis logo and foiling catamaran throughout the watch and features rubber on the bezel, pushers and crown to underline its marine spirit and water-resistance to 200 metres.

Diver Chronograph Artemis Racing watch
Ulysse Nardin sponsors Sweden’s Artemis Racing team and has decked out this Diver Chronograph, water-resistant to 200 metres, in blue and yellow with the Artemis logo and catamaran (€10,800).

Zenith and Great Britain’s Land Rover BAR team

To celebrate Zenith’s partnership with Land Rover BAR, the British Challenger for the 35th America’s Cup led by Sir Ben Ainslie, a new Chronomaster El Primero watch has been launched. Modelled on the iconic 1969 El Primero, the world’s first high-frequency chronograph, this chronograph boasts a cadence of 36,000 vibrations/hour,  is water-resistant to 200 metres and comes with a black rubber strap coated with carbon fibre, the same material used on parts of the boat. 

Chronomaster El Primero Sport Land Rover BAR Team Edition watch
To celebrate Zenith’s partnership with Land Rover BAR, the Swiss brand has launched this Chronomaster El Primero model with a cadence of 36,000 vibrations/hour, water-resistance to 200 metres and a black rubber strap coated with carbon fibre, the same material used on parts of the boat (£6,700).

Bremont  launches two new sailing watches

As the former official timekeeper of the Louis Vuitton World Series events, it is somewhat ironic that Bremont, the first British brand to be associated with the prestigious race, was behind Oracle Team USA. Bremont has no intention of abandoning the lucrative race and has produced two new watches to flesh out its sailing collection. 

Regatta AC R II watch in stainless steel
Bremont’s Regatta AC R II is equipped with the all-important 15-minute regatta countdown function placed in a conspicuous counter in red, white and blue at 12 o’clock (£4,895).

The Regatta AC II is equipped with the all-important 15-minute regatta countdown function placed in a conspicuous counter in red, white and blue at 12 o’clock. A luxury rose gold model, the AC 35, below, designed to mark the 35th edition of the America’s Cup, is inspired by the elegant lines of the legendary J-Class yachts of the 1930s designed by Sir Thomas Sopwith, an aircraft manufacturer and designer.

AC35 America
A luxury rose gold model, Bremont’s AC 35 was designed to mark the 35th edition of the America’s Cup and is inspired by the elegant lines of the legendary J-Class yachts of the 1930s (£16,995).

Whichever way the wind blows this time, one thing is certain: watch brands will be vying to back a fresh fleet of boats competing in the 36th edition of the oldest trophy in international sport, due to take place in 2019.

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