A dot in the Atlantic. A British overseas territory, thousands of miles from the American coast. An island paradise of 21 square miles, 65,000 residents and coral beaches. A year-round temperate climate and conditions suited to very fast boats that swayed the Americans’ decision to chose the archipelago as the venue for the 35th America’s Cup.
And so from May 26th to June 27th, Bermuda will be famous not just for its triangle, or the knee-length shorts traditionally worn by its police, but as the host of the oldest sporting competition in the world. Six teams are competing in this 35th edition. They are the Defender, Oracle Team USA, and five Challengers: Artemis Racing (SUE), Ben Ainslie Racing (GB), Emirates Team New Zealand (NZ), Groupama Team France (FR) and SoftBank Team Japan (JAP). First contested in 1851, this prestigious sailing event also plays hosts to sponsors. Out on the water, the heat is on.
Formula 1 of the seas
As a showcase for performance and technology, watch firms are naturally drawn to the America’s Cup in the hope of matching Audemars Piguet’s success, when in 2003 it agreed to sponsor Alinghi, headed up by Swiss billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli. The watchmaker’s name could be seen on the boom and on the crew’s shirts. This was the Swiss team’s maiden participation in the race and, as it turned out, it was first time lucky! Alinghi triumphed, and even held on to the trophy in 2007 when it edged ahead of Team New Zealand by one second in the final regatta.
Buoyed by these victories, Bertarelli decided to turn the Cup into a truly international event, as would Russell Coutts, a five-times winner who was later promoted at the head of the organisation. The races were shortened to attract a larger television audience. This new format drew more sponsors, confident that broadcasting would give them publicity on a par with the colossal investment such a partnership implies. Mission accomplished: what was once a regatta for an elite circle of sailing enthusiasts became a competition for the public at large. Hence watchmakers’ eagerness to get themselves seen. Of course, watch companies can claim a legitimate association with the sea, given the importance of marine chronometers in the eighteenth century. They also equipped the explorers who set sail in the following century. Since then, they have proved adept at making instruments of practical use to sailors, such as regatta watches whose countdown function displays the final minutes before a race gets under way. Their individual history can also have resonance with the world of sailing, as is the case with Louis Vuitton, Zenith, Panerai, Ulysse Nardin, Omega and the young French brand MATWatches, all of which will be lining up for the America’s Cup in Bermuda.
Hoist the official watches
The Cup is a fabulous opportunity for brands to put themselves in the spotlight. Louis Vuitton, a partner to the event for the past three decades, has launched a Tambour Navy chronograph in the race colours. MATWatches takes the honours as Official Timer for Team France. Chief Executive Fabrice Pougez sees new horizons opening up for the brand, with its 300-piece limited edition Groupama Team France Regate Timer. The 44-mm case houses a quartz movement and flies the French flag with its blue dial, white hands and red seconds hand. Zenith, meanwhile, is the Official Timer for the Land Rover BAR team. Sir Ben Ainslie’s crew will be wearing the automatic El Primero Sport Land Rover BAR Team chronograph, a limited series of 250.
Omega is supporting Emirates Team New Zealand, a partnership that dates back to 1995 when the America’s Cup was won by Sir Peter Blake. It has produced an exact replica of the watch worn on board by every crew member: the Speedmaster X-33 Regatta ETNZ Limited Edition which combines analogue and digital readings. Its regatta countdown keeps track of the critical five minutes to the start of the race. During the regatta, the X-33 then times the boat’s progress. The team’s supporters also have the option of a second watch, the Seamaster Planet Ocean ETNZ “Deep Black” Master Chronometer. Its ceramic bezel with dive-time scale highlights the 15 minutes leading up to the start of the race by using blue and red rubber (the colours of the New Zealand flag) for the first ten minutes and a clear START indication for the last five.
As partner to Sweden’s Artemis Racing, Ulysse Nardin has equipped its Regatta chronograph with a patented bidirectional countdown timer that is both original and intuitive. The watch was developed in consultation with sailors Loïck Peyron and Alain Percy, both ambassadors for the brand, and members of the Artemis Racing team. Last but not least, Panerai takes to the waters with five styles. One of them, the Luminor Marina 1950 America’s Cup 3 Days Automatic, is the race’s Official Watch. A further three styles equip Defenders Oracle Team USA, skippered by James Spithill. They are the Luminor 1950 Regatta Oracle Team USA 3 Days Chrono Flyback Automatic, Luminor 1950 Oracle Team USA 3 Days Chrono Flyback Automatic and Luminor Marina Oracle Team USA 8 Days. The fifth watch is the special edition SoftBank Team Japan, which celebrates the Japanese team’s return to the competition after a fifteen-year hiatus.
Which of these brands will see its team lift sailing’s most coveted trophy, and enjoy the benefits for years to come? Answer at end June, at Bermuda’s Great Sound, when the winner of the 2017 America’s Cup – and its (happy) sponsor – comes sailing home.