The boats racing in this year’s America’s Cup may have changed, the watch brands are the same. Omega and Panerai first went head-to-head in 2017 in Bermuda: Omega as the long-time sponsor of Emirates Team New Zealand while Panerai tried its luck with Oracle Team USA. The Florentine brand had every reason to be hopeful: Oracle had two successive wins under its belt, first in 2010 against Switzerland’s Alinghi then in 2013 against the New Zealand crew. Alas, Oracle was no match for ETNZ which claimed a crushing 7-1 victory.
Four years on, this March, the AC45 catamarans have become AC75 foiling monohulls, the Challenger is now Team Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli, but Panerai is still in the race in an all-Italian bid for the coveted silver trophy, after Luna Rossa beat Ineos Team UK in February, earning the right to race in the 36th America’s Cup. It will face stalwart Omega, still loyal to a New Zealand team that is now sailing royalty, having secured multiple victories in a competition that dates back over a century and a half, making it the oldest trophy in international sport.
Omega isn’t overstating matters when it describes the America’s Cup as one of the most spectacular international sporting events. First sailed in 1851, the race is the scene of fierce rivalry and breathtaking duels. Even so, teams from just four countries (Switzerland among them) have succeeded in engraving their name on the trophy. Omega came onboard in 1995 at the start of its sponsorship of Team New Zealand, skippered by the great Sir Peter Blake. The team’s victory that year paved the way for Omega to take the coveted title of Official Timekeeper in 2000 and 2003 – a role it reprises this year on the waters around Auckland.
Omega is no stranger to the sea, as Commander James Bond, the Seamaster 300M’s most famous fan, would confirm. Omega presented the world’s first commercially available dive watch in 1932. Since then, its watches “drawn from the deep” have accompanied numerous ocean explorers and professional divers. They include the British Royal Marines, yachtswoman Dame Ellen MacArthur — who in 2005 broke the world record for the fastest solo circumnavigation of the globe —, freediver Jacques Mayol and ocean conservationist Jacques Cousteau. The brand has released two watches for the 36th America’s Cup: a 2,021-piece limited edition of the Seamaster Planet Ocean with a regatta countdown and a Seamaster Diver 300M, also with a countdown, soft-touch rubber pushers for improved grip around water, and an exclusive Chrono Lock system to secure the chronograph functions.
When it comes to things nautical, Panerai is no landlubber. The brand came to prominence in the first part of the twentieth century as a supplier of precision instruments to the Italian Navy. These days, its Radiomir, Luminor and Submersible lines have become synonymous with the sea, with the added benefit of lightweight yet rugged cases in high-tech materials developed by its own “Laboratorio di Idee”. Four models have been released for the upcoming America’s Cup, starting with three Luminor Luna Rossa: a GMT with a 44mm titanium case, a flyback chrono with a 44mm ceramic case, and a regatta chronograph with a 47mm case in Carbotech, a carbon composite also used for the construction of the Italian Challenger’s AC75 monohull. A 47mm Submersible Luna Rossa GMT in Carbotech completes the line-up.
With instruments such as these on the wrist, the competition can begin… although the start of the race has been delayed (probably until March 10) after new cases of Covid-19 put Auckland in lockdown last Sunday. However, it’s worth the wait to see these racing machines literally fly above the water on foils, approaching a speed of 50 knots (57 mph/92 kph). In these conditions, crews have understandably swapped their “uniform” of shorts, caps and polo shirts for crash helmets and padded body armour – another reason why the America’s Cup has been called the sailing equivalent of Formula 1!