When you are racing across open waters at speeds closing in on 50 knots (which is just under 100kmh), you feel the crest of every wave as your vessel cuts through it. It is rough, as though the sea resents the intrusion and is ferociously trying to throw you off. By you, we mean anyone aboard the speedboat. If you are not strapped into a seat or holding on for dear life, you are likely to get lifted off your feet and dumped overboard. Holding on is exactly what I am doing as the Luna Rossa attempts to demonstrate the speeds that its foiling monohull can achieve.

Of course, the Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli team tells us that experiencing stomach-churning speeds on a powered vessel cannot really compare with what it feels like to sail aboard a foiling monohull. For one thing, even at the speeds we manage here off the coast of Cagliari, Italy, we would still be trailing behind the AC75 racing yacht that Luna Rossa will be fielding in the 37th America’s Cup 2024. Yes, speedboats can be outpaced by five-tonne sailing yachts, and—for some context—that is like saying a mechanical watch could be more precise than a quartz watch. This, of course, is a segue because we are here at the Luna Rossa base in Sardinia at the invitation of Panerai; the Swiss Made Italian watch brand is an official Luna Rossa sponsor.

Now, before you go accusing us of having too much Franciacorta—not to mince words about it—besides having our brains baked by the Sardinian sun, you should know that the AC75 monohulls have been known to achieve speeds in excess of 50 knots. Google it. In any case, the America’s Cup represents peak sailing, both from the perspective of sailing the monohulls and engineering them.

The legendary regatta is the Formula One of the sailing world and has been since before the motorcar was even a gleam in Karl Benz’s eye. Like the development of the automobile, the America’s Cup has quite a rich narrative and so we give it its own section. While the contemporary reality of sailing is far removed from its roots, some context is still useful. Just so you know, the America’s Cup is the world’s oldest sporting competition of any kind, with the first having taken place in 1851.

ABOVE THE WAVES

If you are in the mood to have your mind boggled by some sailing yacht facts, here's the low-down on the standard monohull hydrofoil that will be used in the coming America’s Cup. The AC75 (or America’s Cup 75 footer) is also the basis of the prototype that Luna Rossa is using, but more on that in due course. It helps to first know what in the world a hydrofoil monohull sailing yacht is, and how it manages to just glide above the waves.

The simple answer is that there are wings called hydrofoils attached to the hull, left and right, and these do what wings normally do. The tips or ends of these two wings and a rudder are the only elements that are in contact with the water when the yacht is at speed. Which makes it look for all the world like it is flying across the waves. Such a vessel should easily move at twice the prevailing wind speed, and might even go faster. This is difficult to grasp because the yacht is wind-powered after all, but it is what happens.

Here is what we have been able to glean from official sources on the technical details. The aforementioned wings are canting ballasted T-wing hydrofoils mounted on the port and starboard topside longitudinal drums; there is a centreline T-wing rudder, and no keel (source: Wikipedia).

The base of the Luna Rossa yacht.

All of the above is certainly standard fare but the America’s Cup race did not start using the hydrofoil design until 2017, and the monohull variant dates from just two years ago (2021). Team Luna Rossa itself is working on a new prototype, the LEQ 12, with the following publicly declared specifications:

This puts the LEQ 12 at an apparent disadvantage as far as top speeds go, because the AC75 has been clocked at speeds beyond 50 knots. But then of course, that is straight line speed, and the thing about sailing boats is the way they turn. Again, perhaps counterintuitively, sailing vessels can and do sail into the wind, and have been doing so since some clever sailor somewhere figured out how to angle the sails just right.

On that note, consider that the Luna Rossa team considers itself pretty clever too since it opted to create its own boat from scratch to challenge team New Zealand, the defender of the America’s Cup. The 10,000 sqm Cagliari base camp is where Luna Rossa is doing most of its development work, which is not inconsiderable. There is also a 4,000 sqm site in Barcelona, Spain, which is where the AC75 Challenger Selection Series will begin next year. In fact, Luna Rossa was one of the teams that developed the aforementioned AC75 foiling monohull standard.

Luminor Luna Rossa BiTempo.

AMERICA’S CUP HISTORY

Given that it predates the first Olympic Games by 45 years, the America’s Cup (also known as Auld Mug) is really the world’s oldest international sporting event. The first race was held in 1851 while the Summer Olympics began in 1896. It was originally a showdown between two yacht clubs or organisations in Great Britain and the United States, and what we call the America’s Cup today is named for the schooner that won the first race in 1851, the America.

The first defence of the America’s Cup only took place in 1870, by which time the New York Yacht Club, which was the steward of the Cup, was already under one of the most famous of the competition’s rules. That the holder of the America’s Cup is obliged to defend its right to steward Auld Mug (as it was originally called) should any qualifying club issue a challenge. This remains the case to this day. That is why the America’s Cup champion is called the Defender, while its rival is called the Challenger of Record. Until 1967, there was only one Challenger but from 1970, multiple clubs issued qualifying challenges. This was the beginning of the Challenger Selection Series. For this leg, all America’s Cup challengers competed until a victor emerged as the Challenger of Record to take on the Defender.

The race between the Challenger and Defender has evolved over time too, but the affair is still relatively stately, with the Defender and Challenger agreeing to terms prior to every challenge.

PANERAI LUNA ROSSA

Watch collectors will be more familiar with Panerai as the military secret that equipped Italian navy divers with precision instruments than anything else. The contemporary Panerai watchmaking brand has been associated with all manner of marine activities for the better part of this century. Since 2017, Panerai has created wristwatches with the sorts of materials that America’s Cup teams were experimenting with. One might even say that Panerai’s penchant for material innovation makes it an ideal partner for a racing team such as Luna Rossa, which is precisely how team Luna Rossa describes the watchmaker.

Of course, Panerai recognises its own virtues in exploring new frontiers in watchmaking, as Ficarelli told us, citing just the example of PAM01039. The brand knows to maximise on the emotional qualities of being innovative, which points to a certain spirit of boldness. Here, we enter the realm of character. As Panerai connects the dots between past and present, it hopes to build bridges with a community of watch lovers. “Storytelling is pivotal in cementing Panerai’s legitimacy, intertwining its deep-seated maritime roots with its modern identity,” said Ficarelli. “By chronicling its journey from creating robust instruments for the Italian Navy to embracing the adrenaline of performance boating, Panerai underscores its heritage and authenticity. Each watch, steeped in historical value and innovative prowess, symbolises a continuity of tradition and a forward-looking vision, fortifying the brand’s connection with enthusiasts who value both the legacy and the ongoing maritime saga.”

Panerai had a dedicated Luna Rossa series of watches that span a number of ranges. This includes the Submersible (although the 1309 is currently unavailable). Panerai watches are typically in-demand so the availability of Luna Rossa watches should be monitored closely. Currently, our pick includes the Luminor Luna Rossa Chrono Carbotech PAM01519 and the Luminor Luna Rossa Quaranta BiTempo PAM01404. The impressively named latter watch is especially notable for its automatic P.900 GMT calibre, which has a three-day power reserve. The chronograph is powered by calibre P.9200 and is currently the only available Luna Rossa watch cases in Carbotech. This is important for this watch because it is a 44mm whopper. The GMT model is a more reasonable 40mm watch in steel. There are also two Luminor Due references worth taking note of: PAM 01378 and PAM 01381.

Just as Formula One is an expensive sport, so too is the business of the America’s Cup. It's estimated that operating the teams running up to US$200 million for each competitive run. This is evident in the Luna Rossa base camp. There are at least two simulators, two prototypes (a slightly scaled-down model that we saw and another full-size model that takes to the waves), in-house manufacturing capabilities and engineers and technicians of many stripes all working together to develop the LEQ 12 that will eventually be the Luna Rossa racing yacht. In total, there are approximately 118 people on the distinctly Italian team. That includes the Skipper and Team Director Max Sirena and Circolo Della Vela Sicilia President Patrizio Bertelli.

If there is one Panerai watch that embodies the story here, it must be the Submersible Luna Rossa PAM01039. Panerai chief marketing officer Alessandro Ficarelli explains: “(The watch) stands out due to its use of innovative materials like Carbotech (a specially developed material used by the brand), representing the brand’s adventurous spirit and its watchmaking expertise. Moreover, its aesthetic intertwines sporty resilience with elegance, including details like the incorporation of actual sail material, which symbolises a forward-thinking vision that aligns with Panerai’s maritime legacy and its future aspirations.”

Leonardo Fioravanti (middle) having the Panerai Luna Rossa Surf Experience.

Those aspirations are on show on this visit to Sardinia, which was actually part of Panerai’s now-famous experiences. The Luna Rossa vessel itself might be a very expensive closely-held secret that amateurs have no business messing with. Although there are all manner of maritime activities that can be associated with the competitive team’s preparations. Popular on this particular occasion was water-skiing. But Panerai also went the distance with a surfing experience with the brand’s ambassador, surfing champion Leonardo Fioravanti. Of course, everything will pay off nicely for Panerai should Luna Rossa be on top form during the America’s Cup. First though, whether the Luna Rossa team will become the Challenger of Record in 2024. That will be determined when the season begins in Barcelona.

Photographs courtesy of Panerai and Luna Rossa

Photo by Philippe Servent

You're going to be seeing a lot more sports-driven capsule collections by luxury brands leading up to the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games—at least by those under the LVMH umbrella of brands. The French luxury conglomerate headed by the second (at the time of writing) wealthiest man in the world has signed on as a Premium Partner of the Paris 2024 Games.

"This unprecedented partnership with the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games will contribute to heightening the appeal of France around the world. It was only natural that LVMH and its maisons be part of this exceptional international event. The values of passion, excellence and inclusion championed by high-level sports are cultivated each day by our teams, motivated by an unwavering desire to surpass limits. Sports is a tremendous source of inspiration for our maisons, which will unite creative excellence and athletic performance by contributing their savoir-faire and bold innovation to this extraordinary celebration," says LVMH chairman and chief executive officer Bernard Arnault.

The deal means that LVMH and its groups of luxury brands—across fashion, jewellery, cosmetics, and wine and spirits—will partake in key moments throughout the Games.

Parisian jeweller Chaumet is tasked with crafting the Games' medals that will be received by athletes who have proven their mettle and skills in each event. LVMH's drinks division with Möet Hennessy wines and spirits will take charge of the hospitality elements for guests as well as athletes. During the Olympic Torch Relay, Sephora is set to organise activations for the public at stops as well as key locations along the route.

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On the fashion front, Louis Vuitton, Dior, and Berluti are set to announce their activations that will be scheduled all the way till the opening ceremony of Paris 2024. While little is known about the exact plans, it's been reported by multiple media sources that there's the possibility that the brands will be sponsoring uniforms. What LVMH has announced in its official press release is the 'Artisans of All Victories' principle that will guide the group's decision to support individual athletes too. The first is Léon Marchand—the 21-year-old who is France's leading hope for a medal in swimming.

As Premium Partner, LVMH is also dedicated to not only support professional athletes but also prospective ones. The group will partner French non-profit organisation Secours populaire français in support of a program to facilitate access to sports for underprivileged youths aged between 4 to 25. The aid will include funding for sports association memberships, training programs and beginner classes.

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LVMH is by no means a stranger to the sports arena, especially in relation to its luxury fashion maisons. Louis Vuitton, for example, has continuously partnered up with big-named sporting events the likes of the Rugby World Cup, Davis Cup, Formula 1 Grand Prix de Monaco, as well as the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The maison also most recently signed tennis player Carlos Alcazar as its house ambassador, days before he became a Wimbledon champion.

The Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games will mark LVMH's biggest sporting event partnership yet. Not only will they be watched by an estimate of over 13 million spectators and 4 billion television viewers worldwide, it will also be the first time that the Games are hosted by Paris in 100 years.

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