Fantastic Voyage

A return to the art of sailing with the Panerai Classic Yachts Challenge.

By Benjamin Liong Setiawan


It was in 1936 that Panerai was commissioned by the Italian Royal Navy to make precision timepieces for their diving corps, a relationship that continued for decades. It wasn’t until 1997, after the Richemont Group acquired Panerai, that the masculine good looks of the Luminor and Radiomir were adapted to become high-style symbols of la dolce vita. Kept hidden for years by the Military Secrets Act, the hallmarks of Panerai watches are its deep roots in military design matched with the most advanced Swiss technology.

Today, Panerai continues to promote the seafaring lifestyle with its ongoing sponsorship of the Panerai Classic Yachts Challenge (PCYC), the most prestigious classic and vintage sailing competition in the world. In contrast with a remarkably high-tech race such as the America’s Cup, the PCYC partnership represent the many different sides of Panerai—as its venerable military background and groundbreaking research and development team advance the watchmaker into the future.

Photo: Doug Young

By bringing attention to the two events, Panerai combines the best of all sailing worlds. In addition to investing in races such as the America’s Cup, the spirit of traditional racing is additionally represented by a series of elegant classic yacht challenges held worldwide. The unique PCYC acknowledges the romance of the past and celebrates that heritage, with participants entering exclusively classic and vintage sailing vessels. In a world that tends to be so digitally minded, it’s refreshing to see Panerai reawaken interest in a more genteel and analog sport such as classical sailing, as the PCYC heads in a new direction with a more romantic appreciation for the most magnificent racing yachts in the world.

The ancient port of Santo Stefano from the Argentario Sailing Week.

“I can say with great pride that our commitment to safeguarding and fostering classic sailing is both unparalleled and unprecedented on an international level,” says Panerai CEO Angelo Bonati. “This is our thirteenth consecutive year sponsoring the circuit, and throughout that long period, we have seen many extraordinary events flourish with us and witnessed the rebirth of some stunning vintage craft as a result of the commitment and passion of many enthusiasts.”

The PCYC consists of 10 regattas in some of the most picturesque and glamorous locales in the world. There are two main circuits: the North American and Mediterranean, plus the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta and the Panerai British Classic Week. The North American Circuit is held in the waters of New England for the Marblehead Corinthian Classic Yacht Regatta (Massachusetts), the Nantucket Regatta and Nantucket Opera House Cup (Massachusetts), the Bristol Herreshoff Classic Yacht Regatta (Rhode Island), and the Newport Classic Yacht Regatta (Rhode Island). The Mediterranean Circuit includes Les Voiles D’Antibes (France), Argentario Sailing Week (Italy), Mahón XIV Copa del Rey de Barcos de Época (Spain), and Cannes Régates Royales (France). It’s hard to imagine any better backdrops against which to witness these grandes dames of the sea in all their glory.

The Luminor 1950 PCYC 3 Days Chrono Flyback with the Luminor 1950 PCYC Regatta 3 Days Chrono Flyback. Photo: Doug Young

Not one to sit on the sidelines, Panerai has also restored a vintage Bermudan ketch, the Eilean, from 1936 and designed by William Fife III of Scotland. Bonati spotted it in disarray among some mangroves during the 2006 Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta. A few months later it was acquired by Panerai, and after a complete renewal, it was relaunched on the seas. The Eilean serves as Panerai’s brand ambassador at classic boat rallies and participated in the Mediterranean Circuit at this year’s PCYC.

There are many parallels among these beautifully restored classic yachts and impeccably crafted watches. Precision, patience, and passion go into creating objects of this caliber. To coincide with the sailboat races, Panerai released a new collection of chronographs, including the 44 mm steel Luminor 1950 PCYC 3 Days Chrono Flyback Automatic Acciaio (PAM00653) and the 47 mm titanium Luminor 1950 PCYC Regatta 3 Days Chrono Flyback Titanio (PAM00652) with regatta countdown. The series offers a vintage aesthetic inspired by the PCYC, but with technological advancements that sailing enthusiasts will appreciate. One of which being the chronograph flyback feature, which allows the wearer to restart to zero with just one quick click, eliminating the extra step of stopping and then resetting.

There’s a tachymeter scale printed on the flange in knots. This detail will allow owners to calculate the speed of the boat using the minute hand on the chronograph. Stainless steel AISI 316L is used for the case because it resists corrosion, and the bridge device over the winding crown allows the watch to be water resistant to 100 meters. The watches house the P9100 or P9100/R automatic caliber with a power reserve of 72 hours, with the slightly larger model featuring a push-piece at 4 o’clock that initiates the 15-minute regatta countdown. These details won’t go unnoticed to sailing aficionados. A special decorative element, the back of the timepiece comes engraved with a scene of a classic yacht beneath the inscription Panerai Classic Yachts Challenge.

The Luminor 1950 PCYC 3 Days Chrono Flyback (PAM00653).

Craftsmanship, expertise, and an appreciation of venerable traditions are perfectly blended in this partnership between Panerai and PCYC. The world of classic sailing is one of the few competitive sports where grace and style reign over achievement, sophistication and refinement matter more than velocity, and spirit wins out over expenditure. It’s a beautifully luxurious sport, in which you can take pleasure in the magnificence and splendor of these vintage sailing vessels. Much credit needs to be given to Panerai for keeping the heritage of this elegant practice not only alive but thriving.