The spectacle has already begun (His Serene Highness doesn't do things by half), as the helicopter sweeps through the skies from Nice airport to the Principality, passing over the beautiful coastline, the blue of the sea dotted with an abnormal amount of glossy white specks. From above, they look like hundreds of tiny boats, with some unusually large exceptions. Yachts, yachts, everywhere around, yachts whose numbers are legion as far as the eye can see, the trail extending to the coast of Cap Ferrat. A slumbering sea monster, reminiscent of 'The Love Boat' is even moored at the edge of the harbour.
The show is a feast for the eyes, the wallet, and also the cuffs, since it has become a regular stopover for a handful of Swiss watchmakers. The event attracts its fair share of celebrities, journalists, inquisitive onlookers and, especially, buyers: 34,000 visitors anticipated for the 125 superyachts moored here. The show, which is to world yachting what the Salon de Genève is to the automotive industry, is inevitably a boost to the economy for the harbour and its environs, filling the large hotels, trendy, pop-up or year-round bars to capacity. Come nightfall, it's a sell-out, but the show goes on, spilling out onto private jetties where invitations depend on who or what you know. I, myself, will be setting out for the Hôtel Hermitage where the party will be in full swing for the opening ceremony, with awards in the pipeline for three exceptional examples of the luxury yachting industry.
Hydros sets off for Dubai
Among other things, I am here to bid bon voyage to an extraordinary entrepreneurial Dubai-bound adventure, one that has inspired my dreams and spawned a few articles into the bargain. An extraordinary flying construction, conceived in the same vein as the Hydroptère sponsored by Audemars Piguet and built on the EPFL campus, which skims the water's surface, thereby reducing fuel consumption by 30%: pure elegance hanging by a thread, a vision of such grace that you are transported body and mind into vistas of crashing waves, salt spray and mist. That adventure, called Hydros, first came into being at the flagship event of the Hydros Foundation, the annual Hydrocontest, where marine engineering students pit their wits and pioneering inventions against one another. But Hydros could never have seen the light of day without the determination and wealth of Thierry Lombard. But where is he? He seems to have been swallowed up by the urbane cocktail crowd through which I move. Luckily, Jérémie Lagarrigue is there, all smiles, no doubt being hassled for details about his pre-sales, for around CHF 1.5 million a piece no less, of half a dozen of the first yacht model to be fitted with Hydros engine with retractable foils that carry it high above the crest of the waves at top speed. And indeed for news of the takeover of his baby by ENATA Industries, the entity that was originally founded by the Frenchman, Français Sylvain Vieujot, whose project has just been completed in the Middle Eastern megalopolis. With a little twinge of sorrow, I say: "May the wind be in your sails".
Ulysse Nardin, Kerbedanz and Rebellion
Meanwhile on the watchmaking front, the Longines Hydroconquest chronograph steel version with blue dial gracing my wrist allows me to move freely between the stands and the hotel's private lounges. I pay a first courtesy call on Ulysse Nardin, a watchmaking brand founded in Le Locle in 1823. The brand, with its ocean imagery, has been sponsor for this prestigious yachting event for 8 years. Indivisible from its image, that same image has earned it the place hitherto occupied by Blancpain. This year, the soon-to-be bicentenary brand, the pride and joy of the late Rolf W. Schnyder, is launching a limited edition of his 44 mm-diameter Diver Chronograph Monaco, with unidirectional rotating bezel, and global blue aesthetics peppered with a vivid red. This mechanical timepiece, the envy of shipshape sea dogs and landlubbers with a nautical bent, encases a UN-150 workshop-crafted mechanical movement with silicium escapement. Which other watchmaking brand, in these times of heavily regulated branding, can add the name Monaco to one of its models?
At one point, as I'm jostled through the show's thronging aisles from one stand to the next, someone stops me to tell me that Kalust Zorik and Aram Petrosyan of the Neuchâtel-based brand, Kerbedanz, are here. The brand that 'gives meaning to beauty' and that has brought the ultimate in unique embellishments into its DNA. Their smiling faces say it all, they have obviously made one or perhaps more successful sales to one of the MIPs (Most Important Personalities) comprising their exclusive clientele. But mum's the word. In barely three years, more than 400 of their timepieces have found buyers, a commendable performance given the value of the pieces in question. Monte-Carlo, which boasts perhaps the highest concentration of unlimited funding capacities on the planet, is no doubt the perfect spot for a brand whose potential is equalled only by its discretion for its clients.
In the meantime, as the after-work parties get under way, inviting the night creatures to climb down into the nocturnal underworld amid temperatures that are still mild for the season, a rebellious crowd has taken over the exhibition spaces at the Hôtel Hermitage. If anything, it's another chance, this time to a gently throbbing soundtrack, to espy, or even brush against, a few wrists brandishing demonstrative timepieces with exceptional complications, and a look of barefaced audacity that says 'no compromise'. Might this be The Right Place? Indeed it might, given the sports car parked close by in an eye-catching, vivid shade of red that's enough to make a veteran Aston Martin blush. Vanity of vanities! Monaco by night is also worth a detour!
The next gathering of watchmaking brands in the Principality is at Top Marques from 20-23 April 2017 - http://www.topmarquesmonaco.com
Front picture credits: Monaco Yacht Show