Wave machines: The watches worn by the world's elite yachtsmen

Alex Doak

As you read this, six F1-worthy carbon-fibe catamarans are careering round the Great Sound of Bermuda, vying for the oldest prize in international sport – the America’s Cup.

A particular type of watch is to be found on the wrist of every helmsman: the regatta chronograph, used to count down the critical pre-race period as the fleet jostles for the start line.

Ulysse Nardin Marine Regatta
£12,700, ulysse-nardin.com

It may not win prizes for elegant design, but the ingenuity of the countdown function makes this a Watch Of The Year – developed alongside the Swedish America’s Cup team that Ulysse Nardin sponsors, Artemis. Press the button at 10 o’clock to programme the build-up time (usually either 10, seven or five minutes) as indicated by the yellow-tipped hand. When you hit “start” at two o’clock, this hand and the central seconds hand then tick down anti-clockwise until they both reach “zero”, when a patented “inverter” mechanism switches the seconds hand to tick clockwise and time the race proper.

Rolex Oyster Yacht-Master II
£13,700, rolex.com

Arguably, every precision timekeeper, or “chronometer” can be considered a sailing watch, as it was originally invented in the 18th century (by the English) as a navigational tool to determine longitude at sea. Which, given that every mechanical Rolex is certified as a chronometer – losing no more than four seconds a day, gaining no more than six – more than qualifies the world’s most famous brand to make sailing watches (the fact it invented the watertight watch case might come into it, too...) This year’s facelift of the Yacht-Master II consolidates Rolex’s most complicated model, whose regatta countdown is, masterfully, programmed via the rotating bezel.

Panerai Luminor 1950 Regatta Oracle Team USA
£14,450, panerai.com

Like Ulysse Nardin, who once made professional marine chronometers, Panerai can boast direct maritime pedigree, having started out as an Italian naval equipment manufacturer then becoming every covert frogman’s preferred diving-watch brand in the Thirties. The now-Swiss watchmaker is sponsoring the America’s Cup in general this year, as well as one of the Cup’s challengers, Softbank Team Japan and no less than America’s Cup defender Team Oracle USA. The latter is marked by this special edition of Panerai’s regatta flyback chronograph, in the team’s colours.

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