The History of the Yacht Watch

As temperatures start to rise and the promise of summer feels just in arm’s reach, we started thinking about some of our favorite warm weather watches. One of the first types of watches that comes to mind is the yacht watch. Today, yacht watches are enjoyed by all types of wearers from avid sailors to beach dwellers to those who simply appreciate the nautical aesthetic. However, yacht watches are highly precise and purpose built watches, designed to specifically meet the needs to the sailing community.

What is a Yacht Watch?

The sport of sailing requires incredibly accurate timekeeping. In turn, the moments leading up to the start of a regatta are crucial. Each yacht must attempt to hold its position at an imaginary starting line while enduring the elements, from the current of the water to the force of the wind. Skippers must be able to maintain control of their sailboats as well as calculate and anticipate the time leading up to the moment the official starting gun fires. Yacht watches were carefully and thoughtfully developed to measure this interval.

The First Yacht Watches

The key feature of a yacht watch is a display indicating the critical countdown time leading up to the start of the race, which is usually located on the bezel. One of the first patents for a rotating bezel was submitted in the late 1950’s by a brand called JeanRichard watches. By the early 1960’s, the brand debuted the rotating bezel in a model called the Aquastar. The model was so successful, the brand changed its name to Aquastar S.A.. The then began partnering with an avid diver and designer named Frederic Robert, who later went on to work for Omega and helped developed the iconic Seamaster. The brand’s Aquastar Regatta was one of the first yacht watches.

Alongside the Aquastar Regatta was the Heuer Yacht Timer, which also debuted in the early 1960’s. By the mid 1960’s, Heuer had released a second yacht watch, the Heuer Regatta. They also secured a partnership as the official timekeeper of a yacht called the Intrepid, which won the America’s Cup twice that decade. To commemorate the victories, the brand released a special version of the Heuer Regatta for the crew members with the name “Intrepid” on the dial. Then, Heuer released a third yacht watch, the Skipper.

 

In addition to Aquastar and Heuer, Breitling introduced some of their first yacht watches in the 1960’s. They added several yachting versions of the Co-Pilot series throughout the decade.

Yacht Watches of the 1970’s

By the early 1970’s, Aquastar, Heuer, and Breitling started to receive more competition. A brand called Memosail began developing a new yacht watch, focusing specifically on the watch movement. This allowed for a slightly different approach to measuring the countdown interval. Omega also began getting into the yacht watch game in the 1970’s with a regatta chronograph variation of their iconic Seamaster, called the Seamaster Yachting. Tissot was another brand developing their own yacht watch in the 1970’s, the Navigator Yachting.

Yacht Watches of the 1980’s

The production of yacht watches continued to grow steadily into the 1980’s. The brand Atlantic released a model called the Skipper that featured three different bezel options: a diver bezel, compass bezel, and tachymeter bezel. Breitling debuted another yacht watch in the late 1980’s, a variation on their popular Chronomat called the Chronomat Yachting. The long-established jeweler Bvlgari began producing watches in the 1980’s. One of their first models was the Diagono Professional Regatta.

Yacht Watches of the 1990’s

Yacht watches continued to evolve into the 1990’s. Rolex debuted the first Yacht-Master in 1992 with the Ref. 16627, which featured a caliber 3135 movement. Soon after, Corum launched the Admiral’s Cup Regatta in the mid 1990’s.

yacht watch: Rolex Yachtmaster

A Rolex Yachtmaster

The 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia marked a moment of change for sailing races and in turn yacht watches. With an increase in the number of boat categories over the years, the time for successive starts had become too long. So, the Olympic Committee decided to officially change the countdown system, reducing the time from 5-10 to 3-6 minutes. Frederique Constant was the first to produce a yacht watch that integrated these new rules.

Modern Yacht Watches

Since the dawn of the new millennium, yacht watches have continued to grow in popularity and increase in production. Brands like Maurice Lacroix, Audemars Piguet, Girard-Perregaux, Panerai, and Bremont have added yacht watches to their offerings. And, other brands like Rolex and TAG Heuer have continued to expand upon their current offerings. If you’ve enjoyed exploring a brief overview of the history of yacht watches, keep reading about how yacht watches work.

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  • Great article. I’m not a yachts person but own a nice vintage piece by memosail, the Skipper Jubilee. I’m the original owner and I believe it’s a limited edition of 150. So your article put my piece into perspective. By the way, I’m a satisfied customer a nice Navitimer 01 at a fair price.

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