Supporting the recovery of St Barth
Published on March 24th, 2018
The Caribbean island of St. Barthélemy — better known to its jet-set visitors as St. Barth — has been grappling with a major cleanup of the devastation caused by the 185 mile-per-hour winds of Hurricane Irma, one of the strongest storms ever recorded in the open Atlantic.
Life on the island is not back to normal six months later, with luxury hotels such as the Cheval Blanc, the Eden Rock and the Christopher still closed.
But to Richard Mille, founder of the high-end watch house that bears his name, the aftermath of the disaster represents an opportunity for solidarity that he and his brand will demonstrate by stepping up its continued sponsorship of the world-renowned Les Voiles de St. Barth, a top-class annual regatta that brings millions of dollars to the local economy.
Mr. Mille has been the main sponsor of the event — recently renamed St. Barth Sailing Richard Mille — since its inception in 2010. The ninth edition is scheduled for April 8-14, 2018.
The watchmaker uses it as an opportunity to promote its ultratechnical watches, which cost as much as $2 million, to the wealthy “yachties” who descend on the island for a week of hard-core racing that, this year, will see 52 boats compete in five classes.
“After the storm we decided to increase our involvement with the event and double our budget for it because other organizations had backed out,” Mr. Mille said. “St. Barth is undoubtedly one of the most financially strong of the Caribbean islands but it still needs help to get back on track. Increasing our sponsorship of the regatta is one way of showing that we are there, whether times are good or bad.”
Loyalty to its partners is a recognized aspect of the Mille philosophy. It has longstanding agreements with, for example, Rafael Nadal, the tennis star; Felipe Massa, the Formula One driver; Pablo Mac Donough, the polo legend and Bubba Watson, the golfer.
Mr. Mille doesn’t deny there is an important commercial side to the brand’s involvement with St. Barth, where it opened a boutique two years ago.
“I think any high-end watch brand must operate in different universes,” he said, “and sailing perfectly combines the sporting universe with the idea of a luxury lifestyle, so our support of it gives a very good signal in terms of positioning.”
It also gives Peter Harrison, chief executive of the brand’s Europe, Middle East and Africa operation, the opportunity to have some serious fun. A passionate sailor, he has succeeded in combining business with pleasure as the helmsman of the brand’s own racing yachts, the latest of which will compete in St. Barth next month.
Initially, he and his handpicked crew competed in Jolt2, a good-looking, quick but not especially competitive Baltic 45 class yacht built by the Finnish yard Reichel. Mr. Harrison then upgraded to Sorcha, $750,000 worth of TP52 class yacht, a thoroughbred racer requiring only the lightest of winds that was made in Spain by Longitud Cero.
Now Team Richard Mille has gone one step further.
The final touches are being completed on the brand’s latest boat, a Mini Maxi 72 class yacht by Green Marine in Britain. In the hands of previous owners, the boat, using the name Ran, won the inaugural world championship for its class in 2010.
Renamed Sorcha, she is to appear at St. Barth with a crew of 22 and will be instantly recognizable by her sails, which display a giant image of a Richard Mille RM60-01 Regatta watch.
The hand-drawn graphic added $30,000 to the boat’s purchase price, the total which Mr. Harrison wouldn’t reveal, saying only that the boat would have been around $4 million when new and requires an annual budget of $1 million to race and maintain.
“There’s no doubt that it is an expensive sport to participate in, but it gives us a great deal back,” Mr. Harrison said. “Unlike going to a Formula One race where spectators can’t get behind the wheel or meet the drivers, people can get aboard the race boats, meet the crew and learn how everything works — and it’s hard to beat for visual entertainment.
“As to whether or not it translates directly into sales of our regatta watches, that I don’t know — but we feel we get very good value out of the association,” he added.
One person you won’t find aboard Sorcha as she skims the waves in St. Barth is Mr. Mille himself. He prefers classic motor racing — and suffers severe sea sickness.
Source: NY Times