William Fife III was a classy guy.
The third generation of a family of Scottish yacht designers and builders, Fife built his boats on the banks of the Clyde. The very definition of someone who embodied a Scottish work ethic he designed somewhere in the region of 600 yachts – no one can agree on the precise number – and followed the maxim that his creations should be both “fast" and "bonnie”. Fife established his own reputation on the yacht racing circuit and helped standardise rules for The Royal Yachting Association, ones that that are still being followed today.
Fewer than 100 Fife designs survive.
One of them is a 60-foot Bermuda rigged cutter named Eilean, Scottish for “little island”. The boat, design number 822, was conceived in 1936 when Fife was a sprightly 80-years-old. Almost fifty years later it would enter the pantheon of pop culture as the star of the Caribbean-set 1982 pop video “Rio”, by Duran Duran.
Having been abandoned in Antigua it was spotted in a state of disrepair by Angelo Bonati, then CEO of Panerai, the luxury Italian watchmaker with deep roots in diving and sailing. Transported to Italy by cargo boat, craftsmen in the Francesco del Carlo shipyard in Viareggio then spent some three years restoring it. Using the original designs from the Fife shipyards, they recovered all the materials and instruments they could save and used traditional shipbuilding techniques to fix the rest. Eilean was later relaunched in a series of Panerai advertisements.
In a nice bit of synchronicity the first Panerai prototype watch was also created in 1936.
Now Panerai is releasing a watch to celebrate Eilean. As its name suggests the 45mm Radiomir Eilean is a version of the brand’s popular Radiomir, the tough dive watch it first produced for the Italian Navy in the Thirties, whose use of radium-based-powder in the dial made it glow like a literal radioactive beacon.
The surface of the new model has been coated in a brown finish that recalls the teal decking of a yacht, while the case back and strap both carry the inscription “Eilean 1936”.
Produced in a limited run of 449 watches – Eilean’s sail number – its launch coincides with the arrival of William Fife III’s restored yacht in Porto Santa Margherita for five days from 15 July to 20 July, as part of a celebration of Italian “culture, style and identity”, Italianità.
Still, you like to imagine at least some part of Eilean will be forever Scottish.
Or at least fast and bonnie.
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