To have simply reached the qualifiers for the 35th America’s Cup is an extraordinary achievement, but for the six teams in contention there’s still some way to go before they can even think about setting their sights on the ultimate prize. From next week they’ll be battling it out over a 10-day series of gruelling round-robin races before one victorious team is declared Challenger to the defending Americans.
In honour of this immense sailing feat – which is the culmination of four long years of competition – Louis Vuitton has created a magnificent new trophy, which will be awarded to the Challenger on June 12.
An abstracted "V" forged in gleaming sterling silver and standing 28 inches high, it proves a sleekly contemporary counterpoint to the ornate America’s Cup trophy, currently held by Oracle Team USA. The "Auld Mug", as it’s affectionately known, is reputedly the longest-serving trophy in sport. A towering sterling-silver ewer conceived by Garrard & Co of London in 1848 – three years before the inaugural America’s Cup competition – today it travels in a bespoke Louis Vuitton case.
Fittingly, the French luxury house turned to another British company to create the new Challenger’s trophy: Thomas Lyte. Established barely 10 years ago, the goldsmith and silversmith already holds a royal warrant from the Queen, and is now the go-to designer-maker for sporting trophies – among its recent commissions are the RBS 6 Nations Rugby championship and the FA Cup. "We had to compete to get the Louis Vuitton Challenger’s trophy, presenting our ideas in Paris – it was very, very tough," says Thomas Lyte’s founder and CEO, Kevin Baker.
One of the most striking and successful features of the trophy is the way in which it communicates the essence of the sport while embodying the century-old emblematic Gaston "V" of the brand, named for Gaston-Louis Vuitton – grandson of the original founder and widely considered to be the visionary of the family.
"We’ve produced an incredibly simple image expressed using modern lines – a challenging task when you’re trying to represent something so dynamic," says Baker. "This piece conveys the excitement and the clashing of sails, but also this spirited ‘V’, which stands at the heart of Louis Vuitton."
No fewer than six artisans wielding nine different hammers spent several days hand-forging the trophy from 4mm-thick sterling silver. Baker is evidently proud of the workmanship involved. "It took 38 hours to beat out just one 28 inches sail – to get all these shapes perfect, and to produce a form that really speaks to you. Then it was polished for three days to achieve a smooth finish. Ultimately you end up with something that takes your breath away," he says.
Only time will tell which team of champion yachtsmen will raise the new Louis Vuitton Challenger’s trophy in June, but it remains a triumphant addition to the America’s Cup legend. Created to complement the iconic winner’s cup, together they encapsulate both the history and the 21st-century high-tech mastery of this heroic sport.
This article was featured in The Telegraph Luxury. Written by Bethan Ryder.