Over the past century, the Mediterranean has become arguably the world’s greatest yachting playground, with billionaires the world over parading an increasingly larger collection of big boats through the region’s turquoise waters from port to port.
Europe’s generous slice of the Mediterranean Sea has an almost unfair share of the world’s beautiful ancient coastal cities, vacation sanctuaries and UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Its sparkling waters surround Sicily, the region’s largest island, sprinkled with Byzantine and Baroque heritage buildings.
Travel to Dubrovnik, Croatia, just a few hours north, and you find a region filled with awe-inspiring old-town beauty and limestone streets.
Spain has Majorca, one of the most popular and historic beach destinations in Europe. There’s the French Riviera, Santorini in Greece, and on, and on.
For every big-time tourist destination across the Mediterranean coast, there are thousands of small towns and fishing villages – some untouched by the passage of time, and others scarred by Europe’s tumultuous history.
Of all these places, no other may be more historically significant than the coastal port of Genoa, Italy. Once the Republic of Genoa in the 12th and 13th centuries, it’s a twisting maze of narrow passageways, idyllic Italian countryside homes and, most importantly in the context of global history, the birthplace of Christopher Columbus.
Today it remains Italy’s largest costal port, and home to some of the world’s greatest shipyards. If you’ve seen an Italian-made yacht meandering around Thailand’s southern islands, there is a good chance it was built and tested here.
With that said, you likely wouldn’t see the yacht I found myself testing on this particular day, the Sanlorenzo SD112, a four-deck, 34-metre luxury yacht worth upwards of 11.2 million euros (437 million Baht).
Known for its partnerships with world-class Italian designers, rich customisation options and incredible build quality, there might not be a more respected yacht company in the 30-to-40-metre segment on Earth than Sanlorenzo.
While most large private yachts are described as “luxury” vessels, that doesn’t mean they’re all the same. The size of large boats means nearly all of them are expensive, even if there are wide gaps between brands when it comes to finishing details and design. Sanlorenzo has established itself among the world’s best.
Founded in 1958, the brand has a long-standing reputation in Mediterranean yacht circles for building some of the best bespoke vessels in the industry, but weak international marketing had kept it as a secret for decades.
That was until 2004, when the company was acquired by industry veteran Massimo Perotti, who used his 22 years of experience at Azimut-Benetti to expand the brand’s product range and marketing.
In the 12 years since, Sanlorenzo has skyrocketed to become one of the world’s elite-of-the-elite yacht builders. It consistently scores among the top three yacht companies in the annual Global Order Book, one of the industry’s most respected ranking systems published by Boat International each year.
Over that same period, annual turnover has jumped from 40 million euros to more than 314 million (around 12 billion Baht), and the brand was one of the few yacht companies in Italy to remain stable during the European debt crisis that rocked the region’s financial system in 2009.
Sanlorenzo has used that financial leverage to expand its operation.
By 2019, it will complete two new production facilities and release eight new yacht models – placing an increased emphasis on superyachts in the massive 65-to-70-metre segment – in addition to the 20-plus it already offers.
At the renowned Cannes Yacht Show this September, it will unveil its SX line of crossover yachts designed to last months on the open sea without refuelling.
A lot of the brand’s growth and stability over the past decade is thanks to its positioning in the industry’s ultra-premium segment.
While many of its competitors focus on churning out as many vessels as possible each year, Sanlorenzo has grown its business with limited production runs, exclusivity and bespoke designs. The philosophy is simple: tailor a yacht to a customer’s needs the same way you would tailor a suit.
“If you spend five or 10 million on a yacht, you want something special,” says Perotti, who is also Sanlorenzo’s president and chairmen. “You don’t want something that is the same as the others. The logic of Sanlorenzo is to have a yacht that is truly your own. These boats have a style that is similar to a villa or beautiful penthouse.
“Our customers are very important people. They spend a lot of money and work very hard. They want a boat that gives them the comfort of their home.”
Most yachting companies offer multiple interior configurations on any model they produce, but Sanlorenzo takes this idea to its breaking point. In fact, the word “configuration” might as well not be part of its design vocabulary at all.
Every interior made in its shipyards is built from the ground up, entirely customised and unique – something that is usually only available on one-of-a-kind mega yachts. World-class interior designers Rodolfo Dordoni and Antonio Citterio are among the brand’s regular contributors.
Sanlorenzo owners are deeply involved in the design process, often meeting with representatives around the world to discuss the exact materials, layout and concepts of each vessel.
Sanlorenzo claims there is almost nothing – except for the boat’s exterior design – that its customers can’t tailor to their desires. It seems like a grandiose claim, at first.
To test this, I asked one of the designers at the brand’s Almegila shipyard a hypothetical question: If I wanted a yacht lined with wall-to-wall marble, covering every inch of every surface on my boat, would it be possible?
“Yes,” he said. “But you would need to understand the boat would be a lot slower. Everything else just boils down to price and time.”
All of these bespoke features come at a price. On average, a Sanlorenzo yacht costs 20 percent more than a yacht made by its competitors, giving some customers pause.
Despite the brand’s strong presence in Europe and the United States, Asia is still a bit of a work in progress. To date, Sanlorenzo hasn’t sold any yachts in Thailand, and only a handful in the Asia-Pacific region overall.
The area is still a maturing market when it comes to the luxury yacht industry, and teaching customers the difference in quality between a Sanlorenzo and a more well-known brand, like Sunseeker, takes time.
“When you see a new Sanlorenzo next to a new Sunseeker, they both look good,” says Perotti.
“You can’t spend 20 years inside the dealership to find out which will stand the test of time. We need to explain to the customers about the longevity and elegance of Sanlorenzo. Right now, it’s only connoisseurs who really understand.”
With that said, the brand has its eyes firmly locked on the Asia-Pacific market – counting it among its four key initiatives for future growth. China shows the most potential for the brand currently, and it recently sold a 22 percent stake in the company to Chinese firm Sundiro as a means to spur growth.
“We really think that in the next 10 years Asia will be the future of boating development, and it’s one of our main goals to expand to this market,” says Perotti.
“But the idea, the appreciation of true quality that separates Sanlorenzo, needs to be transferred to the market first. We use better designs. We use better materials. The comfort on board is much higher. The noise you hear is lower. You have a feeling like you are in a beautiful house instead of a boat. There are many reasons to explain, but it takes time to transfer this concept to your market.”
Perotti is confident the Asia-Pacific market will respond to Sanlorenzo’s bespoke approach the same way it has with luxury brands in other industries like fashion and watches. It all comes down to showing people that not all boats are made the same.
“Your market understands that Louis Vuitton, Hermès and Gucci are better products, because people understand the quality and craftsmanship,” says Perotti.
“Now we need to help them understand that there are boats, and there are boats. They are not all the same.”