Posted: 23rd August 2015 | Written by: Daniel Shea
There are a few simple truths in this world, and this is one: That Italians simply have a way of producing luxury with great panache. The word panache even has Italian origins (as if there was any doubt). Luxury goods are a way of life in Italy, and yachts are certainly no exception.
Since the 1960s, Benetti has been a leader in the yachtbuilding industry. The company has married the finest in Italian craftsmanship with the utmost in modern technology to produce some of the world’s most iconic yachts. Benetti yachts are instantly recognizable, sleek and stylish, bold and glamorous statements on la buona vita.
Benetti has been at the helm of a very robust Italian yachtbuilding sector for years. According to Fabio Ermetto, Benetti’s chief commercial officer, this has been a result of the shipyard’s enduring ambition and desire to innovate.
“Over the years, the shipyard has grown and changed – not following, but anticipating the times,” Ermetto says. “Once the Fratelli Benetti boatyard was famous for building three-masted wooden schooners for commercial use. Today Benetti motor yachts turn heads at the world’s most famous and exclusive ports.”
The shipyard draws heavily on its Italian heritage, “Stylish, exclusive and extremely well-crafted,” Ermetto says.
Lorenzo Benetti founded his namesake shipyard in 1873 upon purchasing the Darsena Lucca shipyard in Viareggio. For the next 40 years, Lorenzo led the company in the production of wooden boats for local and international trade.
In the shipyard’s first 30 years alone, it built over 30 vessels – from schooners and cutters, to tartans and navicelli.
In 1910, Lorenzo built his second shipyard in Viareggio. By this point, Lorenzo’s sons were important players in the business and, due to this, they were prepared to build on their father’s success upon his death in 1914.
It was under the leadership of Gino and Emilio Benetti that the shipyard really began to build a reputation that grew far beyond Italy. The brothers changed the name of the shipyard to Fratelli Benetti and by 1935 the yard had produced more than 100 sailing vessels.
The Benetti name, by this point, had become synonymous with the quality of their crafts. “We are a shipyard that has built for a long time solid, safe, reliable yachts that maintain their value in time,” says Ermetto. “We are no fly-by-night shipyard. We make slow, steady progress and we research new solutions and apply them only once we are very sure.”
After World War II, a third generation of the Bennetti family had taken over control and with the change in leadership came a shift in production. In 1941, Benetti launched MARIA, the first steel-hulled and diesel-powered vessel of its kind. From this point on, the shipyard increasingly moved away from building wooden commercial vessels, and instead focus its production on pleasure crafts built from steel.
By 1963, part of the shipyard was being managed by another Lorenzo Benetti – now a fifth-generation Benetti. This Lorenzo was the first to see the potential in luxury yachts.
“As early as the 1960s, it made the transition from metal boats to steel and aluminum,” says Ermetto, adding that Benetti was the first “to realize the potential of composite materials for the production of megayachts.”
It was during this time that Benetti produced its first megayachts. It would continue to produce luxury and pleasure boats – both motor and sail – through the 1980s.
Most famous among them, the 86m NABILA was a revelation in yachting. Launched in 1979, NABILA was built at a cost of $100 million for Saudi billionaire Adnan Khashoggi. It was designed by Jon Bannenberg, and was one of the largest yachts in the world at the time. (Today it falls just outside the world's top 50 largest yachts.) The yacht boasted five decks, a cinema and 11 suites. It would go on to be featured in the James Bond film, “Never Say Never Again,” and its subsequent owners include the Sultan of Brunei and Donald Trump.
Despite the success of NABILA, Benetti ran into financial difficulties in the 1980s, and Azimut’s owner and president, Paolo Vitelli, decided to step in and salvage the shipyard. In 1985, Azimut purchased Fratelli Benetti and renamed it Benetti Shipyard, and brought it under the umbrella of the Azimut Benetti Group.
While the company is no longer run by the Benetti family, it owes a lot to the strategic vision of Vitelli and Vincenzo Poerio – a vision that blended the craftsmanship of the old world with the industrial backbone required to thrive in the modern world.
“Azimut Yachts brought in new management and transformed Benetti into the modern, technologically advanced reality we know today: a forward-looking and innovative boatyard,” says Ermetto. “But it is also one that proudly retains its traditional values of experience, skill and a passion for fine craftsmanship.”
Two years later, Benetti launched its first yacht built under new management, and a year later launched a yacht meant to achieve the fastest-ever Atlantic Ocean crossing.
The 1990s were especially good to Benetti. The shipyard launched a string of well-received yachts, including the 45m AMBRIOSA, the 50m GOLDEN BAY, and the 35m STELLA FIERA (one of the first Benetti Classics).
The philosophy behind the growth has been this: “Italian design mixed with the utmost craftsmanship, together with long tradition and cutting-edge technology,” says Ermetto. “These find the maximum expression on board every Benetti.”
These days, it’s hard to imagine Benetti residing in a more comfortable position – even at a time that was anything but comfortable in the yachting world. The Azimut Benetti Group is the largest manufacturer of luxury yachts in the world, and Benetti sits at the pinnacle of that success, building semi-custom and custom yachts.
In fact, according to The Superyacht Report’s recent “Five-Year Fleet Review,” Benetti rests in the top five of just about every major category. In the past five years (to say nothing of the past decade), Benetti has delivered more yachts than any other yachtbuilder aside from Sunseeker. Similarly, they sit second to Sunseeker when considering total combined length of all yachts built.
However, Benetti is the only shipyard that maintains its strong position across all categories – including average length per yacht. When The Superyacht Report calculated for the overall health of the shipyards Benetti held its place in the top five.
That position in the market, along with its strong pedigree, has helped Benetti to maintain its timeless style, because it hasn’t felt the need to overpower and grab headlines with its designs.
“We do not need to impress customers with crazy stunts,” says Ermetto. “We have too much of a heritage and responsibility to do silly stuff.”
Instead, Benetti continues its traditions, without losing ground on technological advancements.
“Boatbuilding is an Italian excellence and it gives us two big advantages – one, of succeeding in chalking up sales results,” says Vincenzo Poerio, Benetti’s CEO. “Sales in the marine sector in Italy are in the order of 3-4 billion. And it also has the advantage of being unique…It means expressing being Italian.”
“It’s no coincidence that [Benetti] was born in an area like Tuscany, with its wealth of artists and people of great creativity,” he says. “It represented Italy to the world.”
Benetti’s innovations result from listening to their customers, Poerio says. The company adapts to what their customers want – not simply for the sake of innovation. The aim is to deliver the boat that owners have been dreaming of.
In the quest to offer owners more, Benetti has continued to diversify its products. In addition to full custom builds, Benetti has designed an array of semi-custom models from which owners can choose.
For example, there are six models of class displacement yachts, ranging from the Delfino model at 93-ft, to the Vision model at 145-ft. In addition, there are two models of class fast displacement yachts: the 125-ft Vivace, and the 140-ft Veloce.
“As you can imagine, we are investing to design more and more innovative products,” says Ermetto. “We have placed in the market one new model every year. We need to invest not only in the product, but also on the working process to be efficient at increasing the quality and reducing labor hours. You can see this in every detail of the new yachts we are building.”
In particular, Benetti is increasing its class range in the carbon fiber superstructure of its semi-custom yachts, and it is working with Rolls Royce Marine to develop the Azipull: a low-drag, highly efficient pulling propeller. Its collaboration with Rolls Royce is also exploring a variety of other thrusters and new variants on propulsion systems.
“We continue to diversify production in order to satisfy the increasingly complex needs expressed by owners throughout the world,” says Ermetto. “The key point of difference for Benetti is a unique ability to listen, to interpret and to fully satisfy owners’ wishes, offering an incomparable building experience before, during and after every launch.”
And owners appear to be responding. Throughout the 300,000 square meters of production facilities spread across six boatyards in Italy, Benetti is working harder and faster than ever before. For the first time in its history, Benetti has 47 yachts of more than 30m under construction at the same time.
Perhaps most impressive is the fact that 19 of those yachts will be delivered this year.
“Our production is oriented towards ever-longer vessels,” says Ermetto. The shipyard has been working more consistently on yachts in the 90m range, while it has recently sold two yachts over 100m.
Benetti is not a company that rests on its laurels. It’s not a company that is so fiercely tied to the past that it can’t adapt to the future.
Benetti is a company that knows where it’s been and has an eye on where it’s going. It plans to be around for another 140 years, and understands that it needs to adapt to the times in order to do so.
For these reasons, Benetti has invested heavily in its systems and technology. Not only is the company eyeing a bigger segment of the megayacht market, but it is integrating advanced, in-house systems into its yachts.
Benetti has developed a diesel-electric hybrid propulsion system that reduces fuel consumption, emissions, noise and vibration. The system can cruise around 8 knots using electric power.
It has also created BEST – Benetti Exclusive Sea Technology – which integrates all on board electronics and systems, allowing them to communicate, so the media systems interact with the lights and phones and internet. Similarly, Benetti’s integrated bridge system reduces the number of navigation panels using intuitive graphic interfaces and touch-screen technology. Benetti has successfully housed navigation, telecommunication, safety and data transmission in the same system.
“For Benetti, building yachts means carrying on the tradition of innovation, style and quality that has shaped the company’s approach and culture,” says Ermetto. “These truly tailor-made vessels embody the owner’s idea of what a yacht should be, while retaining the Benetti family feeling that is a natural expression of the finest Italian style and timeless elegance.”
*Photos provided courtesy of Benetti.