Robb Read: Race For Supersonic Flight

With futuristic Mach-1 jets promised, can supersonic’s challenges keep up with its lofty goals?

By Christine Negroni 01/07/2021

When United Airlines announced earlier this month that it had made a deal to purchase 15 airliners still under development from Denver-based Boom Supersonic, the airline became the latest entity to place a bet on one of aviation’s sexiest and most quixotic propositions; flight that is faster than the speed of sound and affordable to the masses.

Opinion is mixed on the feasibility of supersonic commercial flight in the near future. But one of the concept’s biggest boosters, Boom’s CEO, Blake Scholl, insists the goal is achievable. “We get as much speed as possible, for as many people as possible, to as many places as possible, as quickly as possible,” he told Robb Report. 

Scholl is enthusiastic because we’ve already been there. Boom’s demonstrator aircraft, the XB1, and its bigger sibling the commercial jetliner, Overture, are leveraging technology from the days of the Concorde, “rather than starting from scratch,” he said. Scholl expects the Overture to be certified by 2029 and take its first commercial flight in 2030.

Supersonic jets look like the future but it's questionable whether they will ever enter commercial service

United Airlines’ recent order for 15 Overture jets shows it’s betting on a supersonic future. Fractional providers NetJets and Flexjet also ordered $11 billion worth of Aerion’s AS2 business jets. Courtesy Boom Supersonic

It was nearly half a century ago that British Airways and Air France flew the Concorde across the Atlantic in half the time of subsonic airliners. Fourteen of the droop-nosed, European-made SST’s continued in commercial service until 2003. Before the Concorde there was the Russian-built Tupeluv 144D. Two fatal crashes—one in 1973 at the Paris Air Show and another in Russia in 1978—spelled the end of that aeroplane. The few remaining are housed in museums where they still fuel a yearning to fly tomorrow on newer versions of these artifacts from the past.

If there is to be a new generation of supersonic jetliners, success is inextricably tied to how well their creators can navigate through the obstacles that plagued the Concorde.

These include the sonic boom, the noise created at the speed of sound threshold (Mach 1.0 or 1234km/h) which prevented supersonic flights over land. Then there is the copious fuel consumption and carbon emissions of supersonic flight. When weight is everything, the limited passenger-carrying capacity and scaled-down cabin interior could make it difficult to sell enough tickets to make SST flights profitable. Finally, there is the need for regulatory approval using standards that do not yet exist, from dozens of governments.

Last Concorde landing in Germany

The last Concorde lands in Germany in 2003. The aircraft proved that supersonic flight was possible, but with challenges like limited interior space, sonic booms and heavy fuel burns. Photo: Uli Deck/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

These issues populate the to-do lists of the SST engineers. Boom, with its plans for a 40- to 50-passenger airliner, touts its planned use of biofuels like sustainable aviation fuel, as does California’s Exosonic, with its 70-passenger jetliner. Boston-based Spike Aerospace is focusing on an 18-passenger business jet with a proprietary technology it claims will keep the sonic boom at the level of vacuum cleaner. It recently received FAA approval for limited testing of its design over land.

Norris Tie, CEO of Exosonic, says before his company produces its airliner, it will move incrementally towards refining its technology with a small research contract it has with the U.S. Air Force. It recently announced plans to develop an Air Force 2, a supersonic jet for the vice president and cabinet-level officials.

“That helped put our company on the map for supersonic aviation and benefited us by letting us grow, hire people and do wind-tunnel testing that’s been really helpful,” he said of the work being done on a supersonic government personnel aircraft.

Supersonic jets look like the future but it's questionable whether they will ever enter commercial service

The poster child of supersonic flight, Aerion had been working on a supersonic jet for almost two decades, but ran out of cash in May. Courtesy Aerion Supersonic

Even small government contracts offer companies bragging rights and insight into research and regulatory agencies.  In March, Subaru, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and several other companies formed Japan Supersonic Research with a goal of having an SST passenger jet by 2030. They partnered with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and have access to JAXA research going back to 1997.

“No single nation can develop supersonic transport on its own, since this requires an enormous amount of capital and the integration of many advanced technologies,” Dr. Takashi Ishikawa, director of the space agency’s aviation program, wrote on the government website.

To deal with noise, fuel inefficiency, and the many other significant technical issues, what every aspiring SST maker needs most of all is money.

Supersonic jets look like the future but it's questionable whether they will ever enter commercial service

Spike Aerospace says it will neutralize the sonic boom on its 18-passenger business jet so it can fly to cities like London. Courtesy Spike Aerospace

“The only thing that matters is cash and so far it isn’t there,” said Richard Aboulafia, an aviation consultant who publishes the widely distributed Teal Monthly Aircraft Letter.

Government contracts of one or two million dollars are meaningless, he said. “The funds we’re talking about are incredibly trivial in the world of aerospace.”

Reno-based Aerion Corporation is a case in point. In May, it issued a stunning announcement. After nearly two decades of working on a supersonic business jet, it said it was shutting down. It had a plane that could fit seamlessly into airports, an engine deal with GE and an operational procedure that it claimed would allow the plane to pass through Mach 1 soundlessly, though not necessarily consistently. It had purchase commitments totalling US$11 billion from FlexJet and Netjets. It had a partnership with Boeing. It had a plan to launch its first commercial flights by 2026. What it did not have was money.

Supersonic jets look like the future but it's questionable whether they will ever enter commercial service

The S-512 has a lavish business-jet interior designed to compete with first-class cabins. Courtesy Spike Aerospace

“It tore my heart out,” said Steven Berroth, who joined Aerion in 2018 and was senior vice president of operations when the announcement was made. “It was three years of my life, it was 170 employees, their livelihoods and their dreams. It is a terrible outcome.”

“They had put together amazing talent,” said aviation consultant Rollie Vincent, who did work for Aerion. “The number of PhDs per square foot was off the charts,” he said. “But they weren’t building things, they were trying to refine design and purify aerodynamics. At some point, everybody, including investors, want to see parts.”

That is the route Boom Supersonic took. It spent US$150 million, more than half of US$270 million it raised, building the XB1 demonstrator dubbed “Baby Boom.” Though Baby Boom’s design may be unrelated to the Overture jetliner sold to United and Japan Airlines, just having something to fly enhanced Boom’s profile. Still, to build Overture, it needs investors willing to fork over US$6 to US$8 billion.

Supersonic jets look like the future but it's questionable whether they will ever enter commercial service

Exosonic is working with the US Air Force to develop a supersonic jet to transport the US vice president and cabinet-level officials. Courtesy Exosonic

“It is absolutely obtainable. Think about the investment required in relation to the size of opportunity,” Scholl explained. An investment in Boom, he says, is a billion-dollar investment for a multi-billion-dollar payoff.

Not everyone is so sure that business-class travellers will beat a path to a supersonic aeroplane. Noting the enormous improvements in premium cabins today, the wide seats and privacy pods, Aboulafia wonders if cutting flight time in half is worth the step down in comfort.

“Why are you rushing? Why are you paying such a big premium?” he asks. “You won’t have a lie-flat bed or that fantastic screen. You’re not going to have all that.”

Supersonic jets look like the future but it's questionable whether they will ever enter commercial service

While functional, the Concorde’s interior is barebones compared to today’s business-class cabins. Courtesy Jetlinercabins.com and Spiritofconcorde.com

Jennifer Coutts Clay, who was British Airway’s Controller of Corporate Identity when it was operating the SST, has photos of the Concorde interiors in her book, Jetliner Cabins. While not exactly spartan, she describes the environment as similar to today’s premium economy. But what she says is more important than seat size is VIP service and faster movement through the airport on arrival and departure.

“Who wants supersonic if we’re going to be stuck at the airport for 3 hours before and 2 hours after and the distress that you get in a normal airport? There is a need for a new handling procedure,” she says. This is her message to aircraft manufacturers.

Even so, SST developers say supersonic air travel is the inevitable next step. And even among sceptics, there is a sense of nostalgia for the Concorde-era’s age of innocence, what Rollie Vincent called a “time of infinite possibilities.” Innovation was wholeheartedly accepted with an obliviousness to the environmental consequences.

Supersonic jets look like the future but it's questionable whether they will ever enter commercial service

The first flight of Boom’s XB1 supersonic demonstrator is scheduled for early 2022. Courtesy Boom Supersonic

“Suddenly, we started embracing the notion so that we might have to take care of the planet,” Vincent says, adding that he thinks today’s aeronautical engineers are up to the task.

The proponents of SSTs claim to be conscious of the impact of their products, though, and solutions are a lot more complex than just switching to biofuels. SSTs will have to do what the Concorde did not—meet global fuel-efficiency standards. This could be difficult, according to the predictions of environmental scientists Anastasia Kharina and Tim MacDonald, who write in a study for the International Council on Clean Transportation that “commercial SSTs could be three times as fuel-intensive per passenger as comparable subsonic aircraft.”

“We’re making sure we’re not going to make the problem any worse than it is,” Exosonic’s Tie told me. “There are no answers today, but those are issues we want to work to make sure our aircraft is as environmentally friendly as possible.”

Supersonic jets look like the future but it's questionable whether they will ever enter commercial service

The interior of Exosonic’s Air Force 2 includes a situation room with advanced communications to handle world crises in real time. Courtesy Exosonic

When I asked a knowledgeable insider just how likely SSTs were to fly in the near future, he replied that one must strip away the aspirations and look only at the current capabilities. Then, he said, it is clear a revival of supersonic flight now is inconsistent with the huge challenge of climate change.

Supersonic flight “looks like it should be a thing,” Aboulafia told me. “Aviation insiders, writers, and the Richard Aboulafia’s say, ‘Wow, wouldn’t it be great if…’ but don’t scratch too deeply.”

That said, the companies that have raised millions and stake their brand names on faster flight, have scratched deeply enough to have seen supersonic’s potential to reinvent itself. Will it happen? Watch this space.

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Escape from the Ordinary

Ponant, the luxury cruise line known for its meticulously planned itineraries and high-end service, ups the ante on their upcoming European Journeys that promise an unrivalled exploration of the Mediterranean.

By Robb Report Team 19/02/2024

Not all cruises are created equally. Ponant, the luxury cruise line known for its meticulously planned itineraries and high-end service, ups the ante on their upcoming European Journeys that promise an unrivalled exploration of the Mediterranean. From the stunning Amalfi Coast to the pristine Greek Islands, the narrow Corinth Canal to the picturesque Dalmatian coast, historic Istanbul and beguiling Malaga, each destination is a unique adventure waiting to be unravelled. With Ponant, these aren’t just locations on a map; they’re experiences that come alive with the intimate knowledge and insight that their expert guides provide.

Ponant’s luxury cruises are renowned for their individuality, with no two journeys the same. This is not by chance. Itineraries are scrupulously designed to ensure that each passenger is left with a feeling of having embarked on a journey unlike any other.

Athens-Venise. Photograph by N.Matheus. ©PONANT

In 2025, their fleet will set sail for a combined 56 departures from March to October, exploring the dreamy locales of Greece and the Greek Islands, Malta, Italy (including Venice and Sicily), Croatia, France, Turkey, Spain and Portugal. These European Journeys offer an intimate encounter with the Mediterranean, its people and culture. As you cruise in luxury, you’ll dive deep into the heart of each destination, exploring historic sites, engaging with locals, sampling scrumptious cuisine and soaking in the vibrant atmospheres.

The company’s small, sustainable ships, which can accommodate from as few as 32 to 264 guests, have the exclusive ability to sail into ports inaccessible to larger cruise liners, affording privileged entry into some of the world’s most treasured alcoves. Picture sailing under London’s iconic Tower Bridge, crossing the Corinth Canal, or disembarking directly onto the sidewalk during ports of call in culturally rich cities like Lisbon, Barcelona, Nice and Venice, among others.

Photo by Tamar Sarkissian. ©PONANT

This singular closeness is further enriched by destination experts who unravel the tapestry of each locale’s history and traditions.

Onboard their luxurious ships, every guest is a VIP and treated to refined service and amenities akin to sailing on a private yacht. Whether at sea or ashore, their destination experts guarantee a fascinating experience, immersing you in the rich cultural and historical diversity of each region.

Indulge in the finest gastronomy at sea, inspired by none other than gastronomic virtuoso and Ponant partner, Alain Ducasse. Each voyage offers an expertly crafted dining experience, from a-la-carte meals with perfectly matched wines by the onboard Sommelier at dinner and lunch, to a French-inspired buffet breakfast, featuring all the favourite pastries, fresh bread and quality produce.

Chef Mickael Legrand. Photograph by NickRains. ©PONANT

For a more intimate discovery, consider Le Ponant, with its 16 high-class staterooms and suites—perfect for private charter—sailing eight exclusive routes between Greece and Croatia, offering guests unparalleled experiences both onboard and ashore. Ponant’s commitment to crafting unforgettable experiences extends beyond itineraries. Aboard their ships, the luxury is in every detail. Unwind in opulent cabins and suites, each offering private balconies and breathtaking views of the azure water and destinations beyond.

Ponant’s upcoming European Journeys are more than just cruises—they’re your passport to a world of cultural immersion, historical exploration, and unrivalled luxury. Don’t miss this opportunity to embark on the voyage of a lifetime: the Mediterranean is calling.

To book European 2025 sailings visit au.ponant.com; call 1300 737 178 (AU) or 0800 767 018 (NZ) or contact your preferred travel agent.

 

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Saint Laurent Just Opened a New Bookstore in Paris. Here’s a Look Inside.

The chic new outpost is located on the city’s arty Left Bank.

By Rachel Cormack 14/02/2024

Saint Laurent is taking over even more of Paris.

The French fashion house, which only just opened an epic new flagship on Champs-Élysées, has launched a chic new bookstore on the Left Bank. Located in the 7th arrondissement, Saint Laurent Babylone is a mecca of art, music, literature, and, of course, fashion.

The new outpost is a tribute to the connection that Yves Saint Laurent and partner Pierre Bergé had to the Rue Babylone, according to Women’s Wear Daily. (In 1970, the pair moved to a 6,500-square-foot duplex on the street.) It is also inspired by the house’s original ready-to-wear boutique, Saint Laurent Rive Guache, which opened in the 6th arrondissement in 1966.

The exposed concrete in contrasted by sleek marble accents. SAINT LAURENT

With a minimalist, art gallery-like aesthetic, the space is anchored by a hefty marble bench and large black shelves. The raw, textured concrete on the walls is juxtaposed by a soft blue and white rug, a wooden Pierre Jeanneret desk, and sleek Donald Judd stools.

The wares within Saint Laurent Babylone are the most important part, of course. Curated by Saint Laurent’s creative director Anthony Vaccarello, the collection includes everything from photos by British artist Rose Finn-Kelcey to books published by Saint Laurent itself. Some tomes on offer are so rare that white gloves are required for handling.

The store also offers an enviable selection of records that are no longer being pressed. Highlights include Sade’s Promise, Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love, and the debut studio album of electronic band Kraftwerk.

Other notable items on the shelves include Leica cameras, chocolates made in collaboration with pastry chef François Daubinet, prints by Juergen Teller, and brass skull sculptures. You’ll also find an assortment of YSL merch, including pens, lighters, and cups.

To top it off, Saint Laurent Babylone will double as an event space, hosting live music sessions, DJ sets, book readings, and author signings over the coming months.

Saint Laurent’s latest endeavor isn’t exactly surprising. With Vaccarello at the helm, the Kering-owned fashion house has entered new cultural realms. Only last year, the label established a film production company and debuted its first movie at Cannes.

The space is fitted with a Pierre Jeanneret desk and Donald Judd stools.
SAINT LAURENT

Perhaps Saint Laurent film reels and movie posters will soon be available at Babylone, too.

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The Best Watches at the Grammys, From Maluma’s Jacob & Co. to Jon Batiste’s Vacheron Constantin

Music’s biggest names sported some outstanding watches on Sunday evening.

By Rachel Mccormack 08/02/2024

Weird yet wonderful watches punctuated this year’s Grammys.

The woman of the moment, Taylor Swift, who made history by winning Album of the Year for an unprecedented fourth time, wore an unconventional Lorraine Schwartz choker watch to the annual awards ceremony on Sunday night. That was just the tip of the horological iceberg, though.

Colombian singer-songwriter Maluma elevated a classic Dolce & Gabbana suit with a dazzling Jacob & Co. Astronomia Tourbillon and a pair of custom, diamond-encrusted Bose earbuds, while American musician Jon Batiste topped off a stylish Versace ensemble with a sleek Vacheron Constantin Overseas Tourbillon. Not to be outdone, rapper Busta Rhymes busted out a rare Audemars Piguet Royal Oak for the occasion.

There was more understated wrist candy on display, too, such as Jack Antonoff’s Cartier Tank LC and Noah Kahan’s Panerai Luminor Quaranta BiTempo.

For the rest of the best watches we saw on the Grammys 2024 red carpet, read on.

Maluma: Jacob & Co. Astronomia Tourbillon

Maluma busted out some truly spectacular bling for this year’s Grammys. The Colombian singer-songwriter paired a classic Dolce & Gabbana suit with a dazzling Jacob & Co. Astronomia Tourbillon and a pair of custom, diamond-encrusted Bose earbuds. The sculptural wrist candy sees a four-arm movement floating in front of a breathtaking dial adorned with no less than 257 rubies. For added pizzaz, the lugs of the 18-karat rose-gold case are invisibly set with 80 baguette-cut white diamonds. Limited to just nine examples, the rarity is priced at $1.5 million.

Asake: Hublot Big Bang Essential Grey

Nigerian singer-songwriter Asake may not have won the Grammy for Best African Music Performance for “Amapiano,” but did wear a winning Hublot Big Bang at Sunday’s proceedings. Released in 2023, the Essential Grey model is made purely of titanium for a sleek, uniform feel. The 42 mm timepiece was limited to just 100 pieces and cost $37,000 a pop.

John Legend: Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Selfwinding

Multihyphenate John Legend wore a legendary Audemars Piguet with silky Saint Laurent on Sunday evening. The self-winding Royal Oak in question features a 34 mm black ceramic case, a black grande tapisserie dial, and striking pink gold accents. The watchmaker’s signature is also displayed in gold under the sapphire crystal. The piece will set you back $81,000.

Jon Batiste: Vacheron Constantin Overseas Tourbillon

American musician Jon Batiste received four nominations but no wins at this year’s Grammys. The “Butterfly” singer can take solace in the fact that he looked ultra-sharp in Versace and Vacheron Constantin. A tribute to the spirit of travel, the Overseas Tourbillon features a 42.5 mm white-gold case, a bezel set with 60 baguette-cut diamonds, and a blue dial featuring a dazzling tourbillon cage inspired by the Maltese cross. Price upon request, naturally.

Fireboy DML: Cartier Santos

Fireboy DML’s outfit was straight fire on Sunday night. The Nigerian singer paired an MCM wool jacket with a Van Cleef & Arpels bracelet, several iced-out rings, and a sleek Cartier Santos. The timepiece features a steel case, a graduated blue dial with steel sword-shaped hands, and a seven-sided crown with synthetic faceted blue spinel.

Noah Kahan: Panerai Luminor Quaranta BiTempo

Best New Artist nominee Noah Kahan wore one of Panerai’s best new watches to Sunday’s festivities. The Luminor Quaranta BiTempo features a 40 mm polished steel case and a black dial with luminous numerals and hour markers, a date display at 3 o’clock, and a small seconds subdial at 9 o’clock. The timepiece can be yours for $14,000.

Busta Rhymes: Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore

Legendary rapper Busta Rhymes busted out a chic Audemars Piguet for this year’s Grammys. The Royal Oak Offshore Chronograph in question is distinguished by a 42 mm rose-gold case and a matching pink méga tapisserie dial with an outer flange for the tachymeter scale. The face is fitted with three black subdials, large black numerals, and a black date display at 3 o’clock. You can expect to pay around $61,200 for the chronograph on the secondary market.

Jack Antonoff: Cartier Tank Louis Cartier

Producer of the year Jack Antonoff took to the red carpet with a stylish Cartier on his wrist. The Tank Louis Cartier in question appears to be a large 33.7 mm example that features an 18-carat rose-gold case, a silvered dial with black Roman numerals and blued steel hands, a beaded crown set with a sapphire cabochon, and a brown alligator strap. It’ll set you back $19,900.

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This 44-Foot Carbon-Fiber Speedboat Can Rocket to 177 KMPH

The new Mayla GT is available with a range of different powertrains, too.

By Rachel Cormack 03/02/2024

We knew the Mayla GT would be one of the most exciting boats at Boot Düsseldorf, but a deep dive into the specs shows it could be downright revolutionary.

The brainchild of German start-up Mayla, the 44-footer brings you the blistering performance of a speedboat and the luxe amenities of a motor yacht in one neat carbon-fiber package.

Inspired by the go-fast boats of the 1970s and ‘80s, the GT sports an angular, retro-futuristic body and the sleek lines of a rocket ship. Tipping the scales at just 4500 kilograms, the lightweight design features a deep-V hull with twin transversal steps and patented Petestep deflectors that help it slice through the waves with ease. In fact, Mayla says the deflectors decrease energy usage by up to 35 percent while ensuring a more efficient planing.

The range-topping GT can reach 185 kph. MAYLA

The GT is also capable of soaring at breakneck speeds, with the option of a gas, diesel, electric, or hybrid powertrain. The range-topping GTR-R model packs dual gas-powered engines that can churn out 3,100 hp for a top speed of more than 100 knots (185 kph). At the other, more sustainable end of the spectrum, the E-GT is fitted with an electric powertrain that can produce 2,200 horses for a max speed of 50 knots. The hybrid E-GTR pairs that same electric powertrain with a 294 kilowatt diesel engine for a top speed of 60 knots (111 km/h/69 mph). (The GT in the water at Boot sported two entry-level V8s good for 650 hp and a top speed of over 70 knots.)

The GT is suitable for more than just high-speed jaunts, of course. The multipurpose cockpit, which can accommodate up to eight passengers, features a sundeck with sliding loungers, a wet bar and BBQ, and a foldaway dining table for alfresco entertaining. Further toward the stern, a beach club sits atop a garage with an electric transom door.

The garage has an electric transom door. MAYLA

The GT is even fit for overnight stays. Below deck lies a cabin with a double bed, sofa, wardrobe, vanity, and en suite. You can also expect a high-tech entertainment system with TVs and premium audio.

As for price, the GT with the entry-level powertrain will cost between $2.7 million and $2.9, depending on the final configuration. (You can fine-tune the layout, hull color, and interiors, naturally.) Interested buyers can set up a sea trial with Mayla, with test-drives set to begin this spring in Europe.

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Red Centre

First Nations artist Shaun Daniel Allen joins forces with Chopard to create a timepiece inspired by the Australian landscape.

By Horacio Silva 29/01/2024

Shaun Daniel Allen does not look like your typical collaborator on a prestige watch. For one, Shal, as he prefers to be known (“There are many Shauns but only one Shal,” he explains), is more heavily tattooed than your average roadie. His youthful appearance, bad-boy ink and all, belies his 38 years and leads to a disconnect. 

He recounts being recognised on the street recently by a journalist, who, unable to remember his name, shouted out, “Chopard!” “I was with a friend,” Shal says, holding court in his apartment in Sydney’s inner city, “and he’s, like, ‘What the hell? Does that happen to you often?’”

Perhaps because of his body art, he reasons, “People don’t put me and Chopard together.” It’s not hard to understand the confusion, Shal adds; even he was taken aback when Chopard reached out to him about a potential collaboration a little more than a year ago. “When I first went in to see them, I was, like, I don’t know if I’m your guy. I’m not used to being in those rooms and having those conversations.”

He’ll have to adapt quickly to his new reality. Last month Chopard released Shal’s interpretation of the Swiss brand’s storied Alpine Eagle model, which in itself was a redo of the St. Moritz, the first watch creation by Karl-Friedrich Scheufele (now Co-President of Chopard) in the late 1970s. 

Previewed at Sydney’s About Time watch fair in September, to not insignificant interest, and officially known as the Alpine Eagle Sunburnt, the exclusive timepiece—issued in a limited edition of 20—arrives as a stainless steel 41 mm with a 60-hour power reserve and a burnt red dial that brings to mind the searing Outback sun. Its see-through caseback features one of Shal’s artworks painted on sapphire glass.

When the reputable Swiss luxury brand approached Shal, they already had the red dial—a nod to the rich ochre hues of the Australian soil at different times of the day and gradated so that the shades become darker around the edges—locked in as a lure for Australian customers.

Shal was charged with designing an artful caseback and collectible hand-painted sustainable wooden case. After presenting a handful of paintings, each with his signature abstract motifs that pertain to indigenous emblems, tattoos and music, both parties landed on a serpentine image that evoked the coursing of rivers. “I have been painting a lot of water in this last body of work and the image we chose refers to the rivers at home,” he says, alluding to formative years spent at his grandfather’s, just outside of Casino.

It says a lot about Chopard, Shal points out, that they wanted to donate to a charity of his choosing. “Like everything else on this project,” he explains, “they were open to listening and taking new ideas on board and it actually felt like a collaboration, like they weren’t steering me into any corner.”

In another nice touch, a portion of the proceeds from sales of the watch will go to funding programs of the Ngunya Jarjum Aboriginal Corporation—an organisation, established in 1995 by Bundjalung elders, whose work Shal saw firsthand after the 2022 eastern Australia flood disasters ravaged their area. “Seeing Ngunya Jarjum suffer from the floods,” he says, “and knowing how much they do for the community on Bundjalung Country was heartbreaking. I want to see Bundjalung families thriving and supported.”

So what’s it been like for this booster of Australian waterways to be swimming in the luxury end of the pool? “I’ve done a few things with brands,” he offers, referring to the Louis Vuitton project earlier this year at an art gallery in Brisbane, “but nothing on this scale. It’s definitely fancier than I’m used to but I’m not complaining.” Neither are watch aficionados.

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