We all know the quote by Henry Royce: “Strive for perfection in everything we do. Take the best that exists and make it better. When it doesn’t exist, create it. Accept nothing nearly right or good enough.” These words are emblazoned across a wall in The Founders Room at the Park Hotel Vitznau on the bank of Lake Lucerne in Switzerland. Rolls-Royce chose one of the most exclusive locations in the world for the launch of the eighth-generation of its iconic Phantom.
The hotel is well-known among the world’s elite, with its not one, but two Michelin Star restaurants. There are six cellars, housing more than 38 000 bottles of wine, a standard of service that is almost unparalleled, and an indispensable level of discretion for its guests.
And, let’s be honest, since the first Phantom debuted in 1925, many of its owners have sought discretion. But at the top of the list of reasons to own a Phantom is the promise of possessing the ultimate luxury status symbol. So highly respected is the Rolls-Royce brand that many luxury houses around the world like to refer to their products as the “Rolls-Royce of”. Richard Carter, the brand’s global director of communications, refers to it as: “the best that humankind can do right now in terms of luxury.” We have no reason to argue. In fact, after spending a couple of days being chauffeured and driving the new model I am inclined to describe it as flawless.
It will not appeal to everyone, of course. Luxury brands are designed to suit different tastes, but over the decades Rolls-Royce has transformed itself from a brand that makes cars the world’s top luxury brand. There are rivals, including Bentley and Mercedes’ Maybach, but there can be only one Rolls-Royce. And the Phantom sits at the very top.
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Design director Giles Taylor says the new Phantom features a classical essence that underpins the design of the whole car. That essence runs from the iconic Pantheon grille to the 1920s-inspired rear tail. New LED headlights with laser main beams, narrower than the previous generation, yet intricately designed, flank the grille. The new Phantom has a stronger and more dynamic look up front than before, with Taylor describing the overall design as having a “sense of engineered permanence”.
The exterior design is not the main attraction though. This honour belongs to the interior, where wealthy owners get to relax in the ultimate level of comfort and serenity. Here you find a piece of design that Taylor is extremely proud of. He refers to it as The Gallery, a piece of artwork that spans a large portion of the dashboard behind glass.
It takes bespoke to a whole new level, with the option to select from existing designs or commission your own, featuring your favourite artist, or even a canvas unique to you. At the launch we were conveyed (driven seems like such a crass word when travelling in a Rolls) in models featuring galleries by artists including Liang Yuanwei, Thorsten Franck, and fabric creator Helen Amy Murray.
As well as the Gallery, there are almost limitless ways in which to make a Phantom your own, from the exterior colour choices to the interior materials and equipment. There is a standard (again, not a word we should use for a Rolls) version at 5.76m long and an extended wheelbase at 5.98m. Opt for the latter if you have a full-time chauffeur, and you can have reclining rear seats fitted with the best leather, and forget there is a world outside your Phantom.
But there is a world, and for the Phantom owner it is a world where only the best will do. We experienced this world when we visited bespoke watchmaker, Ochs und Junior. This small company, founded in 2006 by Beat Weinmann and Ludwig Oechslin, makes only 130 watches every year. Each one takes about 10 months to create.
Oechslin is one of the most well-known people in the international watch industry, and is also curator of the Musée International d’Horlogerie. He is a quiet chap, who loves design and innovation. Master watchmaker Sandra Fluck assembles the intricate components for the perpetual calendar watches. We even had a go ourselves, and I must tell you that I came away with enormous respect for the attention to detail and steady hand that Fluck has hour after hour, day after day.
The aim of the company is to “share the highest level of innovation with the smallest number of people”, CEO Weinmann told us. Not surprisingly, the watches are exquisite, but at the same time simple and elegant. There are no numbers on the faces: instead, the perpetual calendar is marked by a series of dots cut from the watch face that are used to represent the date.
Clients can choose from selected designs or work on their own designs together with Weinmann and his team. One client even used a piece of steel from the US aircraft carrier USS Dwight D Eisenhower for the face. That undoubtedly cost more than the base price of R83 000, with standard prices rising to R332 000, although this does include a high level of customisation.
Equally as quiet as the watchmakers’ workshop is the interior of the Phantom. One of the clearest briefs from the CEO of Rolls-Royce, Torsten Müller-Ötvös, to the engineering team was to “make sure it is the most silent vehicle in the world”. According to Philip Koehn, head of engineering, the interior is three to six decibels quieter than its nearest competitor; perhaps not surprising, given that there is 130kg of sound insulation in the vehicle.
That includes the unique tyres, which have an inner layer of sound insulation to reduce road noise. The Phantom also rides on bigger air springs, which allows it to glide effortlessly, and, provided you dab the brakes slightly to prepare them, it will come to an almost unnerving stop without any sign of the Spirit of Ecstasy on the grille dipping.
That sensation of gliding is as important on the water as it is on the road, particularly if you have a lake as beautiful as Lake Zurich on your doorstep. When you think about luxury motorboats, the first name that usually comes to mind is Riva, but we visited Pedrazzini, a bespoke boatbuilder that has been around since 1914, when its founder Augusto Pedrazzini moved from Lake Como in Italy to the banks of Lake Zurich.
Here every boat is handcrafted from the finest materials, including mahogany, Burmese teak, and pine. “We never use other lightweight materials,” Merens Jürg told us. “It’s classic, classic boatbuilding.” That was evident when we saw the frames of these exquisite boats coming together. The frame and hull alone take thousands of hours to build, with the whole boat taking about 10 months. There are only three basic designs: the Capri, Vivale, and Special, with the craftspeople only ever working on one boat at a time. Only six to seven boats are built each year, and, in its entire history, the company has produced only 1,163 boats, with pricing starting from just less than R5-million each.
Heading out onto Lake Zurich with Jürg at the helm was a very special experience. The boat was smooth and refined, with a definite feeling of elegance, as it cruised across the famous lake. There was very little drama, even when Jürg increased the power. This was lake cruising at its most perfect, surrounded by the very best in materials and craftsmanship.
In a world where technology is moving ever faster, and materials are becoming more hi-tech, it was wonderful to see and experience a world where traditional craftsmanship is not only at the core of the Pedrazzini philosophy, but also the desires of those who seek the very best.
It is an elevated level of luxury, one dominated by expertise and refinement, particularly notable in the new Phantom. But while it is all about the ultimate in luxury, it is not about showing off. It is not ostentatious. Yes it is expensive — very expensive — but it is all about that sense of theatre, of the car being a reward for its owner’s success. It is about being the best: after all, who wants to settle for simply nearly right or good enough?