Luxury Landmark

1976
Volume I, Number 1
The Robb Report, a publication devoted to advertisements for new and vintage Rolls-Royces, is launched in Atlanta. Within a few years, articles on cars, airplanes, homes, and collectibles will begin appearing regularly. The first editorial feature will be a commentary in the December 1979 issue called “The Gas Crisis: Some Off-beat Ways to Whip It.” (The suggestions do not include driving a vehicle that is more fuel-efficient than a Rolls-Royce.) Samuel J. Phillips will purchase the magazine in 1983 and move its base of operations to Acton, Mass., where it will remain in his family’s control for nearly two decades. During the Phillips era, The Robb Report will lose the definite article from its title and introduce what will become its three most popular annual features: the Ultimate Gift Guide (1984), Best of the Best (1989), and Car of the Year (1994). In 1999, the family will create Robb’s first spin-off, Showcase, which, under the ensuing ownership, will evolve into The Robb Report Collection. In 2001, William J. Curtis, a veteran magazine publisher and longtime Robb Report reader, will acquire the magazine and relocate its headquarters to Malibu, Calif. But the business will become bicoastal, as Curtis will retain the Acton office and open an office in Manhattan. Robb Report will become the flagship of Curtis’ new company, CurtCo Robb Media, which, through magazine launches and acquisitions, will grow to include more than a dozen titles by the beginning of 2006.

 

A Taste of Things to Come
shortly after 3 pm on May 24, in a small room at the InterContinental hotel in Paris, English wine merchant Steven Spurrier orchestrates a blind wine tasting that pits four white Burgundies against six California Chardonnays, and four Bordeaux Grand Crus against six California Cabernet Sauvignons. George Taber, a young American reporter on assignment for Time magazine, is the only journalist in attendance. Watching the Francophile judges—a panel of nine winemakers, wine critics, and sommeliers—perform the tastings at a bank of linen-covered tables, Taber witnesses a historic moment that, 29 years later, he will write about in Judgment of Paris (Scribner, 2005): “I had a list of the wines and realized that the judges were getting confused. They were identifying a French wine as a California one and vice versa. Judges at one end of the table were insisting that a particular wine was French, while those at the other were saying it was from California.” Ultimately, in a decision that shocks everyone—including the judges—the panel deems two California vintages best in show: the Château Montelena 1973 Chardonnay and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon. Time will run Taber’s story a month later, and California vintners will never look back.

Fine Job
Belgian fabric maker Scabal releases the first Super 120 cloth. Produced from merino wool fibers measuring a mere 18 microns, the material far exceeds the fineness of Super 100, which had been a menswear mainstay for 60 years. In the ensuing decades, mills and sheep breeders will continue to push the limits of fine wools; Scabal’s Summit Super 250, created in 2005, will become the first wool woven from fibers that measure about 12 microns.

Historic Link
With his acquisition and renovation of the Hotel Cipriani in Venice, Italy, shipping magnate James Sherwood launches Orient-Express Hotels. Sherwood’s future projects will include reviving the legendary Venice Simplon Orient-Express train and restoring such historic properties as the Copacabana Palace in Rio de Janeiro and the Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town, South Africa.

Taking Flight
A new era of flight dawns in October, when British Airways and Air France begin offering supersonic Concorde service from London to Bahrain and from Paris to Rio de Janeiro, respectively. Daily flights from the British and French capitals to New York City soon will follow, reducing travel time across the Atlantic from nearly eight hours to slightly more than three. Though less capacious than wide-body jets, the Concorde is far more comfortable; engine noise and turbulence are nonexistent at its 60,000-foot cruising altitude. While the plane reaches speeds as fast as Mach 2.04, or 1,490 mph, its passengers can sip Pol Roger Champagne and view the horizon curving beneath an indigo sky. (Click image to enlarge)

1977
Putting the M in BMW
BMW Motorsport unveils its exotic, high-powered M1 concept car. Featuring a mid-mounted engine borrowed from the 2002 Turbo of the early 1970s, the race-worthy road car will fail commercially (only 456 ever will sell), but it will mark the birth of a letter series that is to become the benchmark for all others. Neither AMG nor RS—nor any other alphabetic moniker—will carry as much prestige as BMW’s M, a label that will identify several generations of 3 and 5 Series sedans as discreetly modified, street-legal racecars.

Jar Opener
The elusive and publicity-shy Joel A. Rosenthal opens his Jar custom jewelry atelier in Paris to cater to his clientele of society doyennes on a by-appointment basis. In an almost painterly manner, Rosenthal works with gemstones to create such pieces as his Mogul Flower bangle of ruby, sapphire, tsavorite, and diamond flowers that wrap elegantly around an oxidized titanium disk. He will influence jewelry design in much the same way as Verdura and Suzanne Belperron did earlier in the century.

1978
Green Acres
Film producer Dino De Laurentiis buys the Knoll, a 10-acre property in Beverly Hills, for $2 million, setting a record for residential real estate in Los Angeles. Singer Kenny Rogers will purchase the Knoll from De Laurentiis and sell it in 1984 for $20 million to oil tycoon Marvin Davis. After Davis’ death in 2004, his widow, Barbara, will sell the estate for $46 million.

1979
Golf Meets Metal

Gary Adams, the son of a McHenry, Ill., golf professional, changes the sport forever by introducing his Pittsburgh Persimmon—the first driver made of lightweight steel—at the PGA Show in Orlando, Fla.

Wine Maestros
Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild form a joint venture to produce a Bordeaux-style wine at the Robert Mondavi Winery in California’s Napa Valley. Château Mouton Rothschild’s Lucien Sionneau will be the winemaker, and the first vintage will be available in 1983 under the name Opus One. In late 2004, Mondavi shareholders will vote to sell off their assets to Constellation Brands, but the Rothschild family will retain 50 percent ownership of the now-legendary Opus One label.

Well Beings
With their opening of Canyon Ranch in the Sonoran foothills outside of Tucson, Ariz., Mel and Enid Zuckerman initiate the destination-spa craze in America.

For Good Measure
Italian clothier Ermenegildo Zegna introduces menswear’s first made-to-measure program, which offers custom-made suits cut from preexisting sized patterns (as opposed to bespoke clothing made from a single pattern that is cut to an individual’s measurements). By 1996, nearly every American and European suitmaker will have its own made-to-measure program.

1980
Family Jewels
David Yurman, with his wife and business partner, Sybil, launches his eponymous jewelry collection. The Yurmans present unusual pairings of sterling silver with diamonds and other gemstones and insist that their pieces sell as complete collections under the David Yurman banner—a revolutionary concept in an industry without brand names and designer labels. Some 25 years later, Yurman’s will be one of several brands in the fine jewelry business, and his $500 million empire will comprise vast jewelry collections as well as watches, home accessories, and boutiques.

1981
Back in the Saddle
“The eagle soars alone,” so the slogan goes, now that senior executives at Harley-Davidson have bought back the Harley-Davidson Motor Co. from AMF, with which it had merged in 1969. The reacquisition will reverse a steady decline in both product quality and reputation, putting Harley-Davidson back on the road to success.

Polo Player
Ralph Lauren opens his European flagship store on London’s New Bond Street. His first international retail outlet serves as the prototype for his multibrand retail concept, which includes more than a dozen collections priced at various levels. Countless other designers and brands eventually will adopt this business model. In the coming years, Lauren will introduce his upscale men’s tailored clothing collections, Purple Label and Black Label. “Ralph Lauren has popularized American design on such a grand scale that he enabled others—from Timberland to the Gap, Façonnable to Tommy Hilfiger—to create businesses based on his extraordinary vision,” designer and fashion historian Alan Flusser will reflect years later. “By stimulating so much worldwide emulation, [Lauren] not only ensured the survival of what Brooks Brothers originally stood for, he also catapulted American fashion into worldwide prominence.”

1982
Popular Mechanics
Independent watchmaker Gerald Genta launches his line of complicated mechanical watches. The maverick’s venture is the first indication that this genre of timepieces, which lost its following a decade earlier with the onset of quartz, will enjoy a resurgence.

1983
Swatch Switch-Over
The Swiss watch industry is reeling as quartz technology from Japan and Hong Kong floods the market with accurate, inexpensive timepieces. Mounting debts force some 40 percent of Swiss manufacturers and suppliers into bankruptcy and threaten many others. In the midst of the crisis, banks holding shares in two of the largest watch consortia—SSIH, comprising Omega and Tissot, and ASUAG, an amalgamation of movements and parts suppliers—hire well-known industrial consultant Nicolas Hayek to assess how best to recover their threatened capital.

Hayek’s solution surprises everyone. Rather than dissolving the companies, he proposes merging them and placing himself at the helm. “I told them it was a problem of leadership and management of these companies,” Hayek will recall years later. “My research told me that Swiss-made still meant a great deal, but the watch companies needed a product strategy that was right for the current environment.”

Having invested much of his personal fortune in the two companies, Hayek takes the unusual step of announcing on Swiss national television his intentions to revitalize the country’s watch industry. “I decided to attack the Japanese not in the luxury segment, where the Swiss always did,” he later will reflect, “but at the lower end of the market, where the Swiss were at zero. That’s where I decided to launch Swatch.”

The technology behind Swatch will be the result of competition in the late 1970s between the Swiss and the Japanese to develop ultrathin quartz wristwatches. By eliminating and consolidating components, engineers at what will become Hayek’s consortium will make advances both in cost control and in quality, and the success of Swatch as a cultural phenomenon of the 1980s will reverberate in the highest echelons of 21st-century watchmaking.

By the turn of the century, with the profits from Swatch, Hayek will have gone on a buying spree and acquired many of the luxury brands that emerged as Swiss watchmaking began to accelerate in the early ’90s. SMH (Swiss Corporation for Microelectronics and Watchmaking Industries Ltd.), later renamed the Swatch Group, will have purchased Blancpain in 1992, Jaquet Droz in 1999, and both Glashütte Original and Breguet in 2000, the latter of which Hayek will manage personally. The group’s component production—including movements, cases, and other critical parts—will prove so vital to the industry that many companies will view Hayek’s position as overly dominant. But without Hayek and the success of the modestly priced Swatch, many of his competitors may not have businesses of their own to defend.

1984
Sound Wave

The compact disc may well be revolutionizing audio, but existing CD players sound harsh. To create the first high-end CD player, U.K.-based Meridian Audio upgrades the circuitry of an existing Philips design. The resulting product, the MCD, yields a more natural sound than that produced by its peers. Twenty years from now, many CD players will include technical advances that originated in the MCD.

Enter the Boutique
Former Studio 54 owner Ian Schrager debuts Morgans hotel on New York’s Madison Avenue. This “boutique hotel,” as Schrager coins it, features contemporary design and ambience, and is an instant hit that sets the hospitality industry abuzz. The Royalton, a collaborative effort between Schrager and designer Philippe Starck, will be next, and by 1995, with the opening of the Delano in Miami, the Morgans Hotel Group will have perfected its concept of the new urban resort. By the time that Schrager opens the Mondrian in Los Angeles and the Clift in San Francisco, hotels such as the Monaco, the SoHo Grand, and the Blakes will be modeling their properties on his. Even corporate chains such as Starwood, with its W brand, will follow suit.

1985
A Most Fashionable Ferrari
Car collectors grapple with the news that Ralph Lauren has paid $650,000 for a 1962 Ferrari GTO, the most ever for a vintage car. High prices such as this, predict some, will drive all but a handful out of the collecting game. Others disagree, arguing that car collecting is on the threshold of a new age of connoisseurship, with the acquisition, restoration, and preservation of vintage automobiles becoming an art unto itself. At the very least, they say, the higher prices will ensure that these cars are preserved so that ensuing generations can enjoy and appreciate them. Who knows? It may not be too long before an art museum hosts a classic car exhibit.

True Performer
Suzuki introduces what is essentially a street-legal racebike, the GSX-R750G. The motorcycle, which will come to be known as the first sportbike, is lightweight and, with its short 57.3-inch wheelbase (future wheelbases will be shorter still), represents Suzuki’s daring to put performance before comfort and convenience. The bike will arrive on U.S. shores a year from now.

 

1986
Time for the Tourbillon
Audemars Piguet releases the first ultraslim, self-winding tourbillon wristwatch with a movement measuring only 4.8 millimeters in height. This feat of microengineering lays the foundation for what will become the most popular high complication among collectors. 

Living the Fractional High Life
Richard Santulli, owner of the aircraft charter company Executive Jet, introduces the world to fractional jet ownership. With eight brand-new Citation S/IIs, the former mathematician and Goldman Sachs principal launches an auxiliary branch of Executive Jet called NetJets, through which he sells ownership of those aircraft in increments starting at a one-sixteenth interest worth 50 hours of flying time per year. The program—which requires a one-time asset purchase and a monthly fee, not including fuel costs—provides travelers with the conveniences of jet ownership without the responsibilities of hiring and training a flight crew, scheduling flights, or maintaining the aircraft. In 2002, Executive Jet will change its name to NetJets, indicating that the fractional program has become the company’s primary focus, but this initial timeshare-for-jets concept will not take off immediately.
 
Not until the 1990s, when the dot.com boom will produce legions of instant millionaires, will NetJets prove itself a marketable alternative to commercial and charter flying. In 1993, NetJets will add 20 midsize-cabin Hawker 1000 jets to its fleet (at the time, the world’s largest business jet purchase), and in 1998, investment guru Warren Buffett, a satisfied NetJets customer himself, will purchase Executive Jet for $725 million. That same year, Buffett and Santulli (who will be named Executive Jet’s CEO and chairman) will announce the purchase of 161 new business jets valued at more than $3 billion.

Demand for private aviation will increase in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, spawning competition from other fractional providers and from so-called flight-card programs, which require less of a financial commitment from travelers while offering the benefits of private aviation. However, NetJets will continue to dominate the fractional market, and by 2005 it will own more than 550 aircraft.

1987
That’s Entertainment
A decade or so from now, home theater will be defined as the combination of two things: a large-screen TV and a surround-sound system. The former has been with us since the early 1980s, and the latter is fast becoming mainstream technology with the introduction this year of NEC’s PLD-910, the first surround-sound processor to use Dolby’s Pro Logic circuitry. Although other surround-sound formats existed previously, Pro Logic is establishing a standard of excellence that both the electronics industry and Hollywood can endorse, and that eventually will bring film-quality surround sound to millions of homes. Pro Logic–compatible movies are becoming available on VHS and laser disc (soon there will be thousands of titles on the market), and every major speaker manufacturer has begun building the new center speaker and surround speakers that Pro Logic demands.

That’s Entertainment II
At some point during the next 10 or 15 years, it will have become apparent that Theo Kalomirakis is to custom home theater what Louis Armstrong is to jazz: practically the inventor of the art form. But at present, the longtime cinephile and magazine art director is just getting warmed up. He has decided to build a small-scale re-creation of the grand theaters of yesteryear in the basement of his Brooklyn brownstone. Kalomirakis utilizes the nascent technologies of video projection and surround sound, and upon completion, the Roxy, as Kalomirakis dubs his creation, incorporates a JBL professional speaker system, a Barco video projector, and even luxuries such as a motorized curtain and a popcorn machine. The theater’s retro styling and incredible picture soon will attract the attention of the New York City media and, as a result, bring Kalomirakis his first commissions as a home theater designer.

1988
A New Frontier
Hotelier Adrian Zecha delights discriminating travelers with the opening of Amanpuri in Phuket, Thailand. The resort, which consists of Thai-style pavilions and villas on a coconut plantation overlooking the Andaman Sea, is the first high-end hotel in this Southeast Asian paradise. Other Amanresorts properties—18 (and counting) by 2005—will follow in its pioneering footsteps, becoming the first luxury resorts in countries such as Bhutan, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka.

 

Booker’s Batch
More than three decades after Maker’s Mark began producing small-batch bourbon, Jim Beam releases Booker’s Bourbon, the first of its limited-production bourbons, and helps transform the perception of America’s native spirit from antiquated to sophisticated. The bourbon comes from the personal stash that master distiller Frederick Booker Noe Jr. (1929–2004), grandson of company founder Jim Beam, has stored in the Beam warehouse, in a location that offers the perfect combination of light, heat, and humidity for aging whiskey. Each Christmas season, Noe—known to friends as Booker—would bottle some of his prized bourbon straight from the barrel, unfiltered and uncut, and present it as gifts. When the distillery eventually markets the bourbon, it finds an overwhelming demand for the whiskey. The success of the offering will prompt Jim Beam, in 1992, to release three other limited-production, longer-aged bourbons: 100-proof Knob Creek, 80-proof Basil Hayden, and 107-proof Baker’s.

1989
The Roadster Reborn
The most famous roadsters have come from dimly lit garages in England—until now. The small Japanese automaker Mazda has produced on its state-of-the-art assembly line the Miata MX-5, which, while it does not pump hundreds of horsepower, shows drivers the sheer pleasure involved in simply turning a steering wheel. By late 2005, the Miata will have become a worldwide success, and the BMW Z3, Mercedes-Benz SLK, Porsche Boxster, and Pontiac Solstice all will owe their existences to the mini but mighty 4-cylinder roadster. 

From Economy to Luxury
What are we to make of the Lexus, Toyota’s luxury marque that has just debuted at the Detroit Auto Show in January? How can a company best known for economy cars expect to compete with Cadillac and Lincoln, automakers with long and proud traditions? But Lexus says it plans to sell a complete luxury experience, from purchase to maintenance. Instead of showrooms with salesmen behind desks, there will be lounges where salesmen and buyers relax on leather chairs and couches set around coffee tables. When owners drive into the service area, a technician will glance at the license plate, enter the number into a computer, and within seconds will see the car’s entire service history and—no less importantly—greet the owner by name. The auto industry will watch and wait to see if car buyers notice these details.

Power House
LVMH formed back in 1986 with the merger of family-owned brands Louis Vuitton and Moët Hennessy. Years of power struggles over who would control and lead this mighty corporate entity ensued. But now, in one of the nastiest takeover bids in French history, Bernard Arnault has succeeded in acquiring 35 percent of the company’s stock and installing himself as chairman. Once in control, Arnault will fold his fashion brands—Christian Dior, Celine, and Christian Lacroix—into the company to form the world’s preeminent luxury conglomerate. The clout and economies of scale of the composite structure will spawn competition—Pinault-Printemps-Redoute (PPR), Marzotto SpA, Prada Holding NV, Compagnie Financière Richemont—and help change the fashion world from a glamour business focused on the creativity of its star visionaries into an industry guided by global branding. In this market, designer names will serve as little more than capital to sell everything from clothing and cologne to cocktail shakers, and LVMH will reign by controlling the largest number of high-quality labels. By late 2005, it will possess 50 prestige brands producing wines and spirits, fashion and leather goods, perfumes and cosmetics, and watches and jewelry. 

 

1990
Top of the Shops
Bergdorf Goodman men opens its three-story emporium in the former F.A.O. Schwarz toy store, across the street from the main Bergdorf establishment at Fifth Avenue and 58th Street in New York City. The men’s store belies the conservatism of the era by importing fine Italian-made clothing and offering extravagant services such as an in-house barber, a business center, and a putting green manned by a resident golf pro. The emporium will become a testing ground for innovative designers and new products and an industry leader with its exclusive private-label collections.

1992
Igniting the Boom
In secrecy and under the guidance of Carlos Fuente and his son, Carlos Fuente Jr., the Arturo Fuente Cigar Co. plants wrapper seeds in a remote section of the Dominican Republic’s Cibao Valley. Their intention is to produce the country’s first puro: a cigar in which the wrapper, binder, and filler all have been grown in the same country. The Fuente Co. calls its experiment Project X, from which the cigar’s name, Fuente Fuente OpusX, eventually will derive. (The Fuente Fuente in the moniker is a reference to the father and son.) Its release in 1995—and the ensuing hysteria that will have West Coast cigar enthusiasts flying to the East Coast just to obtain a handful of the cigars—will prompt other companies to create their own premium brands and thereby fuel the cigar boom of the mid-1990s. 

 

Snake Charmer
The Dodge Viper first slithers among us. Even the most forgiving of critics see it as a loud, uncouth, misassembled brute that shows every flaw of a preproduction prototype. Its convertible lid is a toupee that blows off at high speeds. Drivers in shorts risk calf burns from its external, unshielded stovepipe exhausts. The car’s clutch and brake pedals can cause shin splints, and its handling is like that of a truck—perhaps because its 400 hp V-10 engine derives from one. But we love it, coarseness and all, and the car will continue to reject the sophistry of traction controls through three generations. The Viper’s exhausts, however, will move inboard, its pedals will become adjustable, its suspension and steering will soften, and its interior will approach the driver-friendliness of, well, a Hummer. The 2006 SRT-10, in particular, will charm enthusiasts, generating 510 hp, winning at Le Mans, and proving to be the $85,000 darling of aftermarket tweakers. 

As Puck Would Have It
Real estate developer Sheldon Gordon partners with Las Vegas’ Caesars Palace to open a shopping mall, located within the hotel, that includes a few decent restaurants and one standout: a branch of chef Wolfgang Puck’s Spago. Within a few weeks of Spago Las Vegas’ December debut, the city’s tourists and conventioneers will confirm that they are hungry for more than bargain buffets. By 2005, Puck will have four additional outposts in the city—Chinois, Postrio, Trattoria del Lupo, and the Wolfgang Puck Bar and Grill—and he will have laid the groundwork for a culinary flowering in the desert. Las Vegas diners will be selecting from among restaurants by Thomas Keller (Bouchon, in the Venetian), Alain Ducasse (Mix, in Mandalay Bay), Daniel Boulud (Daniel Boulud Brasserie, at Wynn Las Vegas), Jean-Georges Vongerichten (Prime, at Bellagio), and others. And in October of that year, Las Vegas—not New York, not San Francisco, but Las Vegas—will welcome America’s first Joël Robuchon restaurant, Joël Robuchon at the Mansion, in the MGM Grand.

 

Writing on the Wall
Montblanc presents the Lorenzo de Medici fountain pen, the company’s first Patron of the Arts limited edition, and thus catapults writing instruments into the realm of contemporary collectibles. The sterling silver Medici, an homage to the 15th-century Florentine ruler for whom it is named, also marks the inception of the Montblanc de la Culture Award, which honors living patrons of the arts worldwide. From this point on, the company annually will bestow this award and introduce a limited-edition pen commemorating a historical patron in a series of 4,810 pieces; a more precious variation will be limited to 888 pieces. This limited-edition concept soon will permeate the entire industry, and competing pen companies will present their own exclusive collections.

 

1993
Remaking a Marque

Fiat acquires Maserati from Alejandro de Tomaso and, together with Ferrari, begins investing capital in the ailing Italian brand. The outcomes of this effort, the GT model (coupe and Spyder) and the sedan, both of which coachbuilder Pininfarina will design, will mark Maserati’s swift resurgence on the world market.

 

True Brit
Long live Aston Martin. Prosperity indeed is up ahead for the faltering marque—only 42 cars sold last year—now that the DB7 has made its debut at the Geneva auto show. The supercar owes its existence to the tutelage and deep pockets of the Ford Motor Co., which took the corporate reins in 1988. Although the assembly processes for the DB7 hail from the New World, Scotsman Ian Callum has penned the car’s modern musculature, and the bespoke interior remains proudly, painstakingly British. Aston Martin’s Bloxham factory, the same plant that manufactured Jaguar’s XJ220, initially will build more than 700 of the supercharged 6-cylinders per year. Annual production later will surpass 1,000 vehicles with the introduction of the V-12. Eventually, owing entirely to the DB7’s success, Aston Martin will relocate to a state-of-the-art facility in Gaydon, where the company will spawn supercars into the next millennium. 

1994
Hello, Keller
Thomas Keller purchases the French Laundry, a restaurant in Yountville, Calif., from Don and Sally Schmidt, and takes over as chef. Keller does not change the establishment’s name, but the cuisine that he serves there will transform American fine dining.

 

Air-Cooled Classic
Porsche introduces the 993, the ultimate expression of the 911, a year ahead of the vehicle’s U.S. debut. The car’s 2-liter, flat-6, air-cooled engine, which appeared first in the then-all-new 911 of 1964, eventually will be retired, along with the 993, in 1998. By that time, displacement will have grown to 3.6 liters and horsepower to 282.

 

1996
Flame Thrower
Hearts on Fire presents the first branded diamond, carving out a niche in what hitherto had been a commodity industry. Entrepreneur Glenn Rothman spent 18 months working with Belgian cutter Van Blerk to develop the distinctive diamond cut that, when viewed from the bottom with a loupe, reveals eight heart-shaped reflections. Rothman markets the stone as a distinguishable brand to create consumer demand and justify premium pricing. In the ensuing years, dozens of branded diamonds will enter the market seeking to imitate his successful strategy.

1997
For Better or Worse
Poor Marla Maples. She thought the prenuptial agreement that she signed four years ago, in 1993, was a contract for eternal bliss, but when husband Donald Trump files for divorce in May, she discovers that it is instead a kind of lease with an option to buy. The prenup states that if their marriage dissolves within five years, her alimony and child support will be only a fraction of what they would have been had the union lasted longer. Ipso facto, the prenup is an incentive for Trump to call it quits. Because of the publicity that will surround the Trump-Maples split, prenups, though certainly not new, suddenly will become fashionable.

 

A Major Player
Sony introduces the first high-end DVD player, the DVP-7000. The digital video disc (which later will be redubbed the digital versatile disc) catapults the home theater revolution and paves the way for HDTV and other advances in digital home entertainment. With features such as 10-bit video processing, dual laser pickups for CD and DVD, and the first component video outputs, the DVP-7000 is the most coveted player in the burgeoning market.

1998
Big Time

Following its acquisition by Compagnie Financière Richemont SA, Officine Panerai launches as an international brand after decades as a small Italian watchmaker best known for supplying the Italian navy. Its massive Italian commando watches cause a sensation, prompting virtually all prestige brands to size up their designs.

 

Continental Shift
Volkswagen buys Bentley and promises to invest more than $1.5 billion in the bolstering and betterment of the ailing marque. Dr. Ferdinand Piech, head of Volkswagen (and a grandson of Dr. Ferdinand Porsche himself), will enlist Belgian designer Dirk van Braeckel from Audi and Skoda to draw the new Bentley, the parameters for which he will clearly convey: The new car must live up to the quality and luxury standards of Bentley, but it also must be lighter, smaller, faster, and less expensive than previous models. Through the employment of well-proven power trains, chassis, and suspensions from Audi and Volkswagen, Piech will introduce in 2003 the world’s fastest four-seater: the 550 hp, 190 mph Bentley Continental GT. The $150,000 vehicle will be joined in the Bentley lineup by an Arnage Drophead Coupe and, in 2005, the Bentley Flying Spur, a stretched four-door based on the Continental GT. But the Continental will prove to be Bentley’s life-support machine. Critics will praise it unanimously, Robb Report will name it the 2004 Car of the Year, and Bentley will sell 6,000 cars worldwide that same year, most of them Continental GTs. In 2005, the manufacturer will project its sales to be close to 8,000 cars, which will outpace Rolls-Royce 10 to one. 

1999
Links to the Old World

After three years of searching for the perfect site, Recycled Paper Greetings owner Mike Keiser opens his Bandon Dunes golf course on a remote coastal stretch in southern Oregon. The course, designed by Scottish architect David McLay Kidd, is the first true links course in the United States, and its setting amid dunes, gorse, and heather resembles that of the best tracks from the British Isles. Keiser soon will open a hotel and two additional courses to create a resort that will rival Pebble Beach and Pinehurst as the country’s premier golf destination.

2000
Group Dynamics
Compagnie Financière Richemont SA purchases controlling interest in A. Lange & Söhne, IWC, and Jaeger-LeCoultre for the astounding price of $1.84 billion. The move is the most dramatic yet in a wave of consolidation that is sweeping the industry and that will leave just a handful of independently owned watch companies in Switzerland. At Richemont and rivals LVMH and Swatch Group, high-watchmaking capabilities will become assets to be developed and protected. Manufactures, companies that make their own movements, will prove to be as prized by these conglomerates as they will be by collectors, as many brands that were once content to rely on outside suppliers will strive to develop their own movement-making capabilities. Meanwhile, in stark contrast to the conglomerates, independent artisan watchmakers such as F.P. Journe and Michel Parmigiani are beginning to cultivate a loyal collector following with complicated pieces that reflect their personal styles—an attribute often lacking in models from the leading industrial brands. 

 

Star-Studded Premiere
Alain Ducasse, the world’s only possessor of six Michelin stars (three for the Plaza Athénée in Paris and three for Le Louis XV in Monaco) establishes a new standard for fine dining in America when, in June, he opens his eponymous restaurant at the Essex House in New York. Ducasse’s staff prepares several of the restaurant’s dishes on a 3,000-pound Molteni stove, and his flourishes on the floor include handbag stools, obscure cutlery, plants presented tableside for infusions, and fountain pens for signing the check. In late 2005, Alain Ducasse at the Essex House will garner three stars in Michelin’s inaugural guide to New York City, making Ducasse the only person with three different restaurants honored with the highest ranking.

2001
Driving Force
General Motors replaces the Catera with the rear-wheel-drive CTS, a boldly designed sport sedan that breathes new life into Cadillac. 

 

Space Cowboys
The doors to space tourism officially open when U.S. businessman Dennis Tito pays a reported $20 million for his April 28 flight to the International Space Station. By 2005, Space Adventures, the company that sends Tito to the ISS, will promise to offer a mission around the moon within five years, and entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson will announce that a five-to-eight-passenger vehicle will commence spaceflights ($200,000 per ticket) in 2008.

Ice Palace
British diamond dealer Graff opens its first U.S. store, on New York City’s Madison Avenue. The establishment’s atypical windowed facade flaunts a remarkable selection of diamonds, each labeled with its carat weight and quality, and provides passersby with a view of the boutique’s interior. Until now, high-end jewelry houses, such as Harry Winston and Van Cleef & Arpels, had displayed only limited amounts of merchandise and concealed their interiors, revealing them only to those with the courage to walk past an intimidating guard at the door. By late 2005, Graff will have stores in Palm Beach, Chicago, and Las Vegas, as well as openings scheduled for Rodeo Drive and Bal Harbour. 

 

2002
Shipping News
On its maiden voyage from Oslo in March, The World, a 43,000-ton vessel longer than two football fields, makes history as the first-ever residential cruise ship. The seaborne behemoth is the brainchild of Knut Kloster Jr., former chairman of Royal Viking and Norwegian Cruise Lines, and is designed to combine a private yacht experience with that of a private residential community. It includes 165 privately owned condominiums, four restaurants, a cigar lounge, a putting green with real grass (and biodegradable balls), a gourmet market, a dry cleaner, a library, a jeweler, and secretarial and housekeeping services. For residents, however, the voyager’s primary allure is that it enables them to travel throughout the world without ever having to pack and unpack. By 2005, at least three other companies will jump on board with the floating-community concept and announce plans to launch their own vessels.

 

2003
Clipping Their Wings

At London’s Heathrow Airport in October, three British Airways Concordes land within five minutes of each other, eliciting tears from some onlookers and passengers who recognize that this event marks the end of supersonic airline travel. Yet the Concorde’s time was past before it had begun—or perhaps its era had started too soon, before there was sufficient demand for such speedy travel. From the outset, only government subsidies had kept the sleek, faster-than-the-speed-of-sound Concordes aloft. In the wake of the July 2000 Air France crash in Paris and then the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the planes had been flying with four empty seats for every one that was occupied. On the occasion of the final Concorde flight, Robb Report observes, “Future generations of travelers . . . may only wonder what it was like to travel at twice the speed of sound, crossing from the New World to the Old and back again the same day. Or what it was like to arrive in New York an hour before departure from London or Paris.” Those who did fly aboard the Concorde can assure them that it was great while it lasted.

Fashion Sense
From Chanel comes Collection Privée, an haute joaillerie line based on Coco Chanel’s diamond jewelry collection from 1932. Each year henceforth, Chanel will introduce pieces that rival anything from the premier jewelry houses, making it the only fashion house to earn credibility and success in high jewels.

2004
Noble Vessel

In January, Cunard’s Queen Mary 2, the first new ocean liner of the 21st century and the first to debut since the launch of Queen Elizabeth 2 in 1969, makes its maiden voyage, cruising from Southampton, England, to Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

 

Setright Drives On
British automotive journalist L.J.K. Setright’s Drive On! A Social History of the Motor Car arrives in bookstores in March. The coffee-table treatise, which draws on Setright’s more than 40 years of experience writing for publications such as Car and Driver and the British magazine Car, examines more than 100 years of the automobile and delineates the world-changing causes and effects—social, scientific, economic, and political—of the motorcar and the industry it has spawned. The tome will prove the swan song of Setright, who will pass away the following year.

 

Steel Palace
Indian businessman Lakshmi Mittal, whose company Mittal Steel is the world’s largest steel conglomerate, sets an international record for residential real estate when he pays £70 million ($125 million) for a 12-bedroom mansion with a 20-car garage in London’s Kensington Palace Gardens.

 

A Gastronomic Quartet
The world’s most spectacular food court welcomes patrons to its first two establishments—Thomas Keller’s Per Se and Masa Takayama’s Masa—in February in New York’s Time Warner Center. Soon, Jean-George Vongerichten’s V steak house and Gray Kunz’s Café Gray will join them. A fifth restaurant, planned by Charlie Trotter, will fail to materialize. 

 

Reborn in the USA
The sporty, British-built, $40,000 Lotus Elise makes its U.S. debut, promising to be the savior of Lotus Cars, which has been largely purposeless and writhing since its founder, Colin Chapman, died in 1982. As a performer that returns spunk and exhilaration to motoring, the Elise has no modern equal. Lotus will sell 6,000 examples the following year. 

 

2005
Star Struck
Michelin, which has been publishing its ratings of European restaurants and hotels for the past 105 years, brings its guide to New York City for the first time, in November. Thus, the question now on the lips of every Manhattanite making dinner plans is “How many stars does the place have?” Michelin inspectors claim they visited 1,200 establishments before deciding on the 50 hotels and 500 restaurants reviewed in the New York edition. This may prompt diners to ask another question: Which standards did the judges apply, American or French? The inspectors judge everything, from the greeting at the door to the presentation of the check. Michelin reserves its accolades for the rarefied few; the 2004 guide to Paris, for instance, lists 399 restaurants, only 77 of which received any stars and only 10 of which earned the top rating of three stars. Those New York restaurateurs that Michelin has ignored may be disappointed, but in France, at least, it is far, far worse to lose a star than never to have received one.

 

Contributors: Gregory Anderson, James Y. Bartlett, Brent Butterworth, Laura Camuti, Paul Dean, Scott Goetz, Richard Carleton Hacker, Herb Harris, Patricia Harris, William Kissel, Drew Limsky, David Lyon, James D. Malcolmson, Jill Newman, Nancy Olson, Robert Ross, Jack Smith, Sheila Gibson Stoodley, Jessica Taylor, Mike Wood

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