BY JAMES CAMPBELL
Since I was a boy I have always yearned for a Riva launch. The Italian sleekness, the polished wood, the cutting-edge design – Riva makes simply mouth-watering launches, which, in my youth, were always adorned by Sophia Lauren or Brigitte Bardot (pictured below), to make them even more jaw-dropping.
The Riva boatyard was established in 1842 on Lake Iseo, in Sarnico, Italy. It was a sudden and devastating storm – which irreversibly damaged the boats of the local fishermen, who were left shocked and boatless – that persuaded a young shipbuilder and craftsman to repair most of the crafts, thus winning the trust of the locals.
Pietro Riva rapidly gained great respect and recognition; his boatyard flourished also thanks to the far-sightedness of Ernesto Riva, who succeeded Pietro and introduced internal combustion engines on Riva boats.
After World War I, Serafino Riva gave Riva products their final push and turned the boatyard’s precious crafts into a global brand, allowing it to take a step into the history of glamour: production steered from transportation to power boating, which at the time was still dawning.
Between the 1920s and the 1930s Riva, through its racing yachts, collected many records and victories in national and international competitions.
The 1950s were the years of Carlo Riva, who had been driven by boundless passion for boats and the family business since he was a child. Riva had by then become the global badge of elegance, status and perfection. Selected materials of the highest quality, a painstaking care for the tiniest details, unparalleled, long-standing expertise and craftsmanship, Riva’s creations became the object of desire for the aristocracy, award winning athletes, successful businessmen and movie stars.
Even today, these jewels of the waters preserve intact all the charm of the 1950’s – movie stars wearing bikinis and glamorous sunshades, celebrity love stories, luxury and timeless elegance. So much so – especially in Italy – that Fiat recently produced the Fiat 500 with a Riva dash.
In the decade of the Italian industrial revolution, dominated by the myth of speed and racing cars, l’Ingegnere, as Carlo Riva is called, sensed the importance of Italian engineering and created a series of wooden yachts characterised by unique, unmistakable design features. One of them was the Ariston, of which Carlo Riva said “it was designed with love, born pure and strong like a pedigree horse. Unforgettable! It was my Lord of the Sea”.
It was not until November 1962 that the myth was born: it was named Aquarama. Since its unveiling, at the third Milan International Boat Show, the Aquarama became the symbol of Riva par excellence, almost “a brand within the brand”. The name of the yacht drew inspiration from the Cinerama system, the American experimental wide screens. The slogan the yacht was launched with contained several key-words: “Sun, sea, joie de vivre!”
In 1989, one year after the English Group Vickers, of which Rolls Royce was part too, had bought 100% of the shares of Riva, Gino Gervasoni, who had married Carlo Riva’s sister, left the shipyard after 41 years. This is how the presence of the Riva family at the shipyard came to an end.
On 1 May 2000 the Ferretti Group took over the Riva boatyard, which could thus go back to flying the Italian flag. The Group had a strong will to relaunch Riva products and the brand by focusing on quality, design, and uniqueness. Riva celebrated the turn of the millennium with the largest rally of period boats in history: more than one hundred yachts, representing all Riva models, paraded on Lake Iseo on 10 September 2000.
Riva still makes beautiful launches but The Aquarama shall never be surpassed. Surely not?
Still, it is the launch of my dreams.