What will the luxury superyacht experience be like in 50 years?

30 April 2015By Zoe Dickens

The superyacht industry abounds with visionary designers but we bet that back in 1965 even they couldn’t have predicted the level of luxury, craftsmanship and customisation that goes into modern superyacht interiors. Which begs the question, can we predict what a superyacht is going to be like in 2065?

Well thanks to What is Luxury?, a new exhibition which opened this week at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, we might be able to have a very good guess. The exhibition is supported by premium property developer Northacre and, as well as celebrating the history of luxury objects including a handmade Hermes saddle and an 18th century ecclesiastical crown, it also explores the complex notion of what the luxury industry may look like in the future. While some objects – a vending machine containing human DNA and a portable printing press creating unique artist’s books, for example – have been included purely for the ethical, moral and artistic issues they raise, many of the works in the exhibition pose real questions about the changing nature of luxury.

Ecclesiastical crown, ca. 1750 © The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Collection on loan to the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

A key component of this is the materials we traditionally perceive to have luxury status. While diamonds, gold and carbon fibre are here to stay, because of the depletion of the earth’s natural resources their manufacturing processes will change. While manmade diamonds are nothing new, the scarcity of ‘real’ stones will see their synthetic counterparts give added value and personalisation through the objects made to produce them. Artist Shane Mecklenburger demonstrates this with three diamonds created from Texan road kill, gunpowder and part of a Superman III script – indeed, it is already possible to have a diamond created using your own or a loved one's DNA.

Combs, Hair Highway, Studio Swine, 2014 © Studio Swine

Meanwhile, the increasing scarcity of fossil fuels has led Chinese artist Gangjian Cui to imagine a time when its material by products, such as plastic, become highly valuable. His work, The Rise of the Plasticsmith, sees a fragile table created from transparent plastic prized in the way we now covet a Lalique vase or Tom Dixon lamp – something to consider for your next refit perhaps?

The same concerns also led Studio Swine to create Hair Highway: a highly decorative Art Deco-style dressing table, stool and set of combs created entirely from hair. They argue that it is not the materials used but the techniques, craftsmanship, care and time taken over them that create true luxury – a sentiment many contemporary Savile Row tailors and fine jewellers would no doubt agree with.

Time for Yourself, Marcin Rusak and Iona Inglesby, 2013 © Marcin Rusak

Time, the luxury which so often evades the financially rich and poor alike, is another important aspect of the exhibition. In an era when our free time is so easily invaded by others via smartphones and tablets, What is Luxury? proposes that items intended specifically to force us to take time for ourselves will become true luxury objects. Time for Yourself by Marca Rusak and Iona Inglesby is a playful toolkit featuring a watch with no dial and a compass that spins to random co-ordinates, aiming to help the owner to get lost in the luxuries of free time and open space. A little like setting off on your superyacht with no particular destination in mind, no?

What is Luxury? is at the V&A museum until 27 September 2015, visit vam.ac.uk