The Big Idea: The Crystal Yacht

Glass has marked progressive architecture since Joseph Paxton displayed his Crystal Palace at London’s Great Exhibition of 1851. In the current millennium, glass has transformed the world’s skylines from Dubai to Manhattan. At sea, the craze for crystal has consumed the superyacht world, with several groundbreaking projects having released this past year.

Excellence, a 262-foot-long beauty from Abeking & Rasmussen, uses a complicated series of panes for its stunning open staircase. The 262-foot Artefact has glass walls—and 60 tons of the material overall—as well as windows designed in new shapes. Silver Yachts’ 279-foot Bold includes an expansive, full-beam winter garden ringed by glass, which can be folded away and tucked neatly into hidden storage spaces when the weather warms. The trend has spread even to more modest yachts, such as Sunseeker’s Predator 74, whose outer-helm area is enclosed by large panels that open.

It’s not just design whim fueling the surge of glass on board. It’s technology, which has advanced to the point where glass has become thinner, lighter (a must for the seafaring world) and stronger. Yacht designers capitalized on that trend and made a shift from mere windows to full walls, incorporating ever-larger panes and new forms in ambitious ways, like Bold’s folding, stackable garden walls.

“Glass technology is opening the design space,” says naval architect Philippe Briand, who has included large, transparent fields on his boats. “The 3-D shapes we can make are improving all the time. We’re finally able to use glass as a structural element.”

The 295-ft. Dar by Oceanco wins the prize for the most creative and practical use of glass. She has 4,300 square feet of floor-to-ceiling mirrored panels. “The clients wanted to see the water from their salon through a sheer wall, with no bulkheads or metal,” says designer Luiz de Basto, speaking on board Dar at the Monaco Yacht Show. “From the exterior, the glass looks black, but there’s no sacrifice in interior light and no distortion. You can see Monaco, but Monaco can’t see you.”

Underwater examples are also becoming more common. As the material becomes stronger still, it will be increasingly used below the waterline, so you will see the fish, but the fish won’t see you.