Corsairs and pirates


Español Français
June 2024

Corsairs and pirates

It’s important not to confuse pirates, “outlawed freebooters who sailed and pillaged ships for their own personal gain,” with corsairs, “mandated by a government or sovereign, who thus exercised their legal right to pillage.” Although they engaged in the same activities, a pirate was ultimately condemned to hang, while a corsair received a medal.


t wouldn’t have occurred to us to label watchmakers in this way if Jean-Frédéric Dufour had not used the term “pirates” to refer to all the brands that, on the margins of Watches & Wonders, occupy the best hotels on the harbour, congregate in various locations throughout the city of Geneva, and throw open the doors of their boutiques.

To speak of “pillaging” would be inappropriate because, to the best of our knowledge, no retailer sailing the balmy waters of Geneva’s private salons has ever been ambushed, robbed and tied up, naked, to a tree on Rousseau Island, opposite the famous Hotel des Bergues. Mr Dufour clearly understood this, specifying from the outset that he was using the term in a “friendly” manner. Nevertheless, we can’t rule out the possibility that this was his subconscious speaking.

In the carpeted aisles of the vast and luxurious flagship vessel, Watches & Wonders, comfortably berthed at Geneva airport, the corsairs plotted amongst themselves: should they accept the influx of this horde of pirates? Each corsair represents a power, whether an independent state or a sprawling empire. Etymologically, the word “corsair” comes from the Latin “corsa” and means “one who runs a race”, in this case the noble offshore race. In contrast, the word “pirate” comes from the Greek “peirâtes”, which simply means “brigand”.

In the end, it comes down to class. Both engage in pillaging, but while the former have the backing of a higher authority (the group, the corporation, the stock market), the latter do so solely for personal profit.

In reality, it’s a fine line. We know of corsairs who are reformed pirates that decided to serve a higher power. Similarly, some pirates are former corsairs who have gone into business for themselves.

In the days of the late lamented Baselworld we didn’t ask ourselves these kinds of questions because we were all in the same boat – captain or stoker, bosun or cabin boy. Today the world has changed, and the superyachts no longer want to sail in the same waters as the dinghies. However, the wind is changing.

At the end of the day, everyone wishes we were building bridges rather than walls. You can feel it. We’re all still mammals, and we have a visceral need to rub up against each other (even at the risk of getting knifed in the guts). Secretly, it’s what everyone wants, and it will happen. I name this ship Genevaworld. God bless her and all who sail in her.

The Europa Star Newsletter