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How the Riva Tritone became a design icon

Analog Icons is a new series from Effect Magazine celebrating iconic collectible technology from the pre-digital era. In this first instalment, we look at the Riva Tritone speedboat, forebearer of the flashier Riva Aquarama, and a legendary design classic that ruled the Med in the golden jet-set age of the 1950s and 60s

What do Brigitte Bardot, Anita Ekberg, Kirk Douglas, Richard Burton, and Sophia Loren have in common? Answer: they were all devotees of the Riva speedboats of the 1950s and 60s – and you can add George Clooney, Prince Rainier of Monaco, Justin Timberlake, Monica Bellucci and many more to that list.

To look at the Riva’s mahogany and chrome styling is to evoke the ozone-scented air of Capri, Cannes, Monaco and Cap Ferrat in their mid-century heyday. The turquoise livery and and burnt-orange hull conjure up languid Aperols by Lake Como, Bellinis on the terrace of the Cipriani in Venice. They are everything Italian classic design should be: timelessly elegant, effortlessly suave. Always exuberant, never ostentatious.

What was the Riva Tritone?

Founded in 1842, Riva first became associated with glamour in the 1920s, moving from transportation into the far sexier realm of speedboats, winning national and international competitions throughout the 20s and 30s. Carlo Riva took over the family firm in the 1950s, kicking off a golden age of boat design that established the distinctive polished hull, lithe lines and chrome detailing that has become as synonymous with the Venice waterways as the gondola.

1958 Riva Tritone, once belonging to Prince Rainier III of Monaco (Image: Michel deRuijter ©2014 Courtesy of RM Auctions)

From 1950 until 1964, the Tritone was the most prestigious boat in Riva’s line-up, with twin engines and tanks large enough for it to be a serious sea-cruiser, respected and coveted throughout the Mediterranean.

The long timbered aft-deck over the engines was ideal for sunbathing; and together with the two rows of seats and small bow cabin, whole languorous days could be spent at sea. Its final iteration – the Super Tritone – had a highly impressive top speed of over 50mph. By the end of its run, 257 had been built.

The Tritone epoch drew to a close in the early 1960s, with its direct descendant, the Aquarama, growing to overshadow its parent, dominating the high-glamour speedboat world for another three decades, until the 769th Aquarama left the Riva boatyard in Sarnico in 1996.

What is a Riva Tritone worth?

Mid-century Rivas were made of the finest materials, and were always expensive. Scarcity (there are reputedly only 100 surviving) and their iconic status perpetuates their value, and the Tritone (alongside the other Riva models) remains highly collectible. Good examples don’t come to market that often, but £220,000 ($290,000) should secure a well-restored boat, with later Tritones – or those with noteworthy provenance – reaching some way beyond that.

As an example, the 1958 Tritone pictured above – which belonged to Prince Rainier III and Princess Grace of Monaco – sold in 2019 for £281,000 ($373,000) through RM Sotheby’s. Riva Aquaramas skew a little higher, and can stretch from £350,00 up to £500,000 ($465,000–$665,000) and beyond.

So much for cost – what about value? Given the style they represent and the nostalgia they evoke – priceless.

Riva today

In 2000, the Riva brand joined the Ferretti Group – a world leader in the luxury boating sector. And while they now specialise in yachts and superyachts, the heritage of the classic age of the Tritone lives on in the Aquariva Super, an unabashedly retro creation that marries the vintage mahogany styling of the original Tritone with a composite hull, super-luxx interior, and quantum-age technology.

With thanks to Riva Ferretti Group and RM Sotheby’s for their kind permission to reproduce their photography.

Effect Magazine is brought to you by Effetto