In 1873 George Lennox Watson established the first yacht design office in the world. Initially specialising in sailing yachts, G.L. Watson & Co. achieved international acclaim with the America’s Cup challengers Thistle, Valkyrie II, Valkyrie III and Shamrock II. The legendary Britannia remains the most successful racing yacht of all time and the list of graceful designs includes such yachts as Vanduara, Queen Mab, Meteor II, Bona and Rainbow.

A Unique Scientific Approach

The company’s designs soon grew in size and a distinctive style developed which would later come to include many opulent steam yachts. Cultivating the talents of Alfred Mylne and J.R. Barnett, the company’s unique scientific approach to yacht design saw its order book and number of launches grow to international prominence.

A Prolific Practice

In the period from the mid 1890s to WWI, the firm designed some of the largest and most elegant steam yachts of all time for an international clientele which included most of the crowned heads of Europe and prominent families such as the Vanderbilts and Rothschilds.

The company’s successes were interrupted by the outbreak of war and widespread decline of yachting in the UK. Working for the Admiralty in Glasgow, Barnett and his head Naval Architect William Smart would spend the war years serving their country. Work for which Barnett was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1918.


Adapting to the nature of the marketplace, the company’s post-war years saw diversification in the type of craft being designed. Directors Allen McLachlan and later Jim McCaig developed the firm’s portfolio with commercial and fast motor vessels as well as yachts, still evoking the well-known house style and qualities of the pre-war years. The firm remained as chief consultants to the RNLI making huge developments in lifeboats until 1980.

Present Day

We acquired the firm in 2001 with a vision to refocus it on its original core activities of yacht design and project supervision, with a particular emphasis on classic yachts which are our area of expertise.

Early projects saw the restorations of Blue Bird and Nahlin which had originally been designed by the firm. The success of these has led to engagement in the restoration of large classic yachts by other designers such as the Camper & Nicholsons-built Malahne and Cacouna.

In parallel with the design work associated with these restorations the firm also carries out design work of new classics such as Taransay and replicas such as Gwell and Red.

All this design work is underpinned by the firm’s extensive archive which, though focused on G. L. Watson & Co. designs, includes significant material on many other important designers such as William Fife and Charles E. Nicholson.

As in its early years, virtually every major design project undertaken by the firm is also overseen with the firm acting as Owner’s Representatives in the appointed shipyard.

As it approaches its 150th anniversary the company has had only six Managing Directors, offering some proof of its stability and endurance. Current directors William Collier and Antony Harrison have charted the firm’s recent renewal and will take it forward continuing the firm’s tradition of excellence in yachting.

“In a very real sense the firm seems to have stayed true to the values that first brought it to prominence and made it the doyen of the yachting establishment”.