Detail of a Richard Mille, titanium limited-edition tonneau-shaped automatic skeletonised flyback chronograph wristwatch with annual calendar, Grand Prix Brasil, Felipe Massa Model, no. 0010, Ref.

5 reasons watch collectors love Richard Mille

Founded on technical innovation, artistry and a culture of fine watchmaking, Richard Mille has become a dominant player in the watch industry. Here, John Reardon, International Head of Watches at Christie’s, explains why

In the world of Swiss watchmaking, tradition often rules the day. Brands such as Patek Philippe and Rolex are often viewed as the kings of the mountain, both at retail and at auction, yet a new breed of watchmaker is shaking up the established order. In the vanguard of this new group is the independent watchmaker Richard Mille, which makes futuristic watches regarded in many quarters as the ultimate expression of wealth.

  • 1
  • The watchmaking

Richard Mille established his eponymous brand in 1999 with the backing of Audemars Piguet and its legendary development company, Renaud et Papi. The mission was to push high-end, hand-made watchmaking to the very limits of technical innovation. 

Two years later the Richard Mille RM001 was launched, featuring no gold, diamonds or precious stones — just exceptional engineering. The price tag? A cool €159,000. The entire production run of 80 units sold out almost immediately.

In September 2018, the first Horology Forum ever held in London examined the state of the watch industry. One of the hottest topics among high-end watch buyers was their desire to own a Richard Mille watch. Asked why, the best watchmakers in the business point directly to the quality of the movements.

The prototype RM056 (above), which sold for £1.2 million at Christie’s in 2017, contains probably the most complicated movement to have featured in a Richard Mille watch to date — one that it shares with the RM008 (below), which was the first reference that paired a split-seconds chronograph and a tourbillon mechanism.

Richard Mille. An 18k pink gold tonneau-shaped tourbillon split seconds chronograph wristwatch with power reserve and torque indication. Signed Richard Mille, Ref. RM008 AE PG, Case no.1, Movement no. 001, circa 2008. Sold for HK$3,940,000 on 28 May 2018 at Christie’s in Hong Kong

Richard Mille. An 18k pink gold tonneau-shaped tourbillon split seconds chronograph wristwatch with power reserve and torque indication. Signed Richard Mille, Ref. RM008 AE PG, Case no.1, Movement no. 001, circa 2008. Sold for HK$3,940,000 on 28 May 2018 at Christie’s in Hong Kong

  • 2
  • The design

The size and shape of a Richard Mille watch is instantly recognisable, even from a distance. Inspired by automotive design, the aesthetic is unapologetically bold and, according to Forbes, acquiring a Richard Mille watch is the equivalent of ‘buying a miniature sports car for the wrist’. As Mille himself has said, ‘I want people who see my watches to go, “‘Wow”!’ 

Richard Mille. A platinum limited-edition tonneau-shaped skeletonised tourbillon wristwatch. No. 3030, Ref. RM012 AG PT, circa 2006. Sold for $457,500 on 19 March 2017 at Christie’s in Dubai

Richard Mille. A platinum limited-edition tonneau-shaped skeletonised tourbillon wristwatch. No. 30/30, Ref. RM012 AG PT, circa 2006. Sold for $457,500 on 19 March 2017 at Christie’s in Dubai

  • 3
  • The scarcity

Fewer than 5,000 Richard Mille watches are made annually. For a young brand, this is a relatively high number of pieces, yet demand for the watches consistently outstrips production. Strong prices at auction continue to reflect this trend.

Richard Mille. A limited-edition black-coated titanium, ceramic, carbon and zirconium tonneau-shaped skeletonised tourbillon wristwatch. Ref. RM52-01, tourbillon skull, Asia limited edition, No. 0506, circa 2012. Sold for HK$3,460,000 on 30 November 2015 at Christie’s in Hong Kong, HKCEC Grand Hall

Richard Mille. A limited-edition black-coated titanium, ceramic, carbon and zirconium tonneau-shaped skeletonised tourbillon wristwatch. Ref. RM52-01, tourbillon skull, Asia limited edition, No. 05/06, circa 2012. Sold for HK$3,460,000 on 30 November 2015 at Christie’s in Hong Kong, HKCEC Grand Hall

The RM52 Tourbillon Skull (shown above) is an exceedingly rare example. Offered in ‘new old stock’ condition, it is part of a very limited series of six pieces made for the Asian market.

  • 4
  • The comfort

When you try on a seemingly bulky Richard Mille reference RM 50-3 McLaren F1 split-seconds tourbillon chronograph, the first thing you notice is the weight. At just 1.41 ounces (40 grams), it seems to defy physics with its solid construction and featherweight feel. To produce this revolutionary watch and case, Richard Mille worked with the University of Manchester and McLaren-Honda, both known for their research and expertise in lightweight materials.

  • 5
  • The statement

Richard Mille. A titanium, limited-edition tonneau-shaped automatic skeletonised flyback chronograph wristwatch with annual calendar, Ref. RM011 AJ TI, circa 2014. Estimate HK$1,650,000-2,300,000. Offered in Important Watches on 26 November at Christie’s in Hong Kong

Richard Mille. A titanium, limited-edition tonneau-shaped automatic skeletonised flyback chronograph wristwatch with annual calendar, Ref. RM011 AJ TI, circa 2014. Estimate: HK$1,650,000-2,300,000. Offered in Important Watches on 26 November at Christie’s in Hong Kong

Richard Mille. A titanium, limited-edition tonneau-shaped automatic skeletonised flyback chronograph wristwatch with annual calendar, Ref. RM011, circa 2014. Estimate HK$1,500,000-2,200,000. Offered in Important Watches on 26 November at Christie’s in Hong Kong

Richard Mille. A titanium, limited-edition tonneau-shaped automatic skeletonised flyback chronograph wristwatch with annual calendar, Ref. RM011, circa 2014. Estimate: HK$1,500,000-2,200,000. Offered in Important Watches on 26 November at Christie’s in Hong Kong

Nicknamed the ‘billionaire’s handshake’, Richard Mille watches adorn wrists within the most exclusive circles. The brand reinforces this message by partnering with ambassadors such as Felipe Massa, the former Formula One driver, and Rafael Nadal, the tennis champion, among them. 

Mille developed the RM006 tourbillon for Massa in 2004. The watch, which weighs little more than a credit card, is capable of resisting shocks up to 500G. Massa was wearing an RM006 when his car crashed into a tyre barrier ahead of the 2009 Hungary Grand Prix. The Brazilian driver suffered serious head injuries; the watch emerged unscathed.

For Nadal, Mille wanted to develop a watch he could wear during matches. The Spaniard broke five prototypes before the RM027, which weighed just 20 grams, was finalised. He was wearing the watch when he won his first US Open tournament — and the 9th grand slam title of his career — in 2010.

In addition, American golfer Bubba Watson wore a Richard Mille while winning the 2012 Masters tournament at Augusta National, and the Jamaican sprinter Yohan Blake wore a watch in green, gold and black during the Olympic Games in London.