5 minutes with… An extremely rare Richard Mille prototype

5 minutes with… An extremely rare Richard Mille prototype

International watch specialist Frederic Watrelot marvels at the exceptional engineering of an early RM056 — known as the ‘billionaire’s handshake’, and offered in New York on 21 June

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.

Richard Mille’s first advertising campaign was a masterclass in marketing. It included the price — ‘from €159,000’ — something no luxury watch company had done before. ‘People thought it was a printing mistake,’ recalls Frederic Watrelot, Senior Vice President and International Specialist at Christie’s Los Angeles. It was anything but, and enabled Richard Mille to announce itself as a company that does things differently.

Richard Mille. An extremely fine and very rare sapphire split-seconds chronograph wristwatch with tourbillon and power reserve. Signed Richard Mille, Prototype No. 2, Ref. RM056, c. 2012. Estimate US$1,000,000-1,500,000. This watch is offered in Rare Watches and American Icons on 21 June at Christie’s in New York

Richard Mille. An extremely fine and very rare sapphire split-seconds chronograph wristwatch with tourbillon and power reserve. Signed Richard Mille, Prototype No. 2, Ref. RM056, c. 2012. Estimate: US$1,000,000-1,500,000. This watch is offered in Rare Watches and American Icons on 21 June at Christie’s in New York

The collaboration with Renaud et Papi has continued, as has the obsessive commitment to research and development. A Richard Mille watch, known among the cognoscenti as ‘the billionaire’s handshake’, is built, Watrelot explains, with ‘different resins, carbons and metals, often weapons grade and aeronautical grade, and other materials you have never heard of.’ It all helps to explain the price tag.

‘It is because I am a victim of my own inability to compromise,’ Richard Mille has said. ‘Every time I get to a point where I need to decide [whether] to save cost or to push performance to the very extreme, I always choose the latter course.’

‘The RM056 Prototype No. 2 is a masterpiece,’ says Watrelot of the piece offered in our 21 June sale in New York. It is the second prototype of the first edition of the RM056, of which only five examples were made. This prototype is marked No. 2; we do not know how many were made in total.

The RM056 contains ‘probably the most complicated movement to have featured in a Richard Mille watch to date’ 

‘The whole watch is made of synthetic sapphire, which is the second hardest substance after diamond,’ explains Watrelot. Synthetic sapphire is produced in laboratories, usually in colourless 3-inch wide and 12-inch long cylinders. From that point each watch case takes 800 hours to cut into shape and polish. The sapphire is ‘at the top of the pyramid of Richard Mille watches’, says the specialist.

The RM056 is an imposing watch, and one that contains ‘probably the most complicated movement to have featured in a Richard Mille watch to date’ — one that it shares with the RM008, which was the first reference that used this tourbillon with a ‘rattrapante’ or ‘split-seconds’ chronograph. It looks incredible, too — the wearer is invited into exploded views which get right to the heart of the timepiece, and allow the entire skeletonised movement behind the sapphire case to be seen.

Christie’s has never previously offered such a timepiece at auction and the opportunity to buy a prototype on the open market is equally rare. ‘Once it has been presented to the press and clients,’ explains Watrelot, ‘the brand recalls the prototype in order to finalise it, and make it ready to be sold to a VIP client at a price most probably higher than the regular model limited to five pieces.’ Originally retailing at $1,650,000, the RM056 offered in New York on 21 June has an estimate of $1,000,000-1,500,000.