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.
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.
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”!’
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.
The RM52 Tourbillon Skull (shown above) is an exceedingly rare example – it is number ‘01’ of just six examples made in white ceramic and 18k pink gold especially for the Asian market.
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.
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,
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.