Introducing the Richard Mille RM 40-01 Automatic Tourbillon McLaren SpeedtailBy Revolution
Ever since he was a child, Richard Mille loved auto racing, where high performance machines are pushed to the limits and beyond by pilots of extraordinary finesse and incomparable courage. One of the racing teams that left a mark on Mille in his formative years was McLaren Racing. Founded by New Zealander Bruce McLaren in 1963, his eponymous team went on to dominate Can-Am racing from 1967 to 1971 — something that Mille remembers vividly. A lifelong automobile enthusiast, his passion dates back to 1966, when he was just 15 years old and his father took him to the Monaco Grand Prix, where he saw Bruce McLaren driving his M2B, the very first McLaren Formula 1 car. He recalls vividly the “absolutely terrifying” sound of the Ford engine, which was really intended to power the McLaren Can-Am car in the Indianapolis 500. It was partly this personal experience that instilled in him a deep-seated passion for the carmaker which led Richard Mille (the brand) to enter into a long-term partnership with McLaren in February 2016.
While McLaren is best known as a Formula 1 Constructor, the company is also famous for producing to this day what is commonly considered the most important road car ever made — the McLaren F1. And though designer Gordon Murray had intended this incredible three-seater machine with the first carbon fiber tub for civilian use, both he and Ron Dennis, the then-owner of McLaren, were soon convinced by racer Ray Bellm to let him and others bring the car to Le Mans. This resulted in the car winning the 1995 24 Hours of Le Mans with four other F1s coming in third, fourth and thirteenth, a result that has never been eclipsed and one that is particularly noteworthy for a vehicle designed as a civilian car.
It is in this achievement that Richard Mille and McLaren find their greatest parallel. Says Revolution’s UK editor Ross Povey, “While oftentimes partnerships between watch brands and auto makers can feel opportunist, with Mille and McLaren, you have two companies that revolutionized their respective industries. You have McLaren who, with the F1, completely changed the playfield for performance road cars, so much so that it held the top speed record at 240.1 miles per hour for several decades. More than that, it was iconoclastic in every way. It was more streamlined than any car — the driver sat in the center — and it was made largely of carbon composites. This is exactly the way the watch world regards Richard Mille. In 2001, with the RM 001, he ushered in a total revolution as the first watch brand that looked to the future, that used space age materials like titanium and even aluminum-silicon for the case, that made its movement baseplate from carbon fiber to improve shock resistance and ushered in a whole new ultra modern aesthetic that had nothing to do with the past. In the context of 2021, when Mille has become one of the most successful brands in watchmaking history, we sometimes forget the absolutely crazy courage.”
Revolutionary Symbols of the Modern Age
It seemed almost inevitable that Richard Mille and McLaren would end up as partners. Says watch collector Ahmed “Shary” Rahman, “This is really one of the partnerships where you talk about equals. The F1, P1, the Senna, the Speedtail, these are all cars that are as desirable and game changing as Richard Mille’s watches have been. If you look at the RM 006, the RM 009, the RM 27-01 and the RM 67-02 which completely revolutionized the concept of ultra light, high performance, hyper luxury sports watches, you have the equivalent to the most iconic cars at McLaren. If you look at both companies’ histories in material innovation, in particular related to carbon fiber and Carbon TPT, if you look at how they created all-new shapes, all-new construction techniques, all-new surface finishes, you would understand the depth of their synergy.”Nowhere is this partnership more perfectly expressed than in the new RM 40-01 Automatic Tourbillon designed in collaboration with McLaren to celebrate the extraordinary Speedtail, the world’s ultimate high speed grand tourer.
What exactly is the McLaren Speedtail? Well, just in case you’ve been living in a cave practicing transcendental meditation, since 2018 when the car was launched, it is, simply speaking, one of the most coveted, revered and awe-inspiring piece of automotive sculpture ever created. Its long teardrop-like form is charged and attenuated with energy like a Brâncuși. It is crafted almost entirely out of carbon fiber and even features titanium deposited carbon as well as TPT. It has an air scoop in its roof, variable geometry valances in the back, a smart glass canopy and an engine that is the stuff of dreams. And while this may sound like we are describing the Mille watch, in fact, we refer to the car itself. It also features the same three-seater layout from the F1 and cameras instead of mirrors, which retract at high speeds to optimize drag, as well as carbon shrouds around its wheels to smooth out aerodynamic turbulence. It is powered by two engines, the M840T from the McLaren 720S and an electric powertrain, that together are capable of propelling the Speedtail at a crazy top speed of 250mph. Which means you and two of your closest friends can strap in and experience what it must feel like to be sitting on a short range cruise missile. It represents the fourth car in what McLaren Automotive (the road car division of the company) calls the Ultimate Series, which comprises the legendary F1, P1 and Senna.
The RM 40-01 Speedtail is the third watch born out of the collaboration between the two legends. The first was the RM 50-03, the world’s lightest tourbillon split seconds chronograph with a movement featuring skeletonized carbon fiber bridges and plates. This was launched in 2016 to inaugurate the partnership. The next was the RM 11-03 McLaren with a case in a combination of Carbon TPT and orange Quartz TPT made in 500 pieces. This watch was prioritized for clients of McLaren’s Ultimate Series, giving them the opportunity to match the edition number of their car from 1 to 500 to the caseback number of their watch.
As you’ve probably noticed, both of these watches are chronographs, specifically a rattrapante in the first case and an automatic annual calendar chronograph with a big date in the second. Both of these models are massively sought-after and sell for crazy premiums on the secondary market. But with the latest McLaren-inspired Mille watch, the RM 40-01, the decision was made to go in another direction. As the Speedtail car was meant to be the world’s fastest grand tourer that happened to be a masterpiece of design, the idea was to create something similarly high concept but elegant. Says Richard Mille’s technical director of movements, Salvador Arbona, “It was important to ensure the watch reflected the purpose of the car. Our two previous McLaren watches were both chronographs because they were designed to complement the Formula 1 race cars and the track-orientated P15. The Speedtail is not a race car or a track car, but the ultimate grand tourer — which is why we decided to make the RM 40-01 an automatic tourbillon with an oversized date, a power reserve indicator and a function selector. Not only did this configuration seem more in keeping with the Speedtail, it also gave us a really good opportunity to put the pure Richard Mille aesthetics on display.”
A Seamless Collaboration
Incredibly, the journey of the RM 40-01 Automatic McLaren Tourbillon Speedtail goes all the way back to 2018. Even before McLaren announced plans for the Speedtail to the world, Richard Mille’s watchmakers, engineers and materials specialists had already begun work on creating the RM 40-01 watch that would complement this most special of cars by combining its shape, its materials and the philosophy behind it with Richard Mille’s own ethos of technical excellence and unique, groundbreaking design. The initial step involved visiting McLaren Automotive to discover the lines and proportions of the Speedtail as a clay model — but there was a great deal more to creating the RM 40-01 than simply producing a watch-sized impression of the car. Says Julien Boillat, Richard Mille’s technical director of case making, “Although we knew immediately that we wanted to take inspiration from the extraordinary, teardrop shape of the car — the most aerodynamically efficient shape in nature — the process was a great deal more complicated than just trying to follow its lines, because it was essential to seamlessly combine existing Richard Mille codes with those of McLaren and to reflect the Speedtail’s designer, Rob Melville’s, ideas. We first saw the Speedtail in September 2018, after which we created several design proposals with Rob Melville. We were ready to begin working on the first prototype by January 2019. We wanted to create a new case design, a process that involved a long series of refinements. There were milestones, but it was mostly an iterative process. We produced the first prototype in February 2019, but then went on to make four more before arriving at the final version. The RM 40-01’s case perfectly transcribes the styling work of Rob’s team.”
Says Melville, “When it came to the RM 40-01, we had considerable input in sharing the highlights of the car and the philosophy behind it. That gave us a starting point to work with Richard Mille’s designers in order to translate our personal mission, which was to create a sleek and seamless Hyper-GT. Even in our early discussions, it was agreed that the case should take the same teardrop form as the car when seen from a bird’s eye view. The result is a watch that not only looks as spectacular as the Speedtail, but one that is also wonderful to use. When we made the Speedtail, we set out to produce a car that had an art quality to it.”
However, creating a teardrop case and subsequently a teardrop shaped movement was not without its hurdles. Says Boillat, “The first challenge was to render the notion of the teardrop shape — which, of course, meant making the case considerably wider at 12 o’clock than at six o’clock. After creating the initial computer design and then a wax mold, we were able to make the first prototype, from which we gradually developed and refined the concept so that it reflected some of the Speedtail’s distinctive features. The cut-outs in the case at two, four, eight and 10 o’clock, for example, are based on the distinctive notches in the bonnet, and we echoed parts of the car’s cockpit in the highly polished edging. The case alone comprises 69 individual components.” Eventually it dawned on Boillat that the scope of the job just for the case of the RM 40-01 would need the input of every person in the technical department of case making. He explains, “The watch entails one of the highest levels of finishing ever executed at Richard Mille. There has also been a lot of joint development with our anglers and polishers. The attention to detail is extreme, with mirror polished, plain and satinized effects in different areas and the combined use of titanium and Carbon TPT.”
Shared Ideas and Ideals
One interesting thing that emerged through the collaboration was that the watch also became a source of inspiration for the car. Says Melville, “Just as the car inspired the watch, so too Richard Mille’s use of materials has inspired us — although McLaren was a carbon fiber pioneer, the Carbon TPT that Richard Mille has the proprietary use of in watchmaking was a version of the product that we had never seen or tried to use before. Having been introduced to it by Richard Mille, we decided to incorporate it into the Speedtail.”
Says Boillat, “Depending on the customer’s configuration, the car itself may contain some Carbon TPT in components such as the front badge or the control panel mounted above the driver’s head. McLaren had not used the material before Richard Mille introduced it through the brands’ collaboration.”
Melville adds, “That is part of the beauty of the partnership — we encourage one another to push our boundaries ever further all the time.”
In terms of dial aesthetics, the team at Richard Mille wanted to incorporate an all-new technique. Says Boillat, “We replaced the traditional sapphire dial with machined numbers which are completely integrated into the movement. We also use an upper flange made from titanium and finished with a black electro-plasma treatment.” And even the teardrop shaped sapphire crystal was not without its challenges. He explains, “The upper sapphire crystal is highly complex and costs 15 to 20 times as much as a ‘classic’ Richard Mille sapphire watch glass (which was already extremely expensive and complicated). The reason for this lies in the triple contour imposed by the particular shape of its bezel and its decreasing thickness. Grinding the sapphire’s three radii to measurements of plus or minus two-hundredths of a millimeter is incredibly difficult. The design of the crystal alone required 18 months of work, because we had to find a way to both grind the sapphire to the perfect shape and also to seal it in order to guarantee water resistance to 50 meters.” Altogether, five prototypes of the Speedtail watch were created, necessitating 8,600 hours of movement development. It took 2,800 hours spread over 18 months to develop the new case shape, for a watch that weighs 87.247 grams that is capable of withstanding shocks up to 5,000G.
Of course, the movement reflects the details of the car just as beautifully as the case of the RM 40-01. Says Salvador Arbona, “In addition to the movement within, the caliber CRMT4, being largely two-toned (just like the Speedtail), the platinum and 5N red gold winding rotor was inspired by the Speedtail’s bonnet and the barrel-setting by the roof line.” The gentle, downward curve that the mechanism follows from 12 to six o’clock, meanwhile, recalls the brushed metal divider between the car’s cockpit and its teardrop shaped bodywork — a feature that, interestingly, Rob Melville had decided to incorporate after seeing the different finishes and flange designs used in Richard Mille watches. Says Arbona, “Melville told us that he drew his inspiration to create this part from watchmaking finishing. It’s something that really got us. Visible and non-visible surfaces, rims, angles and bevels were all subject to an unprecedented level of detailing — even the wheels are engraved with the McLaren logo. Additionally, the domed parts usher in new surface profiles, required to translate the car’s curves (on the tourbillon bridge, for example, and the date discs that follow the curve of the car’s rear wheels).”
And, as a neat finishing touch that further ties car and watch together, the orange line running from the lower part of the movement and onto the strap came from the vertical stoplight mounted in the Speedtail’s rear screen. Melville says it best when he states, “Richard Mille watches are known as ‘racing machines on the wrist,’ and that’s supported by the fact that there are so many similarities in the way we approach a problem, such as saving weight, reducing vibrational impact and maximizing resistance. The fact that both marques set out to take performance to extremes makes for an intrinsic understanding, and it’s that understanding of one another’s strengths that has enabled our relationship to work so well from the very beginning.”
Movement: Self-winding caliber CRMT4; 50-hour power reserve
Functions: Hours, minutes, big date and pusher to select the neutral, winding and hand-setting functions
Case: 41.8mm × 48.25mm × 14.15mm; grade 5 titanium and Carbon TPT; water resistant to 50m
Strap: Black rubber with orange line; alligator Velcro, ballistic Velcro or alligator leather, all in various colors
Price: Upon request
Availability: Limited edition of 106 pieces