Richard Mille - 20 Years OnBy Wei Koh
For two decades, I have told anyone that would listen that the watch world would one day be divided into the era before Richard Mille and the era after. Now upon the 20th anniversary of his brand, I believe that truth is self-evident in a René Descartes irrefutable evidence of God’s existence kind of way.
There has been no modern brand in watchmaking history, created by a living founder, that has had such a massive global impact not just on horology, but also on contemporary culture itself. The change has been seismic, pervasive and irreversible. It was brought on by the singular vision of a man who was the ultimate rebel genius, who eschewed every existing aesthetic, technical and even material convention and cliche.
What was once round, he made into a Space Age tonneau that shimmered with Futurist manifesto velocity even standing still. What was once hidden, he made transparent. What once deified the past, he connected to the future. What was once heavy, he made wonderfully, ethereally, almost unbearably light. Indeed, the only thing Mille retained was a reverence for peerless finish and quality in his craft. In so doing, this iconoclast rocked the establishment so completely that you could say there is not a single brand that exists that has not in some way — whether in material use, design or even pricing — been affected by Richard Mille.
But more importantly, in the world today, Richard Mille watches have transcended their status as timepieces to fulfill a different role. His watches have ascended to become the symbols of something much more: a limitless life, an uncontainable dream, passion, resilience, performance under all conditions, individualism and fearlessness. The reason his watches are the subject of innumerable songs is that owning a Richard Mille has become that emblem of success that is unattained by most but dreamed of by everyone. In other words, it has become the fabric of optimism itself.
Richard Mille is not just a watch but a dream you aspire to, and the timepiece is a symbol that you’ve made it, that you are part of the club. The fact that it is also one of the most stunning technical objects in creation provides its substance. But like water turned to wine at the Last Supper, his watches have undergone a cultural transubstantiation because of what they symbolize to us. Says famed watch journalist Nick Foulkes, “Richard Mille is, for the current generation, as inspiring as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby was to the audience of the ’20s in that wearing a Richard Mille is the ultimate act of self-creation, self-invention and, of course, success and wealth beyond measure.”
The Significance of Richard Mille
Says Austen Chu, founder of WristCheck.com, “Across so many cultures in the US, but equally in China, a Richard Mille watch embodies that hustle to realize your dreams. I think that’s why especially for entrepreneurs, for guys that made their own success on their own terms, regardless of if it’s New York or Shanghai, Los Angeles or Hong Kong, it’s become the watch for them. It’s their membership badge.”
Ten years ago, I wrote a story called “Richard Mille — The Billionaire’s Masonic Handshake” that I attributed to the pseudonym Declan Quinn. The rationale was so I could create the narrative device of the character Declan, who by borrowing my Richard Mille watch, gained access to a bold new world where all sorts of crazy, over-the-top incidents happen based on my own experiences. I called this the “Richard Mille Effect.” These included being bought dinner in one of Ginza’s most exclusive sushi restaurants by strangers wearing Richard Mille as well as being invited by a Richard Mille-wearing Chinese billionaire to a private concert performed by Usher and to accompany her to Bordeaux to go vineyard shopping. These are all true stories. But at the time, I thought that many people might not believe that simply by wearing a Richard Mille, you could be admitted into the world’s most elite and fun-loving members’ club. Ten years later, something has changed, and that is the public’s awareness of Richard Mille. A decade ago, it had been the ultimate clandestine, super stealth, double secret membership badge of the ultra high net worth community. Today, it is anything but clandestine. (Caveat emptor: Though I own a Richard Mille watch, from a financial perspective, I have more in common with the lab technician expressing their dogs’ anal glands than I have with anyone in this community.)
Today, Richard Mille is at the height of its cultural awareness. Watch the Netflix series Formula 1: Drive to Survive, and you’ll see that every driver, team principal and team owner proudly displays a Richard Mille on his wrist, whether his team is associated with Mille or not. As of this year, Richard Mille is the single most namechecked brand in rap music, with Gunna’s video for “Richard Millie Plain” copping 14 million views on YouTube. At the same time, Richard Mille has become the most worn and coveted watch for elite athletes in the heat of competition in a range of disciplines, including track and field, tennis, golf, skiing, biathlon, F1, rally driving — you name it. I am certain that the gold medaling ping pong players at this summer’s Olympic Games stay up at night dreaming of Richard Mille ambassadorship.
It was first a novelty when tennis star Rafael Nadal first took to the clay of Roland Garros wearing his RM 27 — which set the record as the world’s lightest mechanical watch when it debuted in 2010 — prompting John McEnroe to remark, “I can’t believe he’s playing tennis with a half-million-dollar watch on his wrist”. Now, we can’t imagine him playing without it! And, a note to McEnroe, the price for that same watch is now more than a million on the secondary market. In the past 11 years, Rafa has worn a Richard Mille to his French Open men’s singles victory every single year, with the exception of 2015 and 2016. That is a total of nine French Open victories, each time with a Richard Mille RM 27 on his wrist. This extraordinary partnership has yielded five versions of the model, each of which represented a major advancement in shock-resistance and lightweight technology, including the first watch with its movement suspended by miniature cables and the first watch with its carbon fiber bridges integrated into the watch case.
Today, Richard Mille is the watch for every billionaire of significance with the slightest soupçon of swag, including Jay-Z, Pharrell (who has his own RM special edition), Kevin Hart and Ed Sheeran. Indeed, during the 2019 NAACP awards, Jay-Z caused social media to explode when he wore his pièce unique blue sapphire RM 056 with a retail price of US2.5 million dollars. As for that watch’s market value today, just trying doubling that figure. Indeed, while Richard Mille is everywhere in terms of contemporary culture, he is not abundantly found, hence demand massively outstrips the supply of his watches. As a result, practically every single Richard Mille commands a secondary market premium that is the equivalent of a charming bucolic house in the British countryside. Let me be clear: The house is the equivalent of the premium only, not the watch itself.
Throughout all this, Richard Mille’s ongoing success comes from the brand’s unwavering commitment to material innovation, shock-resistance technology, advances in lightweight technology and ergonomics, though, in the last decade, an artistic and poetic dimension has also been added to the brand, with watches featuring stunning micro-sculptures such as the RM 57-03 Tourbillon Sapphire Dragon and, of course, the RM 69 Erotic Tourbillon which is capable of creating multiple suggestive messages, representing Mille’s idea that a true erotic watch is more cerebral than temporal in allure.
But what I find most extraordinary about Mille the man is, despite his incredible achievements and his cult Svengali-like status, he remains warm, effusive, humble and, most of all, kind.
An Epochal Vision of Watchmaking
If I was to summarize Mille’s momentous achievements over the past 20 years, it would go as follows: Firstly, he created an aesthetic revolution introducing watches that looked like shimmering symbols of modernism. To horology, this will forever remain as revolutionary as Italian Futurist sculptor Umberto Boccioni’s Unique Forms of Continuity in Space was to the art world.
Mille created a watch inspired by aviation and Formula 1, but in some ways his watch surpassed these references to become a new form of hyper complicated machine art. Part of this was the idea of total transparency, showing the movement as the primary aesthetic signature of the watch. At the same time, his movements incorporated never-before-used materials like titanium, aluminum-lithium and carbon fiber, along with all-new construction techniques such as beam skeletonization borrowed from architecture and bonded tubular structure from auto racing that evoked a bird cage frame. In so doing, Mille introduced the watch world’s first truly modern and original language since the inception of wristwatches in the early 20th century.
Secondly, all of the extraordinary unique forms served to radically improve shock resistance in watches. In the early days, Mille would take off his RM 001 and throw it on the floor to demonstrate how incredibly shock resistant it was. And while much has been made of the cost of Richard Mille’s watches, each time he reached a juncture where he could make his engineering more extreme, resulting in greater cost, he always took that path. He laughed when he said in an earlier interview, “I have always said, if I were my own head of finance, I would have fired me.” But the result were watches truly without compromise and represented the most radical examples of anti-shock technology in mechanical watchmaking: watches with movements that are based on elastomers or even suspended from cables; watches with movements made from carbon or titanium that have strong shock dampening properties. Perhaps most of all, he recognized that the lighter the watch was, the more resistant to shock it would be.
Mille introduced the concept of lightness in high watchmaking. In performance sports from auto racing to bicycling, lightness and strength are the primary goals. But before Mille, the watch industry only valued heavy watches made from precious metals like gold and especially platinum. Mille transformed this mindset by connecting horology with the concept of extreme light weight for greater comfort, ergonomics and shock resistance. This reached the height of achievement with the aforementioned RM 027, the world’s lightest mechanical watch created for none other than Rafael Nadal.
Mille was also the first to place his watches on the wrists of elite athletes in the heat of competition, such as Nadal, golfer Bubba Watson and almost every F1 driver on the grid today. Because of his focus on ergonomics and lightness, which he was able to achieve by introducing materials like carbon and quartz TPT, athletes could perform at their very maximum effort without any hindrance from their watch. Mille had the courage to demonstrate that the most complicated high watchmaking could also withstand all forms of sports including tennis, track and field, biathlon, F1, golf and much more.
Another milestone: Mille completely transformed the pricing of wristwatches. Because of the extreme development cost coupled with the very small volume of watches produced, it was necessary for Mille to price his watches in a category the watch industry had never seen. What immediately followed was acceptance for Mille’s watches at this level. In fact, so much are his watches in demand that their secondary values massively exceed the already high prices.
Three riders at the 2021 Tour de France, who are wearing RM 67-02s on their wrists and showcasing some world-class riding
Last but not least, Mille created the ultimate community symbol. For the world of the ultra elite, wearing a Richard Mille is the equivalent of a membership badge. However, the Mille community, as financially blessed as it may be, is also one filled with warmth, friendliness and good cheer. My theory is that Mille’s community take their cues from the man himself. Richard, despite the elite universe he’s created, is remarkably down to earth. This is a man who, upon my meeting him at his castle in Normandy, took my photographers and myself to his kitchen and cooked us spaghetti aglio olio, which we then ate in his garden. Despite all his success, he has never lost his human touch and this I respect immensely.
OK, with that aside, let’s look at the three watches that, to me, represent Mille’s ceaseless spirit of innovation. While many collectors are now looking at the first decade of Richard Mille as his classic period, in particular the RM 006 which features the world’s first carbon fiber baseplate; the RM 009, the world’s lightest mechanical watch before the RM 027; and the RM 012 with its tubular structure replacing a baseplate, causing the prices of these watches to surge dramatically, as someone who has followed the Richard Mille story for a full 20 years, I am of the opinion that many of Mille’s current watches are destined to become some of the most significant milestones in horological history.
Finally, I should add that even though this year represents his 20th anniversary, Richard Mille was adamant about not celebrating this milestone as he feels that the brand belongs to the future and not the past. So, in accordance with this, let’s look at three recent and new Richard Mille watches that are destined to be his future classics.
Five Years of the Revolutionary Extra Flat RM 67-02
In 2010, Mille enacted a game-changing revolution with the RM 027, the world’s lightest mechanical watch which he strapped to the wrist of tennis’ heaviest hitter, Rafael Nadal. Says Mille, “It wasn’t easy to convince Rafa to wear a watch at first. He is famous for being very specific about his preparation, what he wears and his equipment for his match. He was convinced he would find the watch distracting and uncomfortable. It was only at the behest of King Juan Carlos of Spain that he finally agreed to meet [me] and try the watch. When he did, he couldn’t believe how light and comfortable it was. Of course, it helped that he went on to win the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open the first year he had his Mille on. You could say, since then, it has become his lucky talisman.”
The RM 027 and its non-tourbillon baby sibling, the RM 035 Rafael Nadal, became the focus of even more extreme experimentation on reducing weight, increasing shock resistance and maximizing comfort. Says Mille, “The objective is simple: I wanted Rafa to never even notice he was wearing a watch until he looked at it. We worked on different case materials from carbon fiber to carbon TPT to quartz TPT. We discovered ways to isolate the movement from all external shocks, and we even came up with new types of straps, from the Velcro to what collectors call the ‘loop’ sports band.”
From 2010 to 2020, Richard Mille pioneered the approach to transforming the mechanical watch into the ultimate sports performance tool, resulting in what I consider to be the single most game-changing timepiece in recent years, the RM 67-02 launched in 2017. If the first decade of Mille watches had changed our perception of what a luxury material was with the introduction of titanium, carbon fiber, ceramic and quartz TPT, the second decade saw an even more radical transformation of the traditional watch, which with the RM 67-02, has transcended its category to become the ultimate hyper luxury hardcore sports watch. So light and so effortless is it to wear that I would even hesitate to call it a sports watch. To me, the RM 67-02 is almost a sports band or sports bracelet that just so happens to also tell the time with one of the most stunningly designed and technically innovative watch heads attached to it. To completely understand the RM 67-02, you need to first try one on. Immediately you will feel as if you have nothing more than a thin, almost weightless sweatband on your wrist, until you look down and see its blazing multi-hued quartz TPT and aggressive carbon TPT livery glowing on your wrist.
Let’s look at some of the significant design elements expressed by the introduction of this model in 2017. To start off, it was one of the first RM watches to revisit classic dimensions at 38.7mm wide and 7.8mm in height. Its length is 47.52mm but because it has no lugs, it wears not much bigger than an Apple watch. It is sometimes forgotten that, when introduced, the RM 67-02 was the world’s lightest automatic wristwatch at 32 grams. That is crazy light, weighing no more than seven sheets of A4 paper. The movement of the RM 67-02 is an absolutely stunning work of art. Caliber CRMA7 features a fully skeletonized baseplate and bridges in grade 5 titanium but with a variable inertia rotor consisting of carbon fiber arms and a white gold mass. Because of how light the arms are relative to the weight at the perimeter, this rotor winds super efficiently. The carbon arms also help in dissipating violent shocks to the rotor assembly, such is their dampening effect. The movement beats at 4Hz and offers 50 hours of power reserve with a free sprung balance wheel. Because the dial is integrated into the baseplate of the watch, you can see all the inner mechanical elements, including the escapement wheel at seven o’clock, the balance wheel just to the left of six o’clock, and the skeletonized barrel at 12 o’clock, which also allows you to gauge the state of wind of the mainspring inside. While this aesthetic has become popular today, it should not be forgotten that Richard Mille was the first to create watches with this modern expression of skeletonization, in particular with the RM 009, which featured a movement composed entirely of box-sectioned aluminum-lithium bridges.
The case of the watch is the Mille V3 case with the aggressive protruding architectural extensions around the splined screws on the top plate and the back case, which we first saw in the much-coveted RM 11-03. The top plate and back case are made in either quartz TPT or carbon TPT with the midcase in carbon fiber. The RM 67-02 comes exclusively on the elastic strap from the RM 27-03 Rafael Nadal, which is essentially an elastic sports loop that is incredibly comfortable to wear.
The RM 67-02 was introduced at the IAAF World Championships in London 2017 in green and yellow quartz TPT, and red and white quartz TPT, respectively, for South African sprinter Wayde van Niekerk and Mutaz Essa Barshim, the high jumper from Qatar. Says the Norwegian world and Olympic biathlon champion Johannes Thingnes Bø, who wears a stunning unique RM 67-02 in Norwegian flag livery in competition: “This is the only watch I would wear. For me, it is how slim and ergonomic the watch is. In my sport, I can’t have a watch get caught in my rifle strap or impede my movement in any way. The ultra slim profile of the watch is perfect; also the weight of 32 grams. Time is a crucial element in my sport and with my 67-02, I am able to keep track of it while wearing — let’s just admit it — the coolest watch in the world on my wrist.” Non-professional athletes also love the RM 67-02 for its sheer wearability. Says one of Singapore’s top watch collectors who goes by the Instagram handle @santa_laura, “Like everyone who loves watches, I got into Richard Mille. But soon I started to focus on the 67-02. Why? Because it is one of those few watches that you put on, and you forget you are wearing anything at all. It’s so comfortable and effortless to wear. It is amazing for sports, for the weekend, when you are on holiday at a resort. I also love the different colors the model comes in, and I collect all of them.”
Says Nick Foulkes, “The RM 67-02 is a fascinating watch in that it is almost not a watch, as it is so light and immensely wearable. I had initially thought of its character as a modern lightweight version of a watch that was as much bracelet as watch, such as the [Rolex] King Midas, until my sons pointed out that it is more akin to the ultimate decorative music festival backstage bracelet — just one that happens to tell the time and costs over USD 120,000 if you are lucky enough to get allocated one. Though, rest assured, it should get you backstage to pretty much anything; it will get you backstage to the whole world.”
In 2018, four more versions of the RM 67-02 were added, which included a red, black and yellow version in German flag colors, then a black carbon TPT version with a blue sports strap for rally driver Sébastien Ogier, a white quartz TPT version with a blue strap for skier Alexis Pinturault, and a stunning blue quartz TPT version with yellow and red design elements and a blue strap for F1 driver Fernando Alonso. Together with the first two versions, that means there are six different colorways for the RM 67-02, giving you ample opportunity to collect this model in depth.
One of the key statistics that must be discussed about the RM 67-02 relates to its thickness, which is 7.8mm. This is wonderfully thin for a sports watch and is actually thinner than something like a Patek Philippe ref. 5711 or Audemars Piguet ref. 15202. But the important thing here is that it is the result of Mille’s focus on ultra thin watches that dates back to 2007 with the RM 16. A full seven years before Bvlgari launched the now-famous Octo Finissimo, Mille had already demonstrated that ultra thin watches with amazing design and true strength of character were a significant part of the future. Mille, who is always tapped into the zeitgeist, had foreseen the interest in extra thin watches long before the rest of the market arrived at this conclusion.
The First Extra Flat Richard Mille Tonneau Watch — RM 67-01
The direct predecessor to the RM 67-02 is the RM 67-01, which was first introduced in 2016. Says Ted Fang, an owner of this model, whom I met at a Richard Mille event in Singapore, “From the moment I saw the 67-01, I loved it. It has all of the Richard Mille design codes I love, but it was so easy and effortless to wear. When I first bought it, people were curious about it but asked why I didn’t buy an RM 11. Now everyone tells me how amazing it feels on their wrist. I think Richard knew that collectors would move back to thinner watches, but he just arrived there before the majority of the market. That’s Richard — always leading the way.”
The RM 67-01 is a stunning timepiece. It was Mille’s first extra thin tonneau-shaped watch powered by an all-new, in-house automatic movement, the platinum rotor equipped CRMA6, which measures 3.6mm high. As early as this, Richard Mille saw the need for a more elegant size while retaining the power of his design. Accordingly, the RM 67-01 is 7.75mm high.
In many ways, the RM 67-01 is also the forebear to watches such as Mille’s new RM 72-01 Lifestyle Chronograph in that it is sleeker and more wearable, and perhaps most importantly, from a cultural perspective, genuinely gender-neutral. This is another demonstration of Mille’s foresight in a world where people no longer identify with traditional gender roles or gendered watches. After all, a Daytona is as much a women’s watch as it is a men’s watch. Mille wanted his watches to similarly appeal to everyone, regardless of gender and based purely on the strength of their character. Looking at the RM 67-01, you can already see that this watch represents the first dynamic shift toward this concept as far as his tonneau-shaped watches are concerned. But, in fact, Mille already had three other ultra-thin models that heralded the return to slimmer, more wearable timepieces, beginning in reverse chronological order with the RM 033.
When it was first released in 2011, the RM 033 was surprising and unexpected for two reasons. Firstly, the 45.7mm case was round; secondly, the watch was extra thin, measuring an amazing 6.3mm in height to be exact, thanks to the lovely 2.6mm-thick RMXP1 micro-rotor movement inside. This movement was fully skeletonized with its baseplate and bridges in grade 5 titanium. The watch came with radiating Roman numerals. Though the watch was round in form, it was also ergonomically curved like all of Mille’s designs so that it perfectly fit the wrist.
In 2015, Mille launched the RM 33-01, a souped-up version of its predecessor with a case dimension of 45.7mm in diameter and 9.2mm in height, with sharper, more angular lugs and with the dial now featuring enlarged Mille Arabic markers. It also featured a date as well as a small seconds subdial, whereas the original RM 033 was more of a dandy-esque time-only watch. Then in 2019, we saw the launch of the phenomenal RM 33-02 which measured 41.7mm in width and 8.8mm in thickness. To me, this was Mille’s recognition that there was a segment of his audience that genuinely wanted smaller, slimmer and more wearable timepieces. This watch received the full Mille effect, meaning a carbon TPT top plate and caseback with a red gold midcase. Like the original RM 033, it was a time-only watch. It is important to note that all three of these watches are effortless to wear and genuinely gender-neutral. Even though 45.7mm might sound large, bear in mind that all of Mille’s watch cases have been created with a focus on the ultimate ergonomic comfort, and so the size is far more adaptable than that number may indicate.
What I find remarkable about Richard Mille’s RM 016, which dates back to 2007, is how fundamentally ahead of the industry it was. It is possibly for this reason that many collectors at the time were somewhat unsure of what to make of it. Up until then, Richard’s most iconic watches, such as the RM 001, RM 004 and RM 008, used his stunning tonneau form and were relatively thick watches, as they all housed varying forms of Mille’s radical aesthetic and shock-resistance experiments, which would come to define the genetic blueprint of his brand. But with the 38mm wide and 49.8mm long curved rectangular case of the RM 16 that was a scant 8.25mm thick, collectors were somewhat baffled. This was, after all, not the Mille watch they were expecting. But, to me, this was Richard’s first experiment with radically enhancing the wearability of his watches by reducing the case height. The RM 67-02 is the combination of this concept with the ultra light, shock resistance and material innovation experiments that came out of the RM 027 and RM 035. But without the important milestone of the RM 016, I don’t think the RM 67-02 would exist today.
To demonstrate that his high complications could also be the subject of ultra thin experimentation, Richard Mille introduced us to the RM 017 Tourbillon in 2010. While the case is ostensibly the ergonomic, curved rectangle of the RM 016, here we have a spectacular skeletonized tourbillon movement that is just 4.65mm thick, resulting in a watch that measures 49.8mm by 38mm but is a svelte 8.7mm in height. In today’s context, there are thinner tourbillons and even automatic tourbillons, but in 2010, which was again far before the renaissance of ultra thin watches, this was a pioneering and iconoclastic timepiece. Also, it should be said that this is one of my favorite Richard Mille movements, which despite being slender, demonstrates all of Mille’s signature ultra skeletonized leitmotifs with incredible beauty. So much so that even though it is anything but ultra slim, I have to give a shoutout here to Richard Mille’s RM 17-01, which is this same movement placed inside a regular sized carbon TPT tonneau case with rose gold highlights in a micro-edition of 10 watches. It was also made in white and black ceramic versions, which were released last year. I have no idea why these watches suddenly appeared in 2020. Perhaps someone opened a drawer at the RM headquarters and discovered a few remaining movements, but all I know is that this is one of my all-time favorite Richard Milles. Thanks to the carbon TPT and the minimalistic movement, this beauty that measures 48.15mm by 40.1mm by 13.8mm is also, as the Neapolitans would say about their tailoring, “as light as the winds over Vesuvius.”
Richard Mille’s First In-House Chronograph — RM 72-01
With Richard Mille’s deep connection to auto racing, it is natural that the chronograph has been one of his signature complications. Mille’s foray into chronographs began in 2004 with his collaboration with Audemars Piguet Renaud & Papi (APRP) on his RM 004 Split Seconds Chronograph and the RM 008, essentially the same watch but with a mighty tourbillon. These have always been two of my favorite watches and represent masterworks of design both in terms of the architecture of the movements and the aesthetic of the watches themselves. Both of these were manual wind watches configured with indications not only for the power reserve, but also the quality of mainspring torque, which is actually more important.
Mille’s first automatic chronograph was the now-legendary RM 11 from 2007. This larger, muscular beast of a watch featured a Vaucher movement, which first appeared in the RM 005, as its base caliber. The particularity of this movement was that it used a variable inertia rotor, meaning that depending on where you set the small wings connecting the rotor winding mechanism, you could cause it to spin more or less efficiently. As an amusing aside, the person who came up with this idea was, in fact, Giulio Papi’s father, who had worked at the partially Hermès-owned Vaucher. Mille mated this movement to a module developed by Dubois-Dépraz that featured a chronograph as well as an annual calendar, which automatically compensates for the shifting 30- and 31-day rhythms of the months. The RM 11 has gone on to be one of Mille’s flagship watches. So hotly coveted is it that some versions of the RM 11-03, such as the blue quartz TPT Jean Todt version, have sold for an astounding 250 percent above retail.
The impressive thing about the RM 72-01 was that even though it was smaller in dimension, it packed a huge visual punch. Indeed, it bristled with all the Mille iconography we know and love — the tonneau shape, the splined screws traversing the case from front to back, the massive rubber-coated pushers recessed into huge shrouds that look like F1 air induction ducts, and a massive oversized rubber-coated crown. The dial featured a wonderful evolution of the traditional chronograph layout with separate subdials for continuous seconds, a 60-minute chrono counter and 24-hour counter, all color coded and labeled for ultimate clarity. One design flourish we see increasingly used in recent Mille watches is color coding to visually separate time from chronograph information, which is both pragmatic but also powerful looking. This is dialed up to the next level on the new RM 65-01 Automatic Split Seconds Chronograph. The point is that until you put it on the wrist, the RM 72-01 looks like your typical hyper dynamic Mille watch that radiates futurist machine tech energy from 100 meters. But the amazing thing is when you put it on a man’s wrist, it doesn’t lose an iota of this power despite its slightly reduced proportions; on a woman’s wrist, it simply looks magnificent.
Beating inside the fantastic RM 72-01 is a watch movement that is one of the coolest chronograph calibers around. The man Mille has tapped as his technical director, Salvador Arbona, wanted to approach the CRMC1 movement (Caliber Richard Mille Chronograph 1) by solving some of the issues that traditionally plagued the chronograph. This is how a chronograph normally functions. You know that a watch works with a barrel containing a wound spring that is basically the watch’s gas tank, which, through reduction gearing, ends up feeding power every fraction of a second through an escapement to an oscillator. The wheel just before the escape wheel is the fourth, or seconds, wheel. As its name implies, it makes a full rotation once a minute and therefore provides the reading for the seconds.
In traditional chronographs, this wheel is connected to a coupling lever. Co-axial to the seconds wheel, usually sitting on the lever, is — for lack of a better term — a second seconds wheel. This wheel powers a wheel of the same gear ratio, called the drive wheel. When the chronograph is activated, the coupling lever shifts to bring the drive wheel in contact with the centrally mounted chronograph seconds wheel. On the dial side, the chronograph seconds hand starts to rotate. With each revolution, the chronograph wheel activates a mechanism which pulls the minute counter forward.
Says Salvador Arbona, who is overseeing the advancement of the brand’s in-house movement program, “Well, a chronograph is an extremely parasitical device. It consumes a great deal of power and also accentuates the variable torque in the mainspring as the power reserve starts to diminish. So if you leave your chronograph on indefinitely, the amplitude of the balance wheel and, thus, the underlying timekeeping function of the watch will become compromised. There have been solutions such as the vertical clutch that have been implemented, but this is for larger scale, more industrial applications.”
Indeed, it is often the practice during servicing for vertical clutch movements that the clutch section is removed and replaced. Arbona continues, “So, we decided to use another solution called the oscillating pinion, which has three main advantages. The first is that it is a more direct and simple system; energy is being fed from a geared pinion directly from the seconds wheel to the chronograph wheel. Secondly, because it is simpler, it takes up less space, so you are able to make a smaller movement. Thirdly, it does not affect the timekeeping function. However, I say that with a caveat because our movement is the first chronograph in the world with two oscillating pinions specifically for this reason.”
This is how the caliber CRMC1 works. The seconds wheel drives an oscillating pinion that is slightly canted when in its rest position. When it is activated, it shifts to engage the chronograph wheel. Says Arbona, “Another area in which chronographs lose power is through the system where the seconds wheel drives the minute counter.” To resolve this, Arbona created a reduction gear coming directly from the barrel, driving a pinion that powers the chronograph minute counter.
He explains, “This way, the torque directly from the barrel, where power is at its greatest, is being split three ways: to the timekeeping function, which also powers the chronograph seconds; to the chronograph minute counter; and, using reduction gearing, directly to the hour counter. Because the hour counter turns so slowly, it is not necessary to create an oscillating pinion [for it]. But the end result is a system that is far less parasitical and does not affect the underlying chronometric performance of the movement.”
All these technical achievements aside, one of the things I don’t think people talk about enough is how stunning the movement design of Richard Mille watches are. The CRMC1 is a fantastic example. As more brands have become inspired by Mille’s contemporary skeletonized caliber architecture, you see more and more examples of this throughout the industry. But no one does it with the same imagination and finesse as Mille. Take a look, for example, at the skeletonization of the full traversing balance bridge on the CRMC1. Look at the stunning hand-polished bevels, countersinks and angles applied to skeletonized grade 5 titanium bridges. Admire the finish on the rotor, as this is the one area in which Richard Mille retains all the traditional skill sets of haut de gamme horlogerie. The result is, to me, a watch that is hugely innovative and imaginative, both in terms of its stunning design and its technical substance.
Ultra Precision in the RM 65-01 Split Seconds Chronograph
Says Richard Mille, “I love split seconds chronographs because they are the most technical complication. But they are notoriously tough to perfect. With the 65-01, I wanted to create a split seconds chronograph that was a true sports watch that can be used whether in the cockpit of a car when endurance racing or riding a bicycle. I wanted to create a split seconds chronograph that, from the perspective of performance with a 10Hz oscillating speed allowing for the division of time to 1/10th of a second, had reliability that was second to none. In order to do that, I knew I had to start from the ground up and create an all-new movement.”
A split seconds chronograph is often considered to be a complication eclipsed only by the minute repeater in terms of the challenge in perfecting its setup. Which is precisely why Mille decided that his first chronograph, the RM 004, should be precisely this type of watch: To show in the context of 2003 when the model was launched, that there were no limits to what his brand could achieve. This movement, which has gone on to appear in many of Mille’s most iconic models, was born out of a collaboration with Mille and APRP. And while it was stunningly modern in appearance, the watch was still somewhat traditional in terms of being manually wound and laterally coupled. When it came time to create a high performance, ultra high precision watch, Mille’s team looked at their collaboration with Vaucher to create the ultimate movement.
From the beginning, Mille took inspiration from the world of F1, where engines for cars are often sourced from the very best manufacturers. This resulted in the collaboration with APRP and also in the long-term partnership with Vaucher. In 2018, Vaucher announced the creation of one of the industry’s most stunning new chronograph movements, the VMF 6710. Besides the Zenith El Primero, it is the only other automatic column wheel-activated chronograph movement that beats at a lightning fast 5Hz or 36,000 vibrations per hour. However, one critical distinction to this movement is that it uses a vertical clutch as opposed to the El Primero’s laterally coupled clutch. The vertical clutch enables the chronograph to be left running indefinitely with no erosive effect on the underlying accuracy of the watch. In addition, the movement is a treasure trove of innovation featuring, for example, a full traversing balance bridge for the free sprung balance that can be micro-adjusted higher or lower to guarantee perfect engagement with the escapement.
But imagine now that the Richard Mille team was looking at this base caliber and recognizing its potential, but also seeing the level to which they could bring it by totally redesigning and rebuilding it to their specifications. This was how they created the RMAC4 movement, which brings several massive leaps forward to the base movement. The RMAC4 features a split seconds function, a rapid winding pusher that can fully wind the movements barrel with 125 pushes and a variable inertia/geometry rotor that can be set up to correspond to the owner’s level of energy output. But that’s just the beginning because the RMAC4 has every bridge made out of grade 5 titanium before it is fully skeletonized, bringing the weight of the movement down to the very minimum.
The case of the RM 65-01 is massive and powerful. It is effectively the same size at the RM 011, measuring 50mm in length, 44.5mm in width and 16.1mm in height. I know the watches are essentially the same size because the rubber strap it uses is marked RM 11-03, meaning the straps are interchangeable for these two models. Upon introduction, the RM 65-01 features a case made from carbon TPT. Again, while today many brands are manufacturing watches from carbon fiber, in particular carbon that has an irregularly layered, Damascus-steel-like pattern, Mille was the first to claim this territory as his in 2013 with the North Thin Ply Technology (NTPT) versions of his RM 011.
On the dial side, the RM 65-01 takes the concept of color coding we’ve seen on the RM 72-01 and dials it all the way up. The hour and minute hand, hour indexes and small seconds are all rendered yellow; the chronograph 12-hour counter at nine o’clock and the 30-minute counter at three o’clock are both in orange, as is the chronograph seconds hand. But superimposed on top of the chrono seconds hand is the blue split seconds hand. Bottom right, you’ll find the gear selector and top left you’ll find the date. Now check out the array of buttons. The top right is start/stop and the bottom right is reset. The top left is the split seconds pusher and the bottom left, in bright red, is the quick winding button that charges the barrel to full in 125 pushes.
Start the watch and activate the split seconds hand. The first thing you’ll notice is the tremendous work that Richard Mille has done to optimize the split seconds function. With the split seconds hand frozen, you can record a lap time, then hit the button on the top left and you will see the blazing fast “rattrapante” or catch-up action of the split hand with the chronograph hand. I have to say, the speed and accuracy with which the hand catches up is impressive. Set off the black carbon TPT case, the multi-hued elements of the watch are certainly attention-getting, but Richard Mille watches have never been for the timid. They are, as Richard always likes to point out, for people with strength of character. There is no doubt that Mille will continue to use the manual wind split seconds caliber introduced in the RM 004 for his ultra high concept watches, such as the one-million-dollar RM 50-03 McLaren F1, the world’s lightest tourbillon split seconds chronograph. But the RM 65-01 introduces a fantastic everyday functionality to the split seconds chronograph category with a watch that is also a stunning new timepiece.
The point to this 8,000-plus-word article on Richard Mille is to demonstrate that the spirit of rebellious, crazily innovative energy is still full bore at the brand. It’s just that the world has caught up, embraced and is now obsessed with Richard Mille to such a massive extent that Mille has become much more than a watch brand. It has become the ultimate symbol of success, optimism and fearlessness.
Sometimes people get it wrong about Richard Mille. You don’t admire the watch or the man wearing it because you know it probably costs at least half a million dollars. You admire the watch because it is the first genuine 21st century horological icon that has stood the test of time and become even more relevant with the passing of the years. You admire the individuals wearing it, both women and men, because of what they’ve achieved in life to enable them to wear a Mille. Individuals like Michelle Yeoh who once jumped a motorcycle onto a moving train in a Jackie Chan movie and who is amongst the most devoted of Richard Mille ambassadors. At a Richard Mille event in Singapore hosted by Mille’s partners in Asia, Dave and Eddie Tan, she once tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around, and she nodded at my wine glass and said, “Bottoms up. We like to have fun. This is the Richard Mille family.” That is perhaps the most charming thing about Mille and the family he created that includes his partner in the US, John “Uncle John” Simonian, and in Europe, Peter Harrison.
What is nice to see is the transfer of leadership at Richard Mille from one generation to the next. Richard now has four of his children working at the brand. Alexandre Mille who is commercial director; Dimitri Mille who is brand identity and digital coordinator; Guillaume Mille who is audiovisual coordinator; and Amanda Mille who oversees everything related to brand and partnership relationships. Richard’s partner Dominique Guenat now has his daughter Cécile working as the director of creation and development. In the United States, Richard’s partner is the legendary John Simonian, whose son Greg works side by side with him as president of Westime. Says John Simonian, “It’s been an amazing 20-year journey with Richard—a truly life-changing experience that is based on passion and friendship. Meeting Richard two decades ago was a turning point in my career, which now clocks in at 47 years! Richard’s vision is for the next generation to come into the company and ensure the continuity of what we have all built together.”
Says Greg Simonian, “Richard Mille has been the most game-changing brand of the last 20 years. But we are only now beginning to understand the true reach of its huge cultural impact. Here, in the United States, it has become the ultimate community symbol for a very special type of elite client. They don’t want to wear anything else. Because wearing a Richard Mille for them is an expression of being part of a family.”
In Singapore, Richard’s partners for Asia, Dave Tan and his brother Eddie, are now handing the leadership reins over to the very capable Bryan Tan, who is Dave’s son. Says Bryan, “In my age group, the Richard Mille community here in Asia is incredibly strong, tight-knit, and it is constantly growing and expanding. This community all throughout Asia will be our customers now and for the future.” Adds Keita Kawasaki, CEO of Richard Mille Japan, which opened its first boutique in 2007, “Richard Mille watches are wearable artworks and continue to create value. Richard Mille Japan is also passionate about charity work since 2011 and will continue to do so.”
Peter Harrison, CEO of Richard Mille EMEA, says, “I was friends with Richard long before we became business partners so there was already trust between us. At that time, he wanted to create a very exclusive brand, in an industry where competition was already tough, but I was immediately seduced, and here we are 20 years later, still working together, associated in a flourishing brand, which is a leader in its field.”
The point is that despite the stratospheric success the brand has achieved, everyone involved in the brand is remarkably down to earth and, most importantly, genuinely nice. Sure, they and their clients might be amongst the most successful people in their respective countries, but everyone takes their lead from Richard himself, who is the embodiment of humility and kindness despite his crazy, unparalleled success. A full 20 years after he irrevocably altered the course of watchmaking, Richard Mille, the brand, the man and the team around it, are at the height of their creative powers. And so, it seems that the next 20 years will be even better than the past two decades, which have already changed the world irrevocably and forever.
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