Almost a quarter century ago, in the ultimate act of iconoclastic rebellion, Richard Mille smashed the watch industry apart at its seams and reconstructed it in his own image. Rejecting all references to the past, Mille shifted our perspective from a Proustian preoccupation of things past and set our sights decidedly on the new millennium. His watches were the very zeitgeist of contemporary culture, invoking the gods of horsepower, filling our ears with the magnificent dissonance of racing tyres shredded to their core, and our noses with the smell of high octane racing fuel.
Strapping on a Richard Mille watch was like being catapulted at light speed into the future. As our brains rapidly processed all his revolutionary philosophies encoded into these extraordinary objects, straddling the precious real estate of our wrists, we reached a sudden, life-changing, irreversible epiphany. What was once heavy, made in platinum or gold, he made light in deference to comfort and performance. The ultimate expression of this came when tennis legend Rafael Nadal strapped on a Mille watch over a decade ago and never took it off to this day.
What was once vulnerable, he made indomitable, utilizing the materials of the future: carbon fiber, ceramic, North Thin Ply Technology, Quartz TPT and even a declassified satellite material named Alusic created by combining aluminum and silicon in a centrifuge. What was once closed off, Mille made transparent, defining watchmaking’s greatest new original visual language with movements in the form of minimalistic architectural bridges soaring through space. What was once mechanically fragile, Mille made defiantly robust and indefatigable, with tourbillons capable of withstanding 5,000g’s of acceleration, a level considered impossible before Mille willed it into existence. What was once designed with little deference to the human anatomy, Mille made a masterpiece of ergonomics, so much so that once you put on a Richard Mille, because of this and all its other qualities, you don’t want to take it off.
Much is made of the prices of Richard Mille watches, but as he has always explained, “If I was my own financial controller, I would have had to fire myself. Because each time I reached a crossroads where I could either follow known technology, or go down the path of the pioneer, I always decided to be first. I quickly realized that to be an innovator is expensive, risky and exhausting. But I had no choice, as this was where my heart compelled me to go — always into the unknown to discover new levels of performance previously considered to be impossible.” As the public’s collective consciousness awakened to Richard Mille, his brand achieved two levels of cultural relevance. The first was to become what was effectively the billionaire’s Masonic handshake, the ultimate stealth symbol of friendship and comradery united by a shared love for Mille’s philosophy of limitless performance and groundbreaking design.
But then, as with all the world’s greatest secrets, Mille’s watches eventually went mainstream. When this happened, the world enacted a cultural transcendence for his timepieces never achieved by any other brand in the history of watchmaking. A Mille watch today is no longer a device for time. Worn by the world’s most elite entrepreneurs, athletes and entertainers, a Mille watch has become a cultural symbol, representing rebellion, defiance, iconoclasm and, most of all, extraordinary success.
A Love for Art
While Richard Mille has always been about pushing watchmaking well past its boundaries, the brand has over the last decade also selected to celebrate cultural symbols that resonate with its philosophy of fearlessness.
The first of these was the RM 52 Tourbillon Skull introduced in 2012. Inspired by the flag of pirate ships, the watch design was also Mille’s take on the symbolism of memento mori or tempus fugit that dated back to ancient Roman mosaics, reached a zenith of popularity in oil paintings of the 16th and 17th centuries and is the underlying motif of Mexico’s Day of the Dead. It is a motto that reminds us all of our mortality and that we are, therefore, morally obligated to live our lives to the very fullest. Says Alexandre Mille, the commercial director of the brand, “I was just a kid when the watch came out, but I could already understand how my father wanted to use the symbolism of a death head on a device that charts the passing of time to remind people that we all only have one life and that every moment had to be cherished. This is always the way he lives his life and the way he has taught us to live ours. To celebrate every moment with friends and family and to always understand that it is these bonds that are the most important.” The RM 52 used a grade 5 titanium skull and crossbones, perfectly polished and angled as the bridges of the movement, with the jewel for the tourbillon held between the jaws.
In April 2022, Mille introduced the RM 47 Tourbillon Samurai, a watch that brought an all-new level of micro-engraving artistry to the brand’s vocabulary. Says Alex Mille, “My father always loved the Japanese samurai’s code of bushidō, which is about the warrior spirit and, in particular, honor and loyalty. If you know my father, you know he is one of the most loyal people in the world. For him, our team and partners are like our brothers and sisters. He loved the story of the Asano clan where the 47 rōnin are left leaderless after their lord is forced to commit ritual suicide for assaulting a corrupt court official named Kira. After his death, they waited and planned for a year to finally avenge him even though they knew they would also be compelled to commit seppuku. He loved that this was a true story from the 18th century.” The RM 47 features the Asano clan’s emblem of two crossed falcon feathers on a suit of samurai armor crafted in gold by Pierre-Alain and Valérie Lozeron with extraordinary artistry and sensitivity to detail. One need only look at their capacity to replicate the pattern of stingray skin on the back of the armor or the scales on the back of the kabuto (helmet) to understand the breathtaking skill of this artisan couple.
A New Symbol of Rebellion
For 2023, Richard Mille introduces the RM 66, one of the brand’s most defiantly rebellious yet sensitively rendered artisan timepiece featuring an iconic hand gesture that is synonymous with heavy metal culture yet dates all the way back to the foundation of Tibetan Buddhism.
Says Alex Mille, “The devil’s sign has multiple meanings in culture, which makes it so fascinating and the perfect focus for our latest micro-engraved timepiece in collaboration with Pierre-Alain and Valérie Lozeron.” It is used invariably to celebrate moments of musical or sporting transcendence when dopamine, that incredible neuromodulator molecule, is released by the brain’s pleasure center and floods our bloodstreams. It is used by extreme athletes, surfers, skaters and snowboarders to celebrate the landing of an incredible trick or the riding of the perfect wave.
In music, it is the symbol of heavy metal first popularized by Ronnie James Dio of Black Sabbath fame, who actually borrowed the gesture from his Italian grandmother who called it the malocchio, and used it to ward off evil. Indeed, the hand sign is similar to the apana mudra used in Hatha yoga and is believed to redirect the flow of rejuvenating energy to the body. It is one of the fundamental gestures in classic Indian dance and symbolizes the lion. In Buddhism, it possesses immense protective implications and is used to ward off demons. It is also popular in Southern Italian and other Mediterranean cultures, where it is similarly believed to protect against bad luck. During the outbreak of cholera in Naples, the Italian president Giovanni Leone — a native Neapolitan — was famous for making the symbol behind his back with one hand, each time he shook hands using the other.
This gold hand, like the RM 52 Skull watch’s central motif, is not just decorative but also serves as the mainplate for the watch’s gear train, which includes many of Mille’s signature technical innovations, such as his fast rotating barrel and his subsidiary bridges in grade 5 titanium. Placed at 12 o’clock, just above the two fingers in the malocchio curved back toward the wrist is the brand’s flying tourbillon, also rendered in exquisite life-like detail. This innovation averages the errors create by gravity on the watch’s regulating organs by placing them in a cage that rotates once around its own axis every 60 seconds. While the tourbillon was invented in 1801 by Abraham-Louis Breguet, it was Mille that endowed the device with relevance to the modern world by enabling it with a level of shock resistance that allowed it to be worn by elite athletes like Nadal in the heat of competition. This magnificent “whirlwind” poised at the 12-hour index creates the perfect visual companion to the beautifully rendered hand.
The case of the watch echoes the theme of dynamic contrast by combining the world’s most cutting edge performance material with one of the most traditional precious metals. The top and back case are rendered in Carbon TPT, a material exclusive to Mille and that he pioneered over a decade ago. This carbon fiber weave features a Damascus-like structure that makes every watch unique and provides a significantly greater surface hardness than traditional carbon fiber. The caseband of the RM 66 is created in grade 5 titanium but features inserts rendered in sumptuous rose gold, with a spiked profile that evokes the belts and wrist cuffs of heavy metal and punk rock musicians. The crown of the watch is itself a miniature masterpiece of sculptural expression featuring a massive synthetic ruby cabochon crowned with a six-sided star in grade 5 titanium. The result is a timepiece where every nuance is charged with an electric sense of dynamic energy.
Indeed, this is a quality that has become the signature of each and every Richard Mille watch. The RM 66 is the watch for every individual that has stared into the face of adversity and raised his hand in defiance, making the symbol of the malocchio to express his or her resolve and indefatigable spirit of resilience. It is a watch that, as such, channels the spirit of the great man himself who founded the world’s most game-changing and genre redefining watch brand 22 years ago and continues to be horology’s greatest and most rebellious innovator.