The disruptive world of early Richard Mille

By A Collected Man

The Richard Mille brand is an easy one to hate. Their designs are bold, they’re staggeringly expensive and it can be hard to understand just what goes into making one – and by extension how such a price can be justified. However, those who have followed the brand for the last nineteen years will recognise what a journey it has been on. Appearing just after the turn of the millennium, when the industry was leaning heavily on its treasured history, Richard Mille came along with no lineage or storied name to lay claim to. Rather, he put forward an unashamed modernity.

The first few years of any watch manufacture are hard. Trying to break into a centuries old industry with a reluctance to change, whilst being the new kid on the block, can certainly be tough. To add to this, Mille decided to follow his own path and do everything he could to carve out a new horological direction; from utilising space-age materials to putting his watches on the wrists of athletes as they compete “on the battlefield”, as he would put it. His daring approach seems to have paid off. Nineteen years since the industry was introduced to the RM 001 manual winding tourbillon, the brand has developed a cult following, putting itself in a distinctively different position to any other. 

 

Early Richard Mille RM002 in Rose Gold for the disruptive world of early Richard Mille for A Collected Man London

The striking sight of an RM 002. 

 

Richard Mille is still an extremely young brand. In the broader context of the horological world, it has barely taken its first steps. However, it has managed to achieve a considerable amount in a short space of time. That’s why we thought it important to take a closer look at how things began. Speaking to some dedicated collectors, from Eric Ku to Wei Koh, as well as Theodore Diehl, one of the very first employees and the official company spokesman & horologist of the brand, we examine the techniques, materials and components that helped separate Richard Mille’s watches from others. We also focus on the disruptive attitude taken by the eponymous man himself, who used to take great pleasure in throwing his own six-figure watch across the room to prove its robustness.

A key part to the company and its success has also been its collectors, who have formed a tight knit community around these pieces. This group of passionate owners has helped drive the brand to where it is today. However, it all comes back to one person. Richard Mille. The enigmatic Frenchman is now guiding the brand through a second global financial collapse in as many decades of being, yet his enthusiasm and creative outpouring has never faltered. Here we hope to take a look at how it all began and possibly figure out how Mille does it. 

The origins of the brand


 

The watch industry had never seen anything like Richard Mille in 2001 – by which we mean the brand, with the RM 001 really shaking things up. The man himself, however, had been around the watch industry for over thirty years. Having taken various managerial positions at different companies, he was someone who knew the ins-and-outs of the industry and the market intimately. 

However, horology wasn’t Mille’s first love. In fact, he waited five decades before starting his own brand. Prior to that, he was primarily obsessed with mechanics, more specifically motorcars and planes. It is said that he was so enamoured by sports cars that he bought his first one before he’d even received the money from his first paycheque. It was a Renault Alpine, in case you were wondering. According to Theodore Diehl, one of the very first employees of the brand and now its official spokesperson, Mille would read the Concorde instruction manuals as his bedtime reading, purely for the enjoyment of learning how the supersonic plane flew. It was this deep passion for mechanical brilliance that drove Mille in his career, constantly on the search for how to push the norm in order to achieve the unprecedented.

 

Richard Mille portrait shot for the disruptive early Richard Mille article by A Collected Man London

The man who started it all. 

 

In the last job before starting his own brand, Mille headed up the watch and jewellery department for Parisian jeweller Mauboussin. He launched their own-brand watch line in the early 1990s, in a style that was anything but Richard Mille. The design was far more classic and elegant – one which suited the French jeweller but was unlike anything that Mille would go on to create.

After a few years at Mauboussin’s watchmaking department, Mille was ready for a new challenge, in an environment which would allow him to channel his uncompromising attitude into something completely new. In 1999, he founded Richard Mille. He didn’t do it on his own though. As Diehl tells us “he was following classic Swiss tradition, in the sense that he made partnerships. What was new was that he didn’t hide them”, when opening the world behind the scenes was an indulgence many brands eschewed. 

Swiss watchmaking has traditionally relied on a group of specialists in different fields, whether it be those creating the dials, the movement ébauches or the screws which hold it all together. From the start of Swiss watchmaking 400 years ago to the 20th century, all of these parts were made by different companies and then supplied to brands who would rework, finish and assemble then. While Mille was intent on using the most modern of technologies and materials, he still had the traditional mindset of building a watch through partnerships.

One of the most fruitful and successful of these partnerships was with the complex movement manufacturer, Audemars Piguet Renaud & Papi (APRP). As with all great collaborations, it was based on respect, vision and an insatiable desire to create. This was a relationship that Mille had cultivated in his previous position at Mauboussin, using APRP to help create some of the movements inside the jeweller’s watches. Now with the freedom to design what he wanted, seemingly unconstrained by worries about pricing, he would work closely with APRP to manufacture movements that had never been seen before.

 

Richard Mille RM008 movement front and back showing tourbillon and function indicator for A Collected Man London

The inner workings of an RM 008. 

 

While Mille will be the first to admit that he is not a watchmaker – such that if he was given a set of tweezers and a screwdriver, he wouldn’t know where to start – his understanding of how to design mechanical movements is incredible. His original sketches for the RM 001 are nearly exactly what APRP ended up producing. The vision that Mille had in his head was so clear that he was able to translate it perfectly onto the page, and then push the engineering minds at APRP to manifest this idea into a physical timepiece. This is where Mille’s brilliance lies. Not in his ability to dream up unique watches, but to ensure that they are produced to his specifications, down to the smallest details.

This wasn’t the only partnership that Mille made at the very start of his company. He co-founded it with Dominique Guenat, and between the two of them they formed what would become the Richard Mille Group. It was made up of Horométrie SA, handling the after-sales service, Guenat SA Montres Valgine, which looked after admin, design and product development, ProArt and VDMH who specialised in watch decoration and the Paris based Editions Cercle d’Art, that dealt with printing the various paperwork and books dedicated to the brand. While this group now employs around 150 people, at the very beginning it was just Mille, Diehl, Guenat and Debbie Gourdon. With Mille supplying the driving force of ideas and creativity, the rest of the team were set to work figuring out ways to make or sell these watches.

 

 Richard Mille RM001 in white gold pre-production model for early Richard Mille for A Collected Man London

 The first iteration of Mille's dream.

 

According to Diehl, the RM 001 shouldn’t be thought of as a standard production model. “We really only made 17 of them and they were more a pre-series proof of concept run than anything else. Lacking the function indicator that would first appear in the movement of the RM 002, they were sold to friends and old clients of Richard’s, but they were never really available for the public to buy. With cases in platinum and 5N red gold and produced on a leather strap, this limited run of “pre-production” models were Mille’s statement of intent to the watch industry. They encapsulated every detail about his philosophy and were beacons of where the brand was destined to go. Showing them at Baselworld 2001 brought him enough attention – some good, some bad – to motivate him to develop the 18th watch of the series, which would become the RM 002.

How to make something no one has seen before


 

The RM 001 is a curious watch, given that it was never made for the open market and acted purely as a proof of concept for Mille. As such, only few were ever made. But not all were the same. The first 11 have a ‘classical’ German silver base plate. Cheaper to machine and easier to work with, these models were not exactly what Mille wanted, but they proved that the aesthetics and concept of the brand would work. Watches 12 to 17 would be made with a titanium baseplate with PVD coating. Leaving classical baseplate materials behind meant the brand now fully embodied the direction Mille had envisioned, with every detail under full scrutiny.

The movement and the case of the RM 001 was designed in unison. No part of this watch was an afterthought, nor had a corner been cut in its production. However, it didn’t fulfil all of Mille’s wishes. There were still tweaks that needed to be made before the RM 001 could evolve into the RM 002 and rolled out to production. One thing it was missing was the three, distinctive letters of the function indicator on the movement plate: W-N-H for the Winding, Neutral and Handsetting functions, operated via a pusher int the crown.  Paired with the lightness and shock resistance that Mille has preached from day one, it would become a signature feature of these pieces.

 

Richard Mille RM 003 in titanium gif labelling disruptive components for A Collected Man London

The disruptive components of early Richard Mille design. 

 

During the product development of the earliest models, Diehl says that the one component that took longer to perfect than anything else was the strap. Some may assume that the strap of a watch could almost be an afterthought, especially when so much has gone into the design and conception of the watch itself. However, it was in fact the connection between the strap and the watch that took five years to develop to perfection. You read that right. “If you look at how Richard Mille straps connect to the watches,” Diehl says, “you’ll see that the rectangular profile of the strap joint and the details along its side must perfectly meet in line with the case; this is achieved using an invisible tab fitting into the case. To get every aspect visually perfect and to the correct tolerances took about five years and multiple changes of supplier. Richard often mentioned to me that the strap development took much more time than the entire development of the first watches." 

It’s these ultra-small tolerances that would come back to make Mille’s life difficult again in a later model. In his quest for lightness, Mille is known for using materials that other watchmakers might not even consider or use them in ways that others haven’t dared. For example, making the tripartite, curved cases out of titanium proved trickier than they first thought. Every metal has some type of memory to it, so no matter how you mill, machine or work it, it will try and shift back, ever so slightly, to its original shape. Due to the tight tolerances between the curved sapphire crystals and the bezels, the memory in the titanium cases forced them to shift just enough to crack the crystals. “We kept having these crystals crack and we couldn’t figure out why,” Diehl remembers. It goes to show just how little room for error there was when designing these watches.

 

Richard Mille RM003 caseback showing Ti titanium stamp and other numberings as well as movement for A Collected Man London

 The Ti stamp on the back of an RM 003.

 

A question that is often thrown at these pieces is why they cost so much, despite the lack of precious metals and classical horological history that so many brands lean on. One of the factors that certainly adds to the price in a significant way is the staggering number of components that don’t make it past quality control. During the early days, some of the movements were PVD coated. Whilst this wasn’t a brand-new technology in the world of horology, deciding to use it within a watch was a rather unconventional choice – something that would be seen far more in the motoring world. One problem with PVD coating is that it (visibly) scratches incredibly easily – a mere light touch of the surface with a tool is enough. If a watchmaker is just the tiniest bit careless with their screwdriver, it could cause a faint scratch that might not be visible to the naked eye in the final product but would never make it past quality control.

To find a solution to this, Mille went to his movement specialists at APRP to see what ideas they had to help stop this wastage. It was in fact their idea to make a movement base plate out of carbon nanofibre. Something which had never been integrated into watches before, this incredibly strong and lightweight material was unbeknownst to the horological community.

To get hold of this military-grade matter for the brand’s baseplates, APRP had to sign a contract with the United States Air Force saying that they would only use it for watch parts. Why such strict conditions around the use of a material you may ask? Well, the carbon nanofibre they integrated into their timepieces were also used for stealth airplanes by the US Airforce. This carbon fibre has a unique quality, in that it allows radar signals pass straight through it, making the planes, and by extension these watch movements, invisible to enemy radar. When one talks about pilot’s watches being inspired by aircraft, you never quite imagine them to be made from the same space age components.

 

Richard Mille RM006 caseback showing carbon fibre nanotubes base plate for movement for A Collected Man London

 The carbon fibre nanotubes base plate of an RM 006.

 

If this seems like a lot of trouble to go through, just to perfect one component of the watch, it should come as no surprise that it actually sets the standard for Richard Mille. Another part which could be easily be overlooked, and probably is by many who wear these watches, is the humble screw. To bring the three-part cases together, Mille wanted to use torque screws, to ensure that the case was held together at the perfect tension. There are also a number of torque screws used throughout the movement, but the long ones that hold the case together are the ones we’re focusing on here. According to Diehl, these screws did not come cheap, “for 1kg of the torque screws it costs about CHF 2 million. They’re not a simple part to produce as it takes 20 operations to make each screw.” While a kilo of screws will last a long time, the price is still far above your standard variety of watchmaking screw. While many manufacturers say they pay attention to the details, paying CHF 2 million for screws might be taking this phrase to another level. Also, the use of torque screws goes hand-in-hand with another classic Richard Mille complication, the torque indicator which has been the dial of his watches since the RM 001.

 

Richard Mille RM003 case and bezel showing torque screws holding it together for A Collected Man London

The costly torque screws. 

 

When we look at the evolution from the RM 001 towards the RM 002, the main point of focus is the addition of the titanium baseplate in the movement. To mill titanium, you need to use a machine which has special fire prevention methods in place, as titanium dust can ignite with the smallest spark. Cutting the threading for the small screws becomes a much harder process and far more complicated than working with brass or German silver; therefore it would be too hard and too costly to achieve. This is why many people said that it could not be done – until Richard Mille did it.

The progression


 

With any brand, it’s only natural that the first models deviate from the ones leaving the workshop two decades down the line. However, with Richard Mille, the design language seems to be incredibly consistent. Despite the variety of situations and scenarios their watches are built for, there is a sense of continuity through every line of the brands many collections and case shapes. This is in part thanks to the brilliance of the man himself. As Wei Koh, a Richard Mille owner and founder of The Rake and Revolution magazines puts it, “his watches are the most original vision of modern horology to come out of the 21st century.” Mille’s “fearlessness” to stay true to his original vision, has been a constant, according to Koh. This, along with the determination to relentlessly innovate, seem to be the qualities that Richard Mille has stayed true to all this time.

 

Richard Mille RM001 in rose gold at an angle for A Collected Man London

 The RM 002.

 

As we move from the RM 002 to the RM 003 tourbillons, there is the addition of a dual time function to the lightweight movement; adding an extra layer of usability to the watch. However, it is with the next model that came out in 2003, the RM 008-V1, that we start to see the sportier side of these watches coming to the forefront.

The addition of a split-second chronograph to the manual winding tourbillon movement, which already had a power reserve function indicator and torque indicator, shows Mille’s willingness to push things forward. While a split-second chronograph is certainly a complicated function to integrate, it’s the usefulness that Mille is concerned with. To those who are unaware of the brand and are more used to the conventional layout of watches, the RM 008 can appear confusing. However, it is the genesis of every other chronograph that Richard Mille has made over the last 20 years; including the one just released with their first in-house lifestyle chronograph calibre.

 

Richard Mille RM006 with the carbon fibre nanotube base plate and titanium case for A Collected Man London

 The lightweight RM 006.

 

The next model which highlights Mille’s progression as a watchmaker and as a brand is the RM 006 Felipe Massa tourbillon. Released in 2004, it is where we start to see the futuristic materials appear, with the first use of the aforementioned carbon nanofibre baseplate. As we discussed before, using carbon nanofibre was not a simple procedure, yet it solved a multitude of problems that Mille experienced with his initial designs. From the scratch resistance to its ultra-lightweight quality, it ticked multiple boxes. He would then go on to introduce carbon nanofibre to several other watches, starting with the RM 002, upgrading it to better fit the image that Mille had always held in his mind. It also signalled the start of what some would call an obsession with space-age materials. Whether it’s the movements, the case or the straps, Richard Mille has sought out materials that the rest of the watchmaking community would never normally consider. 

Whilst we don’t have time to cover all of the new materials that Richard Mille has introduced to us over the years, we wanted to concentrate on one more significant piece that we see as being part of his earliest brushstrokes – and which is considered highly desirable as a result. The RM 009. For Eric Ku, the established vintage Rolex dealer and collector of independents from Dufour to Mille, this piece forms the last part of the “Holy Trinity of early Richard Mille”, which also includes the RM 001 and RM 006.

This new reference brought another new material to these watches, with an aluminium-lithium alloy movement paired with an ALUSIC case. Quite the mouthful. The alloy that makes up the movement is more commonly found in an Airbus A380. Thanks to its extremely low density, paired with high elasticity and corrosion resistance, it was perfect for a watch that needed to be lightweight and shock resistant. The fact that it came from a jumbo jet gave it even more sex appeal for Mille.

 

Richard Mille RM009 front an back showing dial and skeleton movement for A Collected Man London

 The see through RM 009.

 

To create the ALUSIC alloy case for the RM 009 which is composed of of lithium, aluminum, titanium, zirconium, chrome-silicium, zinc and manganese, was a hellish undertaking for the brand. Normally used for satellite construction and Airbus 380 brake discs, it is extremely lightweight – yet very hard. The first attempts to mill the case failed because the drills and machining bits were melting; special diamond tipped tooling had to be developed to achieve the complex case design. Worse was the creation of the threads for the case screws, it often happened that almost all the threads were completed, only to have the diamond bit break at the last moment – meaning the entire case had to be thrown away.  Next to the brand’s more recent introduction of solid sapphire cases, this meant the case for the RM 009 was at the time the costliest unadorned case created in Switzerland, at the time. Not a conventional method for creating a watch case. However, the results speak for themselves. “During a visit to Les Breuleux, we tried to scratch a section of a reject case with a corkscrew,” Koh says, “and we couldn’t make a mark.”

When creating a watch to match the demanding conditions of a racing Formula 1 driver such as Felipe Massa, you need to go to extreme lengths, including making the lightest mechanical watch of the time. If you ask Ku what it’s like to hold an RM 009, he would say, “it feels almost like a rock, or stone. It doesn’t even feel like metal.” It must be a very light stone, as the RM 009 weighs just 28 grams without the strap, which is equivalent to five and a half sheets of ordinary printer paper. Not something to be taken lightly.

 

Eric Ku Richard Mille RM009 and RM027-01 on a weighing scales for A Collected Man London

An RM 009 and RM 027-01 hardly moving the scales, courtesy of Eric Ku.

 

Looking back, it’s difficult to imagine just how impactful the RM 009 – and by extension many of Mille’s early pieces – must have been. At the time, the ultra-light, ultra-expensive complicated wristwatch had not yet been invented. It all started here. It is telling than many of those who first purchased the RM 009 are the same type of collectors who also pursued the work of François-Paul Journe or Philippe Dufour. We also know of a collector who recently sold an early Journe Tourbillon he’d owned for a few years. What did he pick up as a replacement? An RM 002, of all things.

Though these worlds couldn’t seem further apart, they all represent a unique, undiluted approach to watchmaking. They combine a distinctive voice wanting to be heard. For those who purely associate Mille’s pieces with ostentatious wealth, it can be easy to forget how innovative his pieces were in the early days – not only in terms of the materials, but the very concept of the watches themselves. Today, we forget this, since almost every brand now imitates or tries to embrace principles first laid out by Mille years ago.

As with many of his decisions, Mille’s approach to ultra-light watchmaking was born from a desire to shatter traditional watchmaking conventions. In the horological world, weight is often associated with quality and value. Pushed forward by his contrarian spirit, Mille went in the polar opposite direction, by creating the lightest and most expensive watch. With an initial price tag price just shy of $350,000 – around $12,000 per gram – he certainly achieved his goal.

 

Richard Mille RM012 with Phyrox tube structure holding movement in place for A Collected Man London

The unique architecture of an RM 012.

 

For the final innovation that we want to draw attention to, we’re going to take a quick look at the RM 012. This is where the architecture and design of Richard Mille watches truly left the realms of traditional horological design. The baseplate had been done away with, in exchange for a network of Phyrox tubes. This scaffold-like construction holds the manually wound tourbillon movement in what at first appears to be quite a precarious or delicate way. Each jewel is set in a juncture between a number of tubes. 

Koh likens the design “to a Ducati superbike”, a comparison which we think Mille would approve of. In fact, the man himself likens it to suspensions in car, which allow for the absorption of shock.  The see-through structure may look fragile, but thanks to the two years of development that went into the baseplate replacement, its rigidity is astounding. Again, the tolerances in the tubes and their fixings are in microns, with very little room for error as the movement parts are built seamlessly into them.

If lightness is a key concern of Mille’s, then it must be becoming clear that toughness is certainly another. Dismissive of sponsored athletes who strap their watch on at the end of a victory, Mille designs his pieces for action. Be it Formula One, racing or polo, he has always attested that he creates his watches “for the battlefield.” The fact that their price point makes them entirely paradoxical as watches of action, only reinforces their appeal in a way. It’s the pursuit of the extreme for its very own sake, in an almost preposterous way, which is somewhat enchanting. In the early days, when people used to question the idea of a robust tourbillon, Mille would take an awful lot of enjoyment in taking his off his wrist and throwing it across the room. Certainly one way to prove a point.

Finally, we thought that it would be negligent of us to discuss the foundation of the brand without highlighting an area in which Mille has been almost pioneering in his approach. This area is of course, ladies’ watches. There were a handful of independent brands that launched around the turn of the millennium, some of which we have covered in depth previously. However, none of them seemed to dedicate as much attention and creative effort towards women’s models as Richard Mille did. The RM 007 was his first model targeted at the female market – released in 2005, the same year as the RM 009. Again, this was a good example of how Richard Mille paid attention to the details.

 

Richard Mille RM007 ladies watch automatic in rose gold set with diamond for A Collected Man London
Richard Mille RM007 case back in rose gold showing micro balls inside the rotor for A Collected Man Lonodn

The elegant first ladies' timepiece from Richard Mille.

 

An aspect of this model that Ku really appreciates is the rotor. As he puts it, “inside there are a bunch of small balls that can move freely inside the winding rotor. It just seems like such a cool design element.” Not only are these 100 18kt gold micro balls a nice aesthetic touch, they also help reduce the bursts of energy that bi-directional rotors can get during shocks. While this technical improvement could have been reached by other means, the fact that Mille decided to reach it with what could be described as a feminine touch goes to show just how well thought through, these designs are. These are not movement up or dial down designs. Rather, thought has been put into every aspect with practicality, function and looks being considered at every stage. This mentality was carried forward through the rest of Mille’s men’s and women’s watches.

Collector’s corner


 

Now, we wanted to take a look at the community that has formed around these watches from the earliest days. A few years ago, owning a Richard Mille watch was thought of as a “secret billionaire’s masonic handshake”, a subtle nod to other high net worth individuals that you were a member of the same club, which no one else in the room would recognise. However, according to Koh, that secret is now beginning to slip. “Thanks to their recent exposure, they are becoming more and more well known. Which is why it’s becoming harder to wear an RM out in public, as watch thieves have learnt to look out for them now.” With celebrities adopting these pieces and a growing list of champion sportsmen strapping them on the wrist whilst competing, the level of exposure that these watches now get is far higher than in the early days.

 

Richard Mille RM003 wrist shot in titanium for the disruptive world of early Richard Mille for A Collected Man Lonodn
Richard Mille RM005 wrist shot for the disruptive world of early Richard Mille for A Collected Man London

Two Richard Mille pieces in the wild.

 

When Koh first came across the brand he instantly thought, “these are just the coolest things I’d ever seen. It’s as if Richard had extracted something from my subconscious that I had always wanted but wasn’t creative enough to envision.” This hits on a key point, which is that no one else had managed to imagine anything like these watches before. Not only were they creatively different from the rest of the watch market, but they also priced themselves into a new bracket. This new category of watch meant that at the beginning Richard Mille didn’t really have any competitors. It also meant that the industry didn’t really understand the concept to begin with.

You can hear a lot of stories of early Richard Milles on the grey market in the first few years, but according to Diehl, during this period, Mille was looking closer to home for his client list. “He already had contacts from his previous role at Mauboussin, but he also found a following in his passion outside of watches, motorcar racing. He would take part in gentleman racing and many of the other competitors became some of his best clients in those first few years.” The combination of disposable income and passion for motorsport meant that the fellow racers instantly understood Mille’s message and what he was trying to achieve with his watches. While it may have taken a little longer for the more traditionally minded watch world to compute, these motorsport aficionados were on the same page as Mille from the get-go.

 

Richard Mille RM010 automatic in titanium for the disruptive world of early Richard Mille for A Collected Man London

 The RM 010 showing the see through gaps in the dial. 

 

One thing that became clear from the discussions with those who own a Richard Mille is that they experience a certain pleasure to seeing another in the wild. Whether out to dinner or at a watch meet up, there always seem to be friendly exchanges held over two tonneau cases. Koh has had a couple of such encounters, whether it was being offered a trip round a winery or having a bottle of sake sent to his table at dinner by fellow Richard Mille enthusiasts.

What has stood out to Koh, however, is “I’ve never had a bad experience with another Richard Mille collector. You just don’t get that with other brands. You’d never have someone else with a Patek on, calling from across the room, ‘hey, I love your steel 5711.’” But according to Koh all of this come from the top, “Richard is just such a nice and warm man that he seems to attract similar people to him.” 

Whilst the production numbers for Richard Mille watches seem to be going up every year, in 2018 it was still around 4,800 pieces. Even if you’re set on a piece, getting access to one can be somewhat more difficult. It’s even harder if you’re searching for a specific piece on the second-hand market, like Ku. “You just never see RM 009s come up for sale. The last time one did was about 10 years ago and it went for a really good price that you just won’t see today. If I had a time machine…”

This just speaks to how these watches are viewed by many of those who buy them. Though they do have certain connotations of wealth, our sense from the collectors we got the chance to speak to, is that they are not commodities to the traded and shared in order to make a modest profit. These watches are made to be worn and loved. If Nadal can win most of his nineteen Grand Slams with an RM on his wrist, then it’s safe to assume that it can withstand being worn as a daily beater.

 

Richard Mille RM27-01 movement with its cable suspension system for A Collected Man London

 The movement of an RM27-01, courtesy of Revolution.

 

One story that Koh reminded us of, which speaks to the power of these pieces, begins with “a man walking into a jeweller who partnered with Richard Mille very early on. This jeweller was carrying one of the very first models. The client is offered to try on this new tonneau-shaped tourbillon that just came in. He puts it on and likes the feel of it and asks how much it costs. After the jeweller tells him the price, he immediately loses his cool and starts to scream and shout at the jeweller, claiming that he was being taken advantage of by such a ridiculous price. Getting more and more irate, the man takes his wallet out and hands the jeweller his credit card. Still gesticulating about the injustice of it all, he buys the watch which is still on his wrist. He marches out the shop, ceremoniously giving the jeweller the middle finger as he walks off.” Such is the power of these pieces when they’re worn for the first time. Mille himself says that people should be careful when trying his watches on, as once you’ve had one on the wrist, you won’t be able to go back.

The finishing straight


 

What has become clear to us over the course of putting this article together, is that early Richard Mille watches hold a unique place, not only in the market, but also in the minds of the collecting community. Surrounded by prejudice and misunderstanding, those who own them have a sense of what makes them so special. After all, if someone like Ku can own both a Philippe Dufour Simplicity and a Richard Mille RM 009, there must be something there.

Mille’s approach to watchmaking was truly disruptive. Perhaps born from the fact that he was not a watchmaker himself, there is a defiance in his work which seems unprecedented in modern times. From the idea that complications should be delicate, to a veneration of weight as a marker of quality and value, he did away with the conceptions of the past. If it took throwing his watch across a room to prove it, then so be it. Whilst we have chosen to speak about his innovative use of materials and manufacturing techniques, the thought behind these pieces is what truly stands out. To attempt them at all, is breaking new ground.

Redefining both the shape, material and price of a luxury watch, one can’t help but think of Richard Mille’s work as outrageous. However, that outrageousness forms part of the appeal of these pieces, which are unashamedly the execution of a singular vision. Whether forged from aluminium, silicon and carbon, or some other futuristic material, what is certain is that his work should not be taken lightly.

Our thanks to Theodore Diehl, Wei Koh and Eric Ku for lending us their knowledge of these disruptive timepieces. Our thanks as well to Theodore and the Richard Mille brand for supplying us with rich imagery for this article.



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