Lovers of that magical elixir known as Burgundy regard Henri Jayer as a winemaker whose vision was so seismic that he radically changed our taste for modern wines. Jayer was a legend, the man who saw the potential of a forgotten rocky plot of brush land that was once a vineyard, and set about reviving it by transforming the soil with 400 charges of dynamite and forty-eight trucks of bedrock stones, as well as decades of relentless loving care. This was the legendary Cros-Parantoux in Vosne-Romanée, which today produces the finest Pinot Noir wines in the world.
When asked which individual has most revolutionised modern watchmaking, my response is unequivocal and unhesitant: Richard Mille. Because encoded in the three syllables of his name is a vision for creating watches invoking design codes, technical innovation and materials gleaned directly from the present and the future, which has reshaped our taste for watches, in the way Jayer reshaped our appreciation for wine.
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The RM 11-03 Automatic Ultimate Edition draws to an end 13 years of Chronograph history and a glorious conclusion to Richard Mille’s iconic ‘RM 011´ series. It is this end that has also paved a new beginning for the next generation, namely, the all new RM 72-01 Lifestyle In-House Chronograph. Watch this space for more on this future legend in the coming days.
The thing about Richard, and I call him by his Christian name as I have the privilege of counting him as my friend, is that his internal antenna receives the frequency of the future before anyone else. He is not so much connected to the zeitgeist, but the substance of the zeitgeist itself. So it has been interesting to see him become increasingly focused in the creation of slim watches that, while invoking all the scorchingly sexy Mille codes, are much more wearable than his initial watches which were entirely focused on radical technical innovation and shock resistance. That’s not to say Mille watches are not comfortable.
“From the beginning the focus has always been wearability, which was expressed through the ergonomics of my cases and also my focus on extreme lightness,” says Richard. And that’s also not to say that his sapphire split-seconds chronograph tourbillons are not still the most in-demand ultra-complications on the planet. But Mille has long recognised the desire for slim, sleek and thin Richard Mille watches, as the world re-embraces classical proportions.
If you dig into his brand’s history, you’ll see that Mille was there before anyone else, offering up slim versions of his watches such as the RM 016 time and date, the RM 003 round two-hand watch and the RM 017 ultra-thin tourbillon, as far back as a decade ago. But it was his tonneau-shaped RM 67 that quickly became an icon upon its launch, especially in its RM 67-02 guise, which features bright and ultra-light Quartz TPT and Carbon TPT cases, and skeletonised movements with an architecture evolved from the RM 59-01 Yohan Blake.
These watches became the de rigueur timepieces amongst some of the world’s most elite (and luckiest athletes), including tennis protégé Alexander Zverev, World Rally Champion Sébastian Ogier, and alpine ski racer Alexis Pinturault, sprinter Wayde van Niekerk and high-jump athlete Mutaz Essa Barshim — every one of whom had competed and won with this watch on his wrist.
Recently, the watch has been worn by World Cup and Olympic Games biathlon champion Johannes Thingnes Bø, who explained, “This watch is amazing. It is lightweight, shock resistant, incredibly ergonomic and slim enough that it never gets caught up in my rifle strap. For my sport, time is an incredibly important element because we have time limits for our shooting. With the Richard Mille RM 67-02 on my wrist, I always feel more mentally prepared and focused.”
My friend and uber-collector who goes by the Instagram handle @santa_laura, owns quite a few Richard Milles, but has focused his collection around the different executions of the RM 67-02. He explains, “Until you try on this watch, you can’t understand how incredibly effortless it is to wear. You absolutely forget it’s there until you look down and you see this incredible design and performance masterpiece on your wrist.”
So it was that when the latest and now one of my favourite Mille watches, the RM 72-01 Lifestyle Chronograph was unveiled, I immediately recognised that this was the expression of Richard’s focus on slim, elegant wearability expressed through remarkable design acumen and technical achievement. The first thing that I loved about the RM 72-01 was that it was communicated through imagery and a video directed by Benjamin Millepied showcasing the watch on both men’s and women’s wrists. While I may not be the biggest fan of gender fluidity in clothing, I believe the most successful watches in the world have reached a status so iconic that they can no longer be gender specific. For example, I have long adhered to the belief that a gold Daytona looks better on a woman than a man. Think of the short list of truly immortal watches: the Nautilus, the Royal Oak, the Day-Date — all of these watches are worn with equal aplomb by men and women alike.
While Richard’s outgoing, best-selling and massive wait-list-inducing RM 11-03 might be slightly too big to be worn by most women, the RM 72-01 occupied the perfect middle ground from a dimensional perspective, measuring in at 38.40mm by 47.34mm. (As there are no lugs in a Mille watch, the dimensions cannot be compared to a normal watchcase.) And I can tell you as a man whose primary loves are old American muscle cars, vintage motorcycles, automatic knives, cigars, Negronis and the opposite sex, every single desire impulse in my central nervous system was firing like spark plugs in a 5.4-litre supercharged Ford V8 when I set eyes on the watch. One of Richard’s great loves is, of course, race cars and he has always believed that “the best car designs create a dynamic tension between curvilinear female lines and straight masculine lines”. And this perfectly expresses the beauty of the RM 72-01: a watch that takes the Mille tonneau case and adds a touch of smoothness and fluidity, which is abruptly contrasted by the sharp vertical lines along the case side that lead the eye to a massive oversized crown and incredible futuristic-looking hexagonal chronograph pushers.
But it is these two buttons that refer to the true revelation in Mille’s RM 72-01, that has me, a lover of technical movements, truly blown away. I love chronographs for their ability to give man mastery over time, but I also love their movements from a technical perspective. And I have to say that the calibre CRMC1, Richard’s first in-house chronograph movement, is nothing less than a revelation.
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 that, 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.
Doesn’t this all sound great so far?
“Well,” says Salvador Arbona, Richard Mille’s technical director and the man overseeing the advancement of the in-house movement program, “it is, except for the fact that 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. Second, because it is simpler, it takes up less space, so you are able to make a smaller movement. And third, 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 calibre 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. “Yes,” says Arbona, “but 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. But the end result is a system that is far less parasitical and does not affect the underlying chronometric performance of the movement.”
Operation of the Oscillating Pinion
“There are two other benefits to using a double oscillating pinion,” Says Richard Mille. “The first is that the movement can be designed so that aesthetically it very beautiful, and all the mechanism is laid bare for you to see how each element engages with the other. A vertical-clutch movement hides everything away.”
Mille is being typically understated. I have always thought, in terms of design, execution and finishing, the Renaud & Papi-executed movement for Richard’s RM 004 to be the most beautiful chronograph movement I’ve ever seen. But the calibre CRMC1 rivals it and may even surpass it.
When I tell him this, Mille replies with a laugh, “You are too kind. From the beginning I’ve always created watches where you can understand how every part interacts with the other, because for me, all of this — the gears, the wheels, the barrel, the rotor, the column wheel — is what is beautiful about horology. The other benefit to our system is that we were able to make an automatic, integrated, column-wheel chronograph, with a world’s first, and with incredible timekeeping stability, but at the dimensions of 29mm by 6.4mm, which is quite a moderate size for a chronograph.” Accordingly, the 4Hz watch measures just 11.68mm in height, which, in comparison to the 16.15mm in height of the RM 11-03, is considerably slimmer.
To me, the calibre CRMC1 is a statement about Richard Mille’s vision for in-house movements that, in each instance, will bring some new technical and aesthetic value to every complication he creates. Richard never makes superfluous things. Each time he creates a watch or a movement, or even a strap, it is an evolution to a brand that is 20 years old next year, but continues to be as innovative as the day it began.
And if the RM 72-01 and the calibre CRMC1 are a symbol of things to come, you can rest assured that Mille will continue to be the single most significant name in modern watchmaking for the next two decades as well. Like Henri Jayer, from a perspective of cultural impact on his chosen profession, Richard Mille has ascended into the realm of the immortals. At the same time, Mille is very much here and more relevant than ever, thanks to his insistence on underlying substance, integrity and authenticity in everything his brand creates, and the RM 72-01 is perfect proof of this.
Skeletonised movement, calibre CRMC1 with automatic bidirectional winding and hours, minutes, small seconds, date, flyback chronograph, function indicator and stop seconds; power reserve approx. 50-hours
38.40 x 47.34 x 11.68 mm; tripartite case available in full grade 5 titanium, full 5N red gold, black TZP ceramic and white ATZ ceramic with a caseband in 5N red gold; pushers are black TZP ceramic and 5N red gold; water resistant to 30 metres, ensured by three Nitrile O-ring seals; assembled using 20 grade 5 titanium spline screws and abrasion-resistant washers in 316L stainless steel
5N Red Gold: CHF 215,000 w/o VAT
Titanium: CHF 170,000 w/o VAT