It was June 2009 and my family was just about to start dinner when my father [Laurent Picciotto, founder of Chronopassion in Paris] told us he had invited an Asian watch editor to join us. I remember I was sporting a plaster cast due to a skiing accident and, while a heatwave radiated across Paris, I had to arrange extra seats at the table. When our guest arrived, he had an American accent, an Italian style and the tattooed body of a Yakuza. He knew everything about anything and, as the evening progressed, it seemed like I was having dinner with a walking encyclopedia. That man was Founder of Revolution, Wei Koh, and that night marked the beginning of a relationship that endures to this day. From a hidden admiration to a sincere friendship, we became colleagues, travel companions and fellow hell-raisers.
Richard Mille is a manufacturer that I am emotionally bonded with. My father was a founding partner of the brand and I can recall the many dinners held at our home in the late-1990s when the great and the good from the watch world would descend to discuss the hows and whys of the project. I was just a child at the time and after eating would have to say goodnight, leaving the adults to discuss their grown-up stuff. (Only years later did I understand that these guys – especially Wei and my father – were also kids that just never grew up.)
Coincidentally, while I was experiencing the adventures covered on these pages, on the other side of the world, my father was selling his personal watch collection with Phillips Hong Kong, including a few Richard Mille references. From the back seat of a cab in the dreadful Parisian traffic, I watched live streaming of the auction on my iPhone having mixed feelings as I witnessed a unique RM008 made specifically for him when he stepped out of the partnership go under the hammer for US$364,372. A few seconds earlier, the RM001 first introduced in Basel in 2000 in a limited edition of 17 pieces was sold at a hammer price of US$263, 665.
A few months back, I met up with Wei and told him that I was participating in the women-only Rallye des Princesses sponsored by Richard Mille, driving from Paris to St Tropez in a vintage Porsche. “That’s so cool,” he said, following with the fact that he was participating in the McLaren rally with Richard Mille, cruising through the wineries of Bordeaux, in the very same week. “Why don’t we do a Battle of the Rallies?” he suggested. “We can both wear the colours of the French flag and write about our experiences from a male-versus-female perspective.” The gauntlet was thrown down, and the challenge eagerly accepted.
All Systems Go
Despite the fact that I love driving as much as I love watches, I have to admit to having a terrible sense of direction, so it was lucky for me that the Rallye des Princesses includes a good deal of laughter and food as well as gorgeous cars and superb timepieces. My co-pilot Elodie and I took up the challenge with enthusiasm and got caught up in the game like no other team. Dressed in blue, we departed from the legendary Place Vendôme on a bright Sunday morning, one of 90 vintage cars attempting the first stage of the rally, driving 375 kilometres at an average speed of 40km/hr.
Driving across France was a magical experience. The inability to read a map led to the pleasure of discovering lesser-travelled French country roads in a yellow Porsche 356 and took me back to a period in time I sometimes wish I was born in – no mobile phones due to no service, no air conditioning, yet despite the 40°C-temperature inside the car, I actually enjoyed the feeling of my sweaty shirt sticking to my back, and no traffic cops pulling us over for speeding. Driving at a low speed enabled us to appreciate the landscape – we glimpsed a rabbit running across wheat fields (faster than we were driving), butterflies long-since extinct in the city, horses and cows peacefully grazing.
All was peaceful until… Elodie, my co-pilot and collaborator at our website The Eye of Jewelry, screamed “Bambiiiiiii” so loud that I thought our engine was on fire. It turned out to be a deer entering the forest we were heading into. We were tempted to stop for some local honey whose signage boasted that it was “home-made and delicious”, but a quick look at our watches – an RM 07-01 in titanium and carbon TPT and an RM 07-01 in red gold set with diamonds – let us know in white rabbit style that we were going to be late.
“You have 11 minutes to do 4.37 kilometres in order to reach the next marker at the exact second,” Elodie informed me. Shrugging, I asked: “So at what speed should I drive?” We stated at each other and dug deep into the depths of our collective memory bank to recall the maths rules we learned at school and try to apply them to our pressing problem. Admitting a total fail, Elodie laughed before saying: “Just drive. We’ll figure it out on the way.” And we did. Half way through the rally, our car reached the 37th position. Congratulating ourselves, we decided that was not bad for a first time.
The rally highlight? Maybe it was the first morning when the car’s heating became stuck and I ended up driving barefoot. Or perhaps it was our daily photoshoot with talented young photographer Jules Langeard encouraging us to change clothes quickly in between classic cars in order to catch the day’s final sunlight. Or could it be the McDrive we visited after wisely deciding not to leave our car in the parking lot and both enter McDonalds wearing several-hundreds-of-thousands of pounds of Richard Mille timepieces on our wrists – a risk we were almost willing to take for the sake of two McFlurries topped with Oreos and M&Ms? In fact, I don’t think I can pick a single stand-out moment – the whole experience was one. My main question is, did Wei Koh’s rally experience top mine? I don’t think it is possible, but that’s for you to decide when you’ve read about his Richard Mille adventure here.