Richard Mille has created far more than a watch brand. What in effect he’s created is a cult, a religion, a sanctum inside the inner circle for the world’s global elite, where his watches are the membership card. Think about it this way. Just to own a car from 1923 to 1979 that raced at Le Mans that will allow you to enter the Le Mans Classic where Mille is the key sponsor, is going to cost you anywhere from a few hundred thousand to many millions of dollars. Then there is the cost of transporting and running the car, there is the investment in coaching and racing, and there’s the sheer huge cojones of getting out on the track in your 250 GTO, pinning its ears back and going for broke. And it is in this analogy that Richard Mille finds its greatest commonality with the philosophy of piloting a 50-million-dollar automotive treasure to its very limits.

Because Richard Mille is the only man in the world who straps his tourbillon wristwatches on the wrists of the world’s global athletic elite — from Rafael Nadal, the most brutal player in tennis, to Bubba Watson, the man with the longest drive in golf, to Felipe Masa who suffered a 30 G-force crash with his watch on — because he wanted to create an all-new category in horology that is the true equivalent of the supercar. This year, Mille has re-affirmed his absolute unequivocal status as the sole citizen of the most rarified sanctum in high watchmaking, a universe born through his imagination and made manifest through his skill and passion. First there was the launch of the amazing RM 50-03 McLaren F1, which at 40 grams is the world’s lightest split-seconds chronograph tourbillon. What is important to understand about this watch is that unlike the vast majority of other car/watch mashups, which appeal more to the aspirational market than to actual owners of the cars, this particular watch not only holds sway over McLaren owners, it actually has them totally besotted.

Richard Mille RM 27-03 for Rafael Nadal in red and yellow hues Quartz TPT® case
Richard Mille RM 27-03 for Rafael Nadal in red and yellow hues Quartz TPT® case
Bubba Watson with his Richard Mille RM038
Bubba Watson with his Richard Mille RM038

I know because amongst the stealth events organized by Mille and his brilliant head of marketing, Timothy Malachard, was this year’s 25th anniversary of the McLaren F1 owners’ group rally in Bordeaux. That’s right, during drinks with men who each owned at least one 25-million-dollar McLaren F1, and including Gordon Murray, the world’s most legendary car designer, as well as Simon Kidston, car dealer extraordinaire, all of them could only stare transfixed at the RM 50-03 as if it were a 23-year-old Bridgette Bardot who had just risen like Botticelli’s Venus nude out of the sea foam. The racing legend Ray Bellm, the man who convinced Ron Dennis to let him race the car at Le Mans, then asked the price of the watch in hushed reverential tones. When he was told “one million dollars,” he promptly dropped the watch in shock. Retrieving it from the floor, Malachard laughed, “No worries. Richard used to do that intentionally to show how shock-resistant the watches are.”

On the McClaren test drive
On the McClaren test drive
The world’s lightest split second chronograph tourbillon RM50-03
The world’s lightest split second chronograph tourbillon RM50-03

More evidence needed that this is the year of Richard Mille? Look at how his name has become intrinsically woven with the culture of vintage car collecting with his hosting of the Concours at Chantilly. Then, there was the launch of the amazing RM 70-01 Alain Prost cycling-themed watch, which will be worn by another huge Richard Mille fan, bicycling’s greatest sprinter, Mark Cavendish, in next year’s Tour de France. Then, there was the amazing resurrection of Rafael Nadal, who at the age of 31, has once again become the most dominant player on the scene. Having undergone a physical transformation to a much leaner, more wily version of himself, the tennis legend decimated all comers at the US Open, winning the final, as newspapers around the world reported, “Wearing a $725,000 watch on his wrist.”

Chantilly Arts & Elegance Richard Mille 2017
Chantilly Arts & Elegance Richard Mille 2017
Richard Mille RM 70-01 Tourbillon Alain Prost
Richard Mille RM 70-01 Tourbillon Alain Prost

So what are the characteristics of the world that Mille has created and what are its inhabitants like? They are all obviously successful, as an entry price tag of $150,000 would imply. But the main quality shared by all Richard Mille owners, and I mean every single of the hundreds of them I’ve met and interacted with, is that they are fun. They are passionate, joyful people united by the desire to suck the very marrow out of life; the complete antithesis of the judgmental, Calvinist old guard that are associated with the other elite watch brands. And most importantly, Richard Mille devotees wear their watches — they wear them on their motorcycles, in their racecars, when they play tennis or ride their bicycles — they are never apart from them. Which is why, amusingly enough, most prefer wearing their half-million-dollar horological treasures on Velcro straps and not on crocodile leather. As Mille said on American television, “My watches are for people who wear them now and enjoy them now, not to keep in a safe for the next generation.”

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