Richard Mille: From the Racetrack to the Wristwatch

Felipe Massa
Felipe Massa

Since the day that Richard Mille established his eponymous brand, his watchmaking philosophy has taken inspiration from the world of Formula One racing like none before. In his earliest interview with Revolution, Mille explained this approach saying that in the same way that an engine is created using computers, but must be hand-finished in order for it to be perfected, so too must watchmaking be intentional about traditional craft yet be empowered by modern-day materials and technology.

The RM 006 Felipe Massa

In the beginning Mille applied this ideology vastly to details such as the architecture of his movements, the finishing of the screws and hands on his watches; minute, virtually invisible details that are often disregarded by the average layman. But in 2005, when Mille, urged by his friend and Formula One racer Felipe Massa, created the RM 006, this incredible correlation that he was bringing into the world of watchmaking suddenly became irrefutable. Because the RM 006, for the first time in horology, had a baseplate made of carbon fiber. Specifically, it was made of carbon nanofiber, a material synonymous with Formula One.

In order to create this baseplate, nanofibers of carbon had to be compressed together under 740bar of pressure and then heated at temperatures of up to 2,000ºC, thus resulting in a material that is featherweight and thermally stable. Trouble is, these very same qualities made it a challenge of immeasurable proportions to precision-cut and drill the RM 006’s baseplate.

RM 006
RM 006
The baseplate of the seminal RM 006

The RM 036 Tourbillon G-Sensor — Jean Todt

Countless innovations in the story of Richard Mille can be traced back to the audacious use of carbon nanofiber, but to point out another tangible manifestation of Formula One racing in a Mille watch that doesn’t necessarily involve material innovation, we must look to the RM 036 Tourbillon G-Sensor — Jean Todt.

The RM 036 is fitted with what Mille calls a G-Sensor, an amazing, first-of-its-kind mechanical complication, which is able to measure the amount of g-force a Formula One driver is subject to. It’s particularly designed to measure g-force during a rapid deceleration (simply put: an impending crash), with the sensor scale pointing to either the green or red zone — green good, red bad — to convey whether the amount of force the driver is subjected to is about to cause a catastrophe. Once the g-force has been measured in a given incident, a simple press of the pusher at nine o’clock will reset it.

RM 036
RM 036
RM 036
RM 036 Caseback

The RM 50-03 Tourbillon Split Secs Chronograph Ultralight McLaren F1

Today, however, if we are to talk about the one watch that embodies every influence that Formula One has had on Richard Mille, it would be 2017’s RM 50-03 Tourbillon Split Seconds Chronograph Ultralight McLaren F1. This is as evident in the deepest parts of the RM 50-03’s movement as it is on the surface of its case.

Recounting the many carbon composites that Mille has used for his watch cases, his most recent addition is Graph TPT®, which is used in the case of the RM 50-03. Graph TPT®, in the simplest explanation possible, is Carbon TPT® that has been injected with the revolutionary material known as graphene.

Richard Mille discovered graphene while on a tour of McLaren’s facilities — his latest partner in Formula One — thanks to their Applied Technologies department, and immediately recognized its yet unseen potential in watchmaking.

Graphene ticks a big checkbox on Richard Mille’s list for its superb strength to weight ratio. This is very important to Mille because in his realm, some of his most extreme watches are coincidentally also some of the lightest watches in the market. In fact, mass for mass, graphene is said to be 200 times stronger than steel.

Put that together with a precision-constructed split-seconds chronograph movement made out of titanium and Carbon TPT® — that weighs all of just 7 grams — and what you have is a watch that is the lightest split-seconds chronograph in the world at just 40 grams (strap included), and that is also engineered to maintain its chronometric integrity under duress of up to 5,000g’s.

To think about it, it is really quite remarkable. In the ’80s, McLaren brought carbon fiber to Formula One racing. Then, inspired by Formula One, Richard Mille brought carbon fiber into horology like none before. And now working hand in hand, McLaren and Richard Mille have brought graphene into watchmaking.

As Mille continues to delve deeper into Formula One, we eagerly await the next high-performance material, complication or novel approach to movement construction that he will bring from the racetrack to the wristwatch.

RM 50-03
RM 50-03
RM 50-03
RM 50-03 Caseback