Our founder Wei Koh often likes to joke that after God created the personne unique that is Mr Richard Mille, he broke the mould on that development. Every so often and in each generation, we’ve discovered leaders and unconventional thinkers in each industry who have transformed how we perceive watchmaking. The pre- and post-Quartz Revolution leaders were Messrs Nicolas Hayek Sr., Rolf Schnyder and Luigi Macaluso. Their efforts were continued by Jean-Claude Biver and other luminaries in the field. But the one who’s radically changed the context in which we look at watches today is Richard Mille.
During the early days of Mille’s brand, he would be seen at the halls of Baselworld demonstrating the resilience of his watches by tossing them on the hard floor, regularly eliciting shocked gasps from the audience. These were tourbillons, hallowed devices of high watchmaking that others had touted to be treated with care and respect, because they were not only sensitive instruments of timekeeping, but also handcrafted precious creations by talented watchmakers.
Mille was of a different mind. He held a rather contemporary perception of watchmaking, which was driven towards longevity, durability and the ability to withstand the most intense challenges known to mankind. His love for race cars and motorbikes simply reinforced his belief that a watch should be built like a mechanical machine and be as rugged as the fastest land racers known to modern civilisation.
This ideology underpinned all of his creations from the very start, beginning with the RM 001 right up to his most complicated watch ever made, the RM 62-01 Tourbillon Vibrating Alarm ACJ. Every aspect of Mille’s products and branding originates from this philosophy. Mille developed his watches as if they were racing supercars or planes. Aerodynamism and modern industrial materials were what mattered to the brand, and he began to adopt a language and terminology more commonly heard in the racing geek world.
Titanium and carbon fibre may be commonly seen in watchmaking these days, but between the 1980s to the first decade of the 21st century, there were only a handful of brands delving into the ultra-light, ultra-durable materials, Mille being the most prominent among them. Even today, among those of us who regularly come into contact with ultra-lightweight timekeepers, putting your hands on a Richard Mille and experiencing its incredible lightness is still slightly bizarre, and, at the same time, never fails to bring a bit of an adrenaline rush. Your heart pounds a little faster, your pupils dilate, and there’s almost a little shiver of delight on your skin.
Formula 1 Affinity
Mille’s first engagement with Formula One was through Felipe Massa, the former Formula One racer with whom Mille partnered to create the RM 006 Tourbillon Felipe Massa, the very first of the ultra-light watches and a concept that would not only define Mille’s later creations, but reverberate across the entire industry. It would also add another important characteristic to Mille’s watches — high shock resistance such as that could withstand the stress of being in a Formula One racing vehicle. The original RM 006 weighed just 43 grams, thanks to the use of an innovative material for the era — carbon nanofibres for the baseplate.
The RM 006 was a testbed for innovative engineering and materials, and carbon nanofibres and nanotubes (or buckyballs as they are known) would soon be a characteristic material in Richard Mille’s watches. Mille’s watches and his obsession with developing the most powerful timepieces, regardless of time or cost of development, would become a defining trait. In the age of a high-technology century, his watches communicated the style of tech-speak that made sense to young and successful entrepreneurs who didn’t want their wrist gear defined by traditional models. And, like high-tech luxury automobiles, he was free to define a price category for his timepieces which were not part of a traditional luxury segment. Their limited production simply escalated demand.
New ultra-light models would follow with the RM 009 Tourbillon Felipe Massa in ALUSIC case and a skeletonised aluminium-lithium movement that weighed just 29 grams in total. Most powerfully, the RM 011 Automatic Chronograph Felipe Massa, bearing a titanium movement and an ultra-stiff case with silent blocks for shock absorption, which featured a flyback chronograph with annual calendar and variable- geometry rotor, was a stunner that would go on to see numerous references appear in different case materials from carbon TPT to silicon nitride and more.
On the Track
Felipe Massa, while he still participated in Formula One, frequently touted the fact that he wore his watches during races and training sessions, putting them through the most rigorous tests beyond what a laboratory could reproduce. Other friends of the brand would often do the same, and Mille used their feedback to improve and finetune his timepieces.
In the last 19 years since the Mille brand began, he has worked with a number of different teams. The brand began a partnership with Haas F1 Team in 2016. This was the first American-led Formula One team in the championships in the last 30 years. The team has long been present with NASCAR, but joined the F1 competition with Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutiérrez in the drivers’ seats. Grosjean, who has been a Richard Mille partner since 2014, has had a great record on the track, and helped to test and develop new timepieces with Richard Mille.
Moving forward, the brand developed a 10-year partnership with McLaren Automotive, one that Mille himself touted as a significant development for the brand because of McLaren’s revolution of the sport. Said Mille then, “I still vividly remember, back in 1981, when McLaren was the first constructor to introduce an all- carbon-fibre monocoque to Formula 1. It was a technology that would revolutionise the sport — and still does to this day. Years later, I was able to adopt the same technical solution — a carbon-fibre structure — for the baseplates of our watch movements and cases. I feel strongly that the Maison Richard Mille embodies the very essence of motorsport: we’re dedicated to the ultimate mechanical challenge, and we’re inspired by the concepts and materials used in Formula 1.”
Richard Mille and Alfa Romeo
The latest addition to the Richard Mille racing story is a partnership with Alfa Romeo Racing, which sees the brand welcome Kimi Räikkönen as a friend of the brand and it joining as a Premium Partner. This last collaboration brings us to its newest timepiece, the RM 50-04 Tourbillon Split-Seconds Chronograph Kimi Räikkönen, launched in Singapore together with its namesake and the lead driver of its partner F1 team Alfa Romeo Racing. At the Capella Hotel in Singapore, the first watch to officially bear the colours of the F1 team was unveiled.
Timothée Malachard, marketing director for Richard Mille, explained the origins of this partnership. “This project started from the moment Alfa Romeo Racing signed with Kimi Räikkönen last year. We discussed with Frédéric Vasseur, the team boss, about a possible watch development; Kimi being such a figurehead in F1, it seemed natural to associate ourselves with him. Kimi was also very motivated in having an RM watch development as he has followed the brand for many years and our association in Formula 1 via other drivers and teams.”
The movement powering it is the calibre RM 50-03, an icon of the brand since it first emerged in 2017. The original watch, coined the Ultralight McLaren F1, was designed in partnership with the Formula 1 team and, even in Richard Mille’s world, lives up to its name. The movement itself weighs just seven grams, achieved by extreme skeletonisation of the components and using highly specialised alloys such as a titanium-vanadium-aluminium mix for the baseplate and bridges. Select bridges are crafted in Carbon TPT as well as the transverse carriage that supports the entire movement and is connected to the caseband. The benefit of this is that the movement is perfectly integrated into the case, which further enhances its shock resistance. The movement has been tested in the RM 50-03 to 5,000 Gs. The watchcase itself is crafted in quartz and white carbon TPT, with a red band strap for security and comfort.
Räikkönen, in an interview just prior to the launch of the watch, spoke about wearing the watch while driving a Formula 1 car: “I’ve never really been the guy to wear a watch because it was uncomfortable and it never appealed to me. So I was a bit skeptical when we signed the deal and I knew it was another watch brand, but once I got my watch, I was so surprised. I never really did use a watch in the past, but now, I don’t even notice it. It’s a completely different philosophy that drives [Richard Mille]. Now I don’t even notice when I’m wearing it and it’s a great-looking watch and it doesn’t weigh anything. It suits me completely.” He added that he had worn some of the Richard Mille pieces (including the RM 67-02 that he was sporting before the interview) during test drives, but not on the track in an F1 race yet.
Malachard added, “That’s exactly what we want in our partnerships. This watch mustn’t hinder the day-to-day activity of our partner sportspersons, and ergonomics and light weight and materials are the tools we use to achieve that performance, which is why we work with our drivers and partners like [Rafael] Nadal, [Romain] Grosjean, Kimi and more. We want the watch to be comfortable and not get in the way.
“We developed the colour combination with carbon/quartz TPT to really reflect the Alfa Romeo Racing team colours, and adding Kimi’s race number, N°7 on the dial. The crown is a brand-new development combining carbon TPT and titanium, and it is a very technical piece that is also very beautiful. Overall, it all makes for a striking watch that has been extremely well received by our clients and also by Kimi who really appreciates its lightness and comfort.”
Priced at S$1.6million, only 30 pieces will be produced with nine pieces set aside for Asia. First deliveries are expected this month.