Twirling Hearts: Richard Mille Tourbillons

The Richard Mille RM 020 Pocketwatch
The Richard Mille RM 020 Pocketwatch

In 1801, when Abraham-Louis Breguet received the patent for the tourbillon, you have to wonder if he would’ve ever anticipated that some 200 years on, his little mechanical invention would still have heads and hearts twirling.

Truth be told, the effect that the tourbillon has on the human psyche isn’t a modern-day phenomenon. But, of course, the tourbillon has had to evolve since the time of its birth, in order to traverse two centuries worth of shifts in culture and aesthetics. It was in this process that the regulating organ that it was on the backs of pocketwatch and wristwatch movements, migrated to become a visual point of focus on the dial-side. However, if one entity can be lauded for ultimately transporting the tourbillon into the twenty-first century that person (read, force of nature) would without an unabashed doubt be, Richard Mille.

Curiously, it was exactly 200 years later in 2001, that Richard Mille would give the world a tourbillon watch, which was quite clearly ahead of its time. Speaking about it, Giulio Papi of Audemars Piguet Renaud & Papi, who helped bring Mille’s concept to life, previously shared with Revolution, saying, “You must understand that what he [Mille] was doing was very daring! If you look at his very first watch, the RM 001 Tourbillon, I think this will be a timepiece that will be in horological museums one day, as representing the moment when everything changed and the future was born.”

The Richard Mille RM 001 Tourbillon
The Richard Mille RM 001 Tourbillon

Beyond the fact that the RM 001 boasted such alien qualities as having the bridge on its tourbillon made out of titanium and the tourbillon’s endstones made from ceramic, it was the first time a watch had such a transparent dial, leaving the movement visible for the world to see, like never before. This, of course, further amplified how badly the tourbillon on the RM 001 had heads and hearts twirling.

There is a story told in this regard that speaks of the first ever RM 001 to have been sold and the exact effect it had on its unsuspecting buyer. This story is best told by Mille himself: “I started with the shop Chronopassion in Paris. The first piece was delivered at about 11:00am, and by 11:30am, it was sold. The owner of Chronopassion, Laurent Picciotto, called me and said, ‘I need another one.’ I couldn’t believe it.

The tourbillon of the Richard Mille RM 001 Tourbillon
The tourbillon of the Richard Mille RM 001 Tourbillon
Caseback of the Richard Mille RM 001 Tourbillon
Caseback of the Richard Mille RM 001 Tourbillon

“Picciotto recalls the customer who had come in to buy another watch and walked out with a Richard Mille on his wrist, “The guy was really mad. He was shouting and cursing at me all the way into the street. He said, ‘You are a bastard. Why did you show me this watch? It is so ****ing expensive but so beautiful that I had to buy it!’”

Mille, thereafter, progressed the story of his watchmaking by creating ever lighter and more extreme tourbillon watches. Take for instance the RM 022 Tourbillon “Aerodyne” Dual Time Zone. The big deal with this one was the use of orthorhombic titanium aluminides. This is an alloy based on the main class of titanium aluminides, brought into watchmaking from the realm of aerospace.

RM 022
The RM 022 in Carbon
RM 022
The RM 022 in Red Gold
RM 022
The caseback of RM 022 in Red Gold

This material is bent and soldered in order to obtain the eight-sided honeycomb facet we see on the watch’s baseplate. It’s essentially what is used to form the fuselage of airplanes, just used here in miniature form. The bridge of the tourbillon of the RM 022 is, further, inspired by a jet turbine.

The baseplate of the RM 022
The baseplate of the RM 022

Thing to remember, is that while Mille does push design boundaries and seeks out materials that no other watchmaker would’ve even thought of, his fundamental watchmaking and finishing techniques remain rooted in traditions. Which is why, it shouldn’t surprise you that he even put himself forward to creating a tourbillon pocketwatch.

The Richard Mille Tourbillon Pocketwatch RM 020, is every bit a pocketwatch as much as it is a Richard Mille timepiece. With its case formed from titanium and its 10-day power reserve, power-house of a movement, perhaps its most outstanding quality yet, is its carbon nanofiber baseplate upon which the manual winding caliber RM 020 tourbillon movement is mounted. This bit of genius is, of course, a direct transference of knowledge from the hallowed RM 006.

RM 020
RM 020

But look, it’s not all space age materials and industrial designs when it comes to Mille. His creativity has many different dimensions. The best representation of which has to be, the RM 19-02 Tourbillon Fleur.

When first setting eyes upon the RM 19-02, you are bound to do a double take. For a man, whose watches are known more for being “A Racing Machine on the Wrist”, it’s incredulous that he should put a prominent 5-petaled, purple magnolia on his creation.

RM 19-02
RM 19-02

And not just a magnolia, but an automaton one, which gracefully unfurls every 5 minutes to reveal a flying tourbillon within. Point to note is that the automaton doesn’t simply bloom, but at the same time, like the stamens inside of a flower, which are held out when it opens up, the RM 19-02’s tourbillon, too, levitates out of its petaled home. There is also a pusher at 9 o’clock that triggers the magnolia to open at its admirer’s will. The best words to describe what you behold when the RM 19-02 comes to life, are again Mille’s. He likens the drama within the watch to, “A delicate kinetic ballet.”

As hard is it may be, to wrap your head around how far and wide Richard Mille is able to transport the tourbillon — be it in an expression of technicality or in creativity — two things that can be said with certainty are: 1) Expect the absolute unexpected from Mille and 2) and, also, expect to have your head and heart thoroughly twirling every time you encounter one of Mille’s tourbillon creations.

RM 19-02
Caseback of RM 19-02