if you think Formula 1 racing technology, newly invented materials, mind-boggling micro-mechanics and avant-garde designs are hardly what make an attractively feminine watch that is highly sought-after by women, let Richard Mille convince you otherwise.The daring Swiss watchmaker is named after its founder, French-born Richard Mille. Its brand has been winning women fans with its funky, statement-making timepieces, which have certain distinctive features: conspicuous, tonneau-shape cases and skeletonised or open-work dials that allow a full view of the micro-mechanical show going on below. Richard Mille watches for ladies also boast manifestations of technological prowess equal to those in any high-end men’s watch with complications.
Over the past 10 years Mille and his eponymous brand have carved out quite a niche in the world of superior watches. Mille is famous for making some of the most technologically advanced and expensive timepieces on the planet, and for pioneering the use of space-age materials in watches. Instead of using conventional materials such as gold or platinum, Mille borrows materials used in Formula 1 and the aerospace industry, and then combines them like an alchemist to give his watches a unique appearance and impressive resilience. Carbon nanotubes, toughened ceramics, carbon fabric developed originally for the sails of racing yachts, silicon nitride, gold fused with carbon and quartz, and Perfluoroelastomer are among the materials that Mille favours.
Having woven his exotic materials together, Mille then has his watches crash-tested by his brand’s stable of athletes, such as tennis ace Rafael Nadal, sprinter Wayde van Niekerk, Formula 1 driver Felipe Massa, Qatari high jumper Mutaz Essa Barshim, and golfers Bubba Watson and Diana Luna. It is only when one appreciates how rigorous the process is that one begins to understand why Richard Mille watches carry such hefty price tags.
Richard Mille timepieces attract more than just athletes. Actress Margot Robbie, best known for her breakout performance in The Wolf of Wall Street, recently joined the ranks of collaborators with Richard Mille, following in the footsteps of other actresses such as Michelle Yeoh. The partnership between Robbie and Richard Mille will result in a new a line of women’s watches. The proceeds from the sale of the watches will be donated to Youngcare, a foundation dedicated to helping young Australians in need of a high degree of care to live independently and with dignity.
Mille loves all things mechanical, and is passionate about cars and aeroplanes. They are what lured him away from his position as an executive in the luxuries industry to start his own watchmaking business in 1999. By following a clear strategy and inculcating a design ethos distinguished by its rejection of the superfluous, Mille has turned his company into the maker of one of the most successful watch brands that is still independently owned.
The Richard Mille brand is associated with technical innovation and has become an emblem of all that is best. One of its timepieces elevates the wearer to a plane as lofty as that occupied by the maker. Richard Mille watches are considered among the most advanced in the world because of the technology they employ. Mille’s first watch, the ultra-light RM 001 Tourbillon, is made of titanium and carbon nano-fibre. It was introduced in 2001.
At this year’s Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, held in Geneva in January, Mille presented the RM 50-03 Tourbillon Split Seconds Chronograph Ultralight McLaren F1, a collaborative effort with the McLaren-Honda Formula 1 racing team. It weighs just 39 grams or so, including the strap, which means it may be the lightest mechanical chronograph in the world.
For Mille, functionality has priority over appearance. So every screw, every pinion, lever and spring in one of his watches must do its job, and do it with the utmost dependability and precision – rather as a racing car performs its function. At every stage in the construction of a Richard Mille watch, the sine qua non of dependability and precision are at the front of the maker’s mind. Limited production runs and collaboration with celebrities add to the appeal of Richard Mille. Its watches are hot items at auctions, usually fetching high prices.
Richard Mille has a masculine image, but attracting women to wear its watches has always been part of the business development strategy followed by the watchmaker. The company introduced in 2005 the RM 007, its first watch for ladies. Since then, it has continued to produce technically and aesthetically appealing – even sparkly – creations for women. Women’s watches by Richard Mille come in the same tonneau-shape case as the men’s watches, but the case is slightly elongated to suit a slimmer wrist. The watches are more than just prettified with diamonds and other gemstones. All make use of the ultra-light materials and high performance technology that distinguish the brand.
Mille called 2014 the “Year of the Woman” and at SIHH that year several of his creations for ladies stole the limelight. The flagship timepiece in his women’s collection was the RM 51-01 Tourbillon Tiger and Dragon – Michelle Yeoh. As the name suggests, the watch is dedicated to actress Michelle Yeoh. The watch celebrated Yeoh’s appearance as the sword-wielding Yu Shu Lien in the film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny. In 2011, Yeoh had a hand in the design of another Richard Mille watch, the RM 051 Tourbillon Phoenix – Michelle Yeoh. With the RM 51-01, the actress wished for her ideas about form and shape to be manifested in the movement. The result is no ordinary-looking watch. It depicts a tiger with teeth bared and claws out, snarling at a dragon with red eyes which hisses back. The beasts look as if they are ready to fight for possession of the tourbillon, holding each other’s glaring gaze as they stalk through the levers and cogwheels of the movement. Through the glass caseback, the golden limbs and trunks of the adversaries can be seen melting into the mechanical jungle.
The tiger and dragon are made of red gold, crafted entirely by hand, using miniature tools made especially for the task, and then painstakingly finished with paint applied by hand in microscopic detail. The watch has a power reserve of 48 hours, indicated by a red line between the 10 o’clock and 11 o’clock positions. The titanium movement has a torque-limiting crown to protect the watch against damage by over-winding. Only 20 examples, in either 18k gold or red gold, are being offered for sale.
Another outstanding women’s timepiece in the Richard Mille collection is the robust and powerful-looking RM 037 for ladies. This model is a reinterpretation, with a more feminine bias, of the original RM 037 unisex watch. The skeletonised movement baseplate and bridges of the new model are in black titanium treated with PVD. The watch has a large date window at 12 o’clock, fashioned from two skeletonised rotating discs. It is available with an 18k and red gold caseband and a scratch-resistant bezel in white or black ceramic, or in all-18k gold with one of a range of combinations of gemstones and dials made of diamond, onyx, pearl or jasper.
The design of the crown of the RM 037 for ladies is meant to protect the movement, doing without the conventional attachment that extends into the heart of the timepiece. The watch has a function selector which obviates the need to pull out the crown. A pusher resembling a water drop between and 4 o’clock and 5 o’clock selects the function, and the function selected is denoted in a window between 3 o’clock and 4 o’clock. Another, similar pusher between 10 o’clock and 11 o’clock adjusts the date. The beautiful calibre CRMA1 with a satinated surface powers the watch. Some parts are chamfered, blasted and polished to ensure that every detail of the movement is a pleasure to behold.
For women looking for a watch that is unapologetically extravagant and unorthodox in design and functionality alike, the RM 51-02 Diamond Twister is irresistible. This exquisite, high-jewellery timepiece has 14 diamond currents curling out like a whirlwind from the tourbillon escapement at 6 o’clock. Black sapphires accentuate the diamond-pavé case. A free-sprung balance and skeletonised bridges in titanium treated with PVD, along with various sorts of hand-finishing applied to the movement, all add to the good looks. A torque-limiting crown prevents damage from over-winding. Only 30 examples of the RM 51-02 Diamond Twister will be available to buy.
Another show-stopper for women by Richard Mille is the RM 19-02 Tourbillon Fleur, a beautiful timepiece, framed by diamonds. The time is displayed dazzlingly by white-tipped silver hands pointing to diamond markers on a black background. The flying tourbillon, the 36-hour power reserve and time functions are driven by a manually wound mechanical movement.
The RM 19-02 Tourbillon Fleur hides a unique surprise: at 7 o’clock on the dial, set into the case of 18k white gold, is a hand-painted gold representation of a magnolia. When activated, the flower opens up to reveal the flying tourbillion studded with sparkling stamens. The tourbillon, when revealing itself, rises to protrude about 1mm above the movement – rather like a flower reaching toward the sun. The magnolia opens and closes every five minutes, or whenever the wearer of the watch pushes a button at 9 o’clock.
The magnolia was chosen to perform this demonstration of the watchmaker’s technical mastery because of the resilience of the species, which has survived for millions of years. Using mechanical means to replicate the wonders of nature was a manifestation of the Age of Reason. The RM 19-02 Tourbillon Fleur – only 30 examples of which will be offered for sale – is imbued with the spirit of that age.If the RM19-12 is considered too ostentatious by some, then the less elaborate automatic RM07-01 may be more appealing.
This timepiece is a highlight of the Swiss watchmaker’s 2014 collection. The 45.66 mm x 31.4 mm tonneau-shaped case is crafted in ATZ white ceramic or TZP-Z brown ceramic with the red gold case band, entirely in white or red gold, gem-set or polished with various options for the dial and Carbon TPT gem-set. The skeletonised dial with decorative pavé diamonds on the inner dial mirrors the shape of the bezel and has central luminescent red gold hour and minute hands with droplet-shaped hour batons.
The watch is powered by an automatic calibre CRMA2 movement that has been developed specifically for this model. It provides a power reserve of more than 50 hours and is waterproof to 50m. The baseplates and bridges are crafted from lightweight but resistant Grade 5 titanium. The variable inertia rotor allows it to be set according to the wearer’s activity. The patented crown is not directly linked to the internal movement, further protecting the inner workings of the timepiece from external forces.
As with all Richard Mille timepieces, performance and durability are key elements in the design. The delicate and perfectly executed equilibrium between performance and aesthetics also makes this one of the most exciting new women’s watches of the year. Confident ladies who are unflustered if they wear a men’s or ladies’ watch may find the RM 67-01 is the pièce de résistance in their collection.
This extra flat watch with a dramatically slimmed-down silhouette is 3.6mm thick. Comfortable on the wrist, this watch carries the Richard Mille DNA, revealing as much of the movement and fancy bridge-work as possible. This is quite a feat of watchmaking as most Richard Mille watches come in generous three-decker, tonneau-shaped cases.The RM 67-01 skeletonised dial reveals the new automatic caliber CRMA6 movement designed by engineers in Les Breuleux. The baseplate and bridges are created from titanium and finished with a combination of grey and black electroplasma treatment. For maximum legibility, the numerals are filled with Luminova and have been sculpted out of solid metal, mounted on rails attached to the movement.
Needless to say, the RM 67-01 is a great looking watch. The fit and finish are well executed and great consideration has been given to every surface in terms of its relationship to other elements of the dial, gear train, and case. Attention to detail is what makes real luxury and this watch shows why Mille is top of his game.Each of these watches prove that Richard Mille is well in touch with its feminine side and, if anything, growing bolder and sexier. Richard Mille timepieces are just what modern women demand: ultra-valuable, high-performance watches unlike any other, created by a watchmaker that recognises no technological limits.
This article first appeared in the September 2017 print issue of #legend magazine.