When you think of Richard Mille – the man and the brand –images of highly technical, dynamically architectural watches spring to mind first and, immediately after, images of competitions for high-performance motor cars. Followers of Richard Mille the watchmaker will also know that since 2005 it has produced models for women which are uncompromising in their design and complications. Put these elements together and the 18th Richard Mille Rallye des Princesses comes into sharp focus.
On May 27, 90 teams from 12 countries assembled in Paris for the rally, an event for women drivers and navigators in classic cars. The two-woman teams were in sportsters such as a 1955 Jaguar XK140 and a 1979 Alfa Romeo Spider, and in Porsches Ferraris, Mercedes Benzes and other classics from the 1960s and 1970s.
Rallies for all-women teams aren’t new. The pioneer, the Paris-Saint Raphael Rally, was first held in 1929. But they are rare. Paris-Saint Raphael inspired Viviane Zaniroli to create the Rallye des Princesses 17 years ago. This is the third year Richard Mille has been associated with it.
The scrutineers spent May 27 checking the cars, and the next day the competitors roared out of the Place Vendôme and into the glorious French countryside. They completed five stages, arriving in Saint-Tropez in the south of France on June 1. By the time they crossed the finish line in the Place des Lices, the cars had covered some 1,600km, the drivers and navigators having stayed overnight in four-star and five-star hotels during the stops in Saint-Aignan, Vichy, Alpe d’Huez and Mandelieu.
The brand calls the rally an event for “elegant and outgoing women” but their elegance and extroversion must be combined with the rally skills of superior driving and excellent navigation. In this year’s Richard Mille Rallye des Princesses, each team was challenged to maintain an average speed between 40 km/h and 50 km/h, depending on the age of their car. The stage from Vichy to Alpe d’Huez included a 14-km climb that included 21 hairpin bends as the road ascended a gradient averaging of one in eight to a height of some 2,000 metres above sea level.
The final stage passed through five alpine passes, all with magnificently distracting scenery. Afterwards, the presentation of the awards for the winners at the Moorea beach in Ramatuelle was followed by a party. A Porsche 911 carried Véronique Castelain and Stéphanie Wante to victory in the competition for veteran cars, while the vintage car winners were Marion Lohio and Sabine Cybulski in a PGO Seven.
By all accounts, this annual event is not only a driving adventure but also a lot of fun for the contestants, who enjoy each other’s company in the evenings. What is more, the proceeds of the event support a charity that helps children suffering from cancer, Le Parti des Enfants.
Mille founded his brand in 1999, the same time that Zaniroli was gearing up for the first Rallye des Princesses. Mille is fascinated by cars. He is obsessed with the extraordinary, whether in watches or in other, heftier sorts of machine. His company makes relatively few models of watch, most in extremely limited numbers. Among classic cars, his admiration is kindled by the innovation the vehicles pioneered and the complexity of their design.
Mille likens his watches for ladies to classic sports cars, describing both sorts of contrivance as being “elegant and sexy on the outside” and having “technique, power and precision on the inside”. He considers cars and watches to be similar in all but size because they are required to function reliably under all conditions and because they need regular lubrication and maintenance. He refers to the sort of watch his company makes as “a racing machine on the wrist”.
Before Richard Mille introduced the RM 007 for ladies, in 2005, many women chose watches from his men’s range. Now the collection includes jewellery watches liberally embellished with diamonds and models in gold, ceramic and titanium. The watchmaker has never talked down to women. It was in the forefront of the creation of mechanical timepieces, including tourbillons, that salute the discerning woman enthusiast, such as the exquisite RM 19-02 Tourbillon Fleur.
On September 9 and 10, the Chantilly Arts & Elegance Richard Mille will be held on a private motor-racing circuit at Mortefontaine in France. Afterwards, the “supercars and ultra-cars” of the 1980s will be displayed for a day in the gardens of the Château de Chantilly. The cars will include an Alfa Romeo 8C, an Aston Martin DB7, a Zagato, a BMW i8 and a Bugatti EB 110. The race continues.