Welcome to Dialed In, Esquire’s weekly column bringing you horological happenings and the most essential news from the watch world since March 2020.
On the long aspirational ladder of watch collecting, Richard Mille looms right about the upper rungs, somewhere up in the clouds. In watchmaking, Mille is a maverick and doesn’t much mind who knows it. The crux of his appeal is his extreme devotion to research and innovation, a core approach since he founded the company in 2001. It centers on throwing out the rulebook and replacing it with something better while still executing technologically and aesthetically sublime pieces. They are not to everyone’s taste for sure, and even more certainly they are not to everyone’s wallet. Mille’s watches would be the perfect stealth indicator of billionaire status, if, in fact, their trademark tonneau (or barrel) shape weren’t so utterly unmistakable on the wrist.
How about, as an example, the brand new RM 029 Automatic Le Mans Classic, the eighth iteration of a series of Richard Mille watches paying homage to the legendary auto race (a century old in 2023), which debuted this week. It’s made from milled white quartz between two layers of green quartz. The iconic double “Le Mans” stripe is made by seamlessly inlaying more of that white quartz. A skeletonized titanium in-house movement reduces the weight of the sizable 40x48mm case. A single 24-hour counter is marked with the official start time of Le Mans, 4pm. The price is a cool $176,000, for one of just 150 pieces.
It’s not surprising that the people who have the wherewithal to drop, without even blinking, some $116,000 dollars for his entry-level—that’s entry-level—RM 67-01 in titanium are looking for something of a statement that will set them apart. For Richard Mille, if nothing else, is the watch of the individualist.
To emphasize that point, Mille leans towards the individualists in a whole raft of high-adrenaline sports, solo stars capable of putting his watches through their paces in extreme situations—Usain Bolt, Rafa Nadal, Bubba Watson. So what? Sports stars have been doing the marketing for watch brands since the year dot. The Mille difference is that his “friends” actually wear their Milles on the court, on the track, on the pitch, while they are doing their thing. No amount of sponsorship dough will persuade an athlete to wear a watch in those moments unless they are 100 percent sure it won’t get in the way of their performance.
Here’s where the research and innovation come in. Pioneering the use of space-age (or just plain left-field) materials has been a fixture in the Mille camp since the beginning. That and building watches from the ground up with an eye on weight reduction (rather than following the Swiss precious-metal playbook) means pieces so light they almost defy description. To say, for example, that Rafa Nadal’s 2013 RM-27-01 weighs in at just 18.8 grams including the strap—half the weight of a 60-watt lightbulb—doesn’t really cut it right?
I’ve spent years trying to understand what it is about Richard Mille that intrigues. The watches are unmistakable and iconoclastic but oddly they’re not flashy like gold and diamonds are flashy; they’re chunky but unbelievably super light; they’re complicated but not boring about it. Until I own a number of superyachts, a handful of homes plus an island or two, or win Olympic gold, maybe I just won’t fully understand. But I’m getting there. To understanding, I mean.
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Source : Esquire