The Richard Mille designs are bold, staggeringly expensive and to many, it’s not easy to justify the premium demanded by the market. However, followers of the brand will recognise the short yet exciting journey it has been on and the accomplishment Richard Mille achieved over the past decade.
Richard Mille as a new brand just after the turn of the millennium refused to oblige themselves to tradition. When the watch industry was leaning heavily on heritage and history, Richard Mille came along with no lineage of major brands or rich heritage to lay claim to. Instead, the brand put itself forward by rewriting what horology and modern watchmaking stand for.
Richard Mille decided to follow his own path and do everything he could to carve out a new horological direction; from utilising space-age materials to pushing the limits on the wrists of athletes. 20 years later, his efforts definitely pay off after developing a cult following and putting itself in a distinctively different position to any other.
Breakthrough Among The Giants
With the RM008 we have with us today, to the untrained eye, it’s just “another” Richard Mille. To avid fans and collectors, the RM 008-V1 was in 2003 the first new design of split-seconds tourbillon chronograph built in the last 40 years. When we examine the techniques, materials and components that helped separate Richard Mille’s watches from others, we all start to realise the driving factor behind the tremendous demand and premium in the market. The disruptive attitude taken by the eponymous man himself, who takes great pleasure in throwing his own six-figure watch across the room to prove its robustness, is the key factor of the brand’s success.
This split tourbillon seconds chronograph RM 008 stands at the top of the collection and symbolizes all of the technical mastery the brand has to offer. It specifically addresses the accurate measurement of small-time intervals and the high demands on design, materials and tolerances this creates, such as the high acceleration and deceleration of many small moving parts inside the movement itself.
Swiss watchmaking has traditionally relied on a group of specialists in different fields, focusing on components such as the dials, the movement ébauches or even the screws. While Richard Mille was intent on using the most modern of technologies and materials, he still had the traditional mindset of building a watch through partnerships. A great partnership is based on respect, vision and an insatiable desire to create. And that is exactly what the brand achieved.
One of the most fruitful and successful partnerships was with the complex movement manufacturer, Audemars Piguet Renaud & Papi (APRP). Building on the relationship that Mille had cultivated in his previous position at Mauboussin, he leverage the freedom to design what he wanted, seemingly unconstrained by worries about pricing, to work closely with APRP to manufacture movements that had never been seen before.
The Visionary Richard Mille
Models such as the RM 008 is where Mille’s brilliance lies and shines. Not in his ability to dream up unique watches, but to ensure that they are produced to his specifications, down to the smallest details.
Richard Mille started basically had just four watches back in the early days: A time only tourbillon (RM 001 & 002), a tourbillon GMT (RM 003), a chronograph rattrapante (RM 004), and a chronograph tourbillon (RM 008).
The magnum opus of the lot was RM 008, the V1 featured in this article. A highly intricate tourbillon chronograph that was a rare complication combination. Only a handful of watch firms had the necessary expertise and talent to implement and execute such a complicated watch. Coming from a young brand like Richard Mille, it impressed many within the industry.
Pinnacle of Chronographs: Genesis Of RM 008-V1
Richard Mille implemented a form for the rattrapante chronograph movement that had not been rendered in quite the same way as other manufacturers had before him. It used an entirely new movement geometry in which every functional section of the split-seconds chronograph movement is independently optimised, each in its specific role, comprising independent horological ‘units’ that communicate laterally.
For any luxury chronograph, the more instantaneous the stop and start function, the more precisely you measure the time elapsed. Rather than the old method of using a column wheel that was stopped and started using a system of levers that would interact with the column wheel, Richard Mille wanted something new and innovative in the way the rattrapante worked.
A split-second chronograph to the manual winding tourbillon movement, which already had a power reserve function indicator and torque indicator, shows Mille’s willingness to push things forward. While a split-second chronograph is certainly a complicated function to integrate, it’s the usefulness that Mille is concerned with. To those who are unaware of the brand and are more used to the conventional layout of watches, the RM 008 can appear confusing. However, it is the genesis of every other chronograph that Richard Mille has made over the last 20 years; including the one just released with their first in-house lifestyle chronograph calibre.
This is an entirely different approach from the classical layered and overlapping movement sections found in classical split-seconds chronograph construction. This methodology, as used in the RM 008-V1 lead to improved chronograph performance, almost eliminates the traditional stutter in the stopping and starting of the split-seconds hand, and provides low friction. These effects are also aided by extensive use of parts created in titanium allowing for a reduction in inertia and therefore less friction in the RM 008-V1 movement than typically found in classical examples. In a standard rattrapante, this is done by two separately activated levers, with the corresponding problem of having to adjust these accurately, such that they reach the gear at the same moment.
Another unique aspect of the RM 008-V1 is the fact that nearly every part of the movement is viewable and naked to the eye since it is not layered in the traditional way. For the watchmaker involved in its assembly, the RM 008-V1 still demands a state of utter calm and nerves of steel during its production. One single microscopic scratch on the face of a pinion, or one tiny false movement of the watchmaker’s hand, can mean that weeks of work must be disassembled and rebuilt all over again. This means that as the watch progresses ever closer towards its final completion, the greater the stress is upon the watchmaker.
When looking at the back of the watch the pincers are easy to spot. The pincer is made of titanium, in which both arms work simultaneously, engaged from one point, in order to secure the split seconds gear in a single swift movement. However, the magic of the pincer’s perfect functioning lies hidden in the unseen, complicated profiles of just three screws: Two large ones, one for each pincer arm and one in the centre, located directly between the two. The centre screw has a specifically placed head, which allows fine and exact adjustment of the two arms’ arrival on the split-seconds gear.
Movement: Calibre RM008-V1
Functions: Manual winding tourbillon movement with hours, minutes, seconds, split-seconds chronograph, 30-minute totaliser, power-reserve, torque and function indicators.
The RM 008-V1 combines a tourbillon and a split-second mechanism. These two complex specifications combined together and lodged in the heart of a mechanical calibre, is a major technical feat.
It’s all about attention to detail and craftsmanship when it comes to high horology. This RM008 is impressive as you would expect. Weeks were taken to assemble an RM 008 before the watch proceed for final testing. Any problems in final testing would see the watch return to the workshop for further work to ensure QC is vetted through multiple hands.
In total, just at the final part of completion for the RM 008, somewhere between 6 to 8 weeks was required to assemble and fine-tune the watch. It takes the watchmaker’s skill to make the parts mesh and synchronize, and work as one.
A key part of the company and its success has also been its collectors, who have formed a tight-knit community around these pieces. This group of passionate owners has helped drive the brand to where it is today. However, it all comes back to one person. Richard Mille. The enigmatic Frenchman is now guiding the brand through a second global financial collapse in as many decades of being, yet his enthusiasm and creative outpouring have never faltered.
As one of the earlier “founding” collections of the brand, the RM 008 will go down as one of the most desirable models as part of the brand’s history.
Based on historical price data from auction houses and transacted sales history in the secondary market, the projected growth per annum for the RM008 V1 in Platinum is estimated to be around 15%.
Richard Mille supply is always controlled and limited by the brand. With tremendous demand within the watch collector community, we are seeing more Richard Mille enthusiasts acquiring older models that could be an extremely valuable vintage collection one day.