Whether you’re a diehard F1 enthusiast, a hip-hop music video binge watcher, or a follower of high-profile athletes and musicians, you’re sure to have encountered Richard Mille.
Over the last 23 years, the Swiss watch brand has become a bonafide cultural sensation. Indeed, in just two short decades, it’s created a brand-new segment of the luxury watch market that caters to a customer who may not ever before have been interested in haute horlogerie.
At Analog:Shift, we’ve curated a collection of watches that span the breadth of the company’s offerings. Today, we’re going to take a look at several of these watches and discuss the features that help define RM, as well as examine how a maison with an annual production in the low thousands became a household name.
Founded in 2001 by French watchmaker Richard Mille and partner Dominique Guenat — whom he met while working in Besançon, cradle of French horology, in the 1980s — Richard Mille the brand launched with a complicated, tourbillon-equipped wristwatch, the RM 001. With a focus on advanced materials, high shock resistance, and unconventional, futuristic aesthetics, the maison played up its automotive influence and grew quickly from its humble origins. Within a short few years, it began developing envelope-pushing products that drew widespread attention.
Richard Mille RM-001 - (Image by Richard Mille)
There are a number of common threads throughout Richard Mille’s collections that help define the brand’s positioning within the luxury watch market: Lightweight construction; high-performance movements; skeletonized calibres; smoked sapphire dials; industrial, contemporary design; and limited production have all contributed to RM’s quick rise to fame. Like other successful makers, the firm has stuck by its original blueprint, developing a unique product and attracting a specific customer. (Frankly, it’s eye-watering prices — sometimes cresting $1M — also help to draw publicity.)
F1 Driver Kimi Raikonen wearing the RM 50-04 Tourbillon Split-Seconds Chronograph Kimi Raikkonen - (Image by Peak Magazine)
Speaking of which: Richard Mille is virtually a case study in marketing watches to a completely new clientele: Perhaps as a result of its celebrity partnerships and association with F1, the brand has penetrated far beyond the watch industry. Diehard car enthusiasts and celebrities alike have flocked to it, chasing a lifestyle in addition to a watch. From here, RM has been the entry point for many into high-end watchmaking.
Due to its market positioning, RM has served as the bridge between pop culture and luxury watches. While a motorsports enthusiast might not find complicated Patek on his or her own, perhaps he or she will move from motorsports to Richard Mille to complicated Nautilus or Royal Oak to mainstream luxury watches. Though the brand is divisive amongst a certain type of watch enthusiast, there’s no doubt that its popularity has only increased over time.
Furthermore, whether you’re a fan of its designs or not, this is a company that surely deserves your respect. A marvel in marketing, brand construction, and a case study in establishing a new market segment and building one’s own unique customer base, RM is as successful as a watchmaker as it is as a movement and a cultural force. They may be relative newcomers on the horological block — but RM is here to stay.
Richard Mille RM030 TI ($219,000)
Richard Mille RM030 TI - IN THE SHOP
Looking at RM’s collection, it’s easy to erroneously assume they’re selling an aesthetic more than a watch. However, an attribute of RM — and perhaps the secret to their astounding success — is the fact that while the brand has pioneered a special style, they continue to concentrate on building unique movement innovations. Take the titanium-cased RM030 TI, for example: While it certainly features the stockier wrist presence of most Richard Mille pieces, the technical marvel featured within is truly its pièce de resistance: In order to prevent excessive winding of the mainspring, it uses a decoupling system that essentially disengages the rotor after the power reserve is maximized.
Alongside the unique decoupling mechanism, the RM030 TI features the brand’s distinctive and recognizable sapphire dial. Extremely common on RM watches, this dial type gives the illusion of ‘floating’ numerals, as these are painted on the sapphire dial substrate and appear as though they’re suspended between the crystal and the movement. While several brands use this system — most notably A. Lange & Söhne on some of their Lumen watches — it’s undoubtedly a hallmark of Richad Mille. In fact, most of the brand’s pieces incorporate this dial construction technique.
Richard Mille RM67-01 ($220,000)
Richard Mille RM67-01 - IN THE SHOP
The RM67-01 captures so much of what defines RM — and also, a lot of what RM typically is not. In short, it’s an excellent compromise of a watch, being one of the thinnest Richard Mille creations in existence. Sort of like a Royal Oak, the model has the wrist presence of a dress watch, but with the look of a sports piece. If you appreciate a sportier aesthetic but want something a bit more svelte and compact, it’s a solid option.
At the same time, the RM67-01 offers all the beloved Richard Mille features: You receive the classic tonneau case, unique midcase design and finish, and skeletonized dial enhanced by the thin movement found within. Fashioned from titanium, this reference is also extremely comfortable on the wrist, its brushed finish giving a muted shine that’s quite distinctive — paired with highly polished bevels at the case extremities, the watch really pops. If you’re a dress watch fan looking for a foray into Richard Mille, the relatively slim and simple RM67-0 is an excellent place to start.
Richard Mille RM055 Bubba Watson Boutique Edition ($470,000)
Richard Mille RM0055 Bubba Watson Boutique Edition - IN THE SHOP
Representing Richard Mille’s many partnerships with famous athletes, this boutique-exclusive RM055 Bubba Watson — with its extremely lightweight construction and a unique dial — proved extremely popular. Taking skeletonization to an extreme, the entirety of its movement architecture has been confined to just a small part of the dial where, suspended between the sapphire crystal and the sapphire caseback, it appears to be floating. As in the brand’s previous Bubba Watson partnership, the tourbillon-equipped RM038, the RM055 is yet another example of RM using their movements as an artistic component of design. Indeed, while many brands treat movements as merely the engine responsible for time-telling, for RM, the movement becomes the centerpiece.
Bubba Watson wearing a Richard Mille RM055 - (Image by Richard Mille)
The fact that Bubba Watson, a renowned American golfer, wears this watch during play speaks volumes about its performance capability. Golfing and watches usually go together like oil and water — the shocks of impact aren’t kind to watch movements, and simultaneously, in the practical sense, the weight of a heavy watch can throw a swing out of balance. But both these considerations are factored into the RM055 design: First, Richard Mille created a complete shock absorption system capable of withstanding the demands of hard use — one that’s capable of surviving accelerations in excess of 500 G’s. (Which is well in excess of what the human body can survive.)
With regards to the second challenge: the titanium construction, minimalist movement, and lightweight strap help to make this watch almost forgettable on the wrist. Said lightweight sensation is appreciated by some people and not by others, but to be able to wear a 42.7mm timepiece and have it all but “disappear” is a unique experience.
Richard Mille RM033 ($112,500)
Richard Mille RM033 - IN THE SHOP
Last up is a watch that is somewhat of an exception to the standard Richard Mille mold. One of the brand’s few round timepieces, this piece does maintain much of the underlying DNA that helps identify it as an RM: The scalloped case sides; cabochon-set crown; and flat-bezeled, industrial case give it away despite its lack of tonneau shape. However, a unique feature on this reference is the lug integration system, in which the lugs are individually inserted into the case and screwed in place. Like RM67-01, the RM033 watch helps introduce a new customer to the brand by providing all that is Richard Mille in a more wearable package.
On the caseback, we are once again met with a familiar sight — a combination of both traditional movement technology and a modernist execution. The 29-jewel micro-rotor movement is propped up by skeletonized bridges constructed of PVD-treated titanium, and measures just 2.6mm in thickness. Extremely lightweight and featuring robust construction, it offers aerospace and automotive design cues in a shape that feels both conventional while simultaneously futuristic.