Richard Mille RM 72
There is no single watch brand which has become more a token of exclusivity than Richard Mille. Over the 20 or so years that the brand has been in existence, it has achieved many technical milestones – its tourbillon watches are worn, to take just one recent example, by a modestly successful tennis pro named Rafael Nadal, under circumstances which would not only be hazardous, but actually destructive, to pretty much any other tourbillon I can think of (they are, as a rule, quite delicate contraptions, but it has been the peculiar genius of Richard Mille to overturn expectations, with the tourbillon as with many other things). However, these technical accomplishments can sometimes be hard to see behind the powerful spell cast by the undeniably enormous cost of the watches. A great deal of the narrative around Richard Mille watches has to do with the fact that they are affordable to a vanishingly small percentage of watch lovers – a percentage, in fact, to whom the very term “affordable” is essentially irrelevant. A major function of the watches is, in fact, to signal membership in a socioeconomically highly specific demographic (to deploy a euphemism for “super-rich”) and Richard Mille has been canny enough, over the years, to retain key aspects of his Formula 1 and aerospace-inspired designs, which have made them, and which continue to make them, instantly recognizable (and, it must be said, occasionally slavishly and unimaginatively imitated).
Creation of his watches has, in fact, followed a model similar to that of the Formula 1 cars that have influenced both Richard Mille’s design and materials choices – the idea is to make mechanisms with little to no regard for costs-per-unit, which are highly limited in number. (Despite the deliberate anti-classicism of the designs, this is very much a traditional luxury model: It takes as long as it takes, and it costs whatever it costs.) As with F1, you don’t necessarily have to make every component “in-house” either – just as, historically, F1 teams have sourced power plants from specialist suppliers, so Richard Mille has sourced movements from partners with the manufacturing capacities to meet the required performance and aesthetic standards. Generally, RM’s suppliers have been Manufacture Vaucher and Audemars Piguet Renaud & Papi, and this strategy has been enormously successful for RM – the movements, after all, are generally the centerpiece of its watches, and are an essential aspect of their aesthetics.
As a rule, RM has avoided falling into what can be the trap of thinking that making everything in-house is an essential element of success, but at the same time, there is indisputable prestige associated with having an in-house movement in a brand’s portfolio. This year, RM has produced its first in-house caliber, the CRMC-1. This is a flyback chronograph with a new type of double tilting-pinion clutch system, and it is debuting in the RM 72-01 “Lifestyle” Chronograph.
The RM 72-01 is being billed by RM as a unisex watch (although, I have noticed that actual watch enthusiasts, irrespective of gender, tend to wear whatever the hell they like; an obsession with gender-specific product categories in fine watchmaking seems more and more a dinosaur every day), and it will at launch be available in four different case materials: titanium, 18k red gold, or black and white ceramic.
In a lot of respects, this is classic Richard Mille in terms of design; there is his signature tonneau-shaped case, with its prominent bezel screws with their five-spline design, which ensures a visual symmetry not possible with slotted screws. The design also distributes torque evenly (more or less) over the entire diameter of the screw, rather than onto the narrow edges of a conventional screwdriver slot. (They, in fact, seem rather bolt-like in this respect, although the basic difference between a bolt and a screw is that the former is used, along with a nut, to connect two unthreaded components, while screws engage with threads in the components themselves). The case is 38.40 x 47.34 x 11.68 mm; the latter figure for thickness at first does not seem to jibe with the visual impression you get from the watch in photographs, but I think the sense of greater thickness may be more in part from the aesthetics of the case, with the prominent overhang of the bezel and caseback, and the very substantial crown and chronograph pushers, than from actual thickness. Certainly, RM does not seem to be indulging in any sort of shenanigans like not including the thickness of the crystal, which lies flush with the curved upper surface of the case.
The elaborate case construction is one of the most distinctive aspects of Richard Mille watches, and although the degree to which the case is successfully integrated with the movement has varied over the years in RM designs, nonetheless, it remains a core element of the appeal of the designs. The integration of case and movement is both aesthetic and mechanical; as each movement is essentially custom-constructed for the case, there’s no need for the spacers and movement rings so common in (much) less expensive watchmaking, and although the RM 72-01 doesn’t have quite the engineering of, say, the new RM 27-04, with its elaborate cable suspension system, it still has its movement mounted on the elastomeric shock blocks, which are the interface between case and movement in so many RM watches (and, of course, it’s about a fifth the cost of the RM 27-04 as well). For a watch that projects such a technical persona, water resistance seems a bit low at 30 meters, but for general use, that figure is more than adequate (and par for the course for many luxury chronographs as well).