Despite being established just under two decades ago, Richard Mille’s namesake watch brand has firmly established itself as a pioneering force in the world of horology. Starting his journey with small-scale companies and eventually crafting one of the most prominent luxury brands globally, we delve into the history of one of the world’s most remarkable innovators.
The Early Beginnings
Before achieving worldwide recognition, Richard Mille had already established a noteworthy career in the field of horology. His journey began in the mid-Seventies at the boutique French watchmaker Finhor. Over time, he progressed to a managerial position in the chronometer division of Matra, a jewelry company that acquired Finhor in 1981.
Several years later, Richard Mille transitioned to the jeweler Mauboussin, where he played a pivotal role in launching the company’s watch business. However, despite his prestigious roles, Mille yearned for more. Drawing from his extensive experience in luxury jewelry and high-quality chronographs, he embarked on his own entrepreneurial journey, co-founding Richard Mille SA in 1999 in partnership with the Swiss manufacturer Audemars Piguet.
The RM 001
Though it took the brand a two-year span to unveil its inaugural timepiece, many believed the wait was well justified. Developed in close collaboration with Renaud et Papi, the research-and-development division of Audemars Piguet, the RM 001 was meticulously crafted to shatter the conventional norms of high-end watch design. It swiftly earned a place as one of the most renowned timepieces worldwide.
Touted as ‘a racing machine for the wrist,’ the RM 001 tourbillon not only garnered attention for its unique feature—an attachment to a levered bridge made of carbon nanofiber, a groundbreaking innovation at the time—but also for its price tag, which stood at approximately $135,000, double the cost of the next most expensive tourbillon in that era.
With only 17 units produced, it set a new benchmark for exclusivity. Consequently, it was hailed as the ‘dawn of a new era in watchmaking’ by the press, a title well-deserved given its remarkable attributes and limited availability.
About the Brand
Over the years, Richard Mille’s collections have consistently adhered to a philosophy that places immense importance on both the exterior and interior of their products, further solidifying the brand’s remarkable reputation. Notable offerings include the RM 003, which captured enthusiasts with its dual time zone functionality, the gear-laden RM 004, featuring a split-second chronograph, and the RM 022, showcasing a honeycomb orthorhombic titanium aluminide baseplate, directly inspired by NASA technology.
Mille’s company is not only renowned for crafting technically complex mechanisms but has also earned the moniker of “the secret billionaire’s handshake.” When asked by CNBC in 2014 about the sale of his $2.2 million sapphire crystal watches (the RM 56-02 Sapphire Tourbillon), Mille confidently stated, “They’re all sold. All of them.” While outsiders may question why individuals are willing to invest six or seven figures in such an accessory, those in the know understand that a Richard Mille timepiece is no ordinary watch; it’s akin to a sports car for the wrist.
The materials used in RM chronometers, known for their shock resistance and lightweight properties, such as aluminum-lithium and orthorhombic titanium aluminide, resemble those found in racing cars. Few brands share a stronger association with the sport than Richard Mille’s. For instance, F1 driver Felipe Massa, a frequent wearer of RM accessories while racing, is often considered an unofficial tester. During his crash at the 2004 Hungarian Grand Prix, Massa was wearing an RM 006, and fortunately, both the driver and the watch (thanks to its carbon nanofiber baseplate) emerged unscathed.
Notable collaborations extend beyond famous names to include figures like Rafael Nadal, who put five prototypes to the test before the RM 027—the timepiece he wore during his 2010 US Open victory—was perfected, as well as Natalie Portman (RM 19-01) and Michelle Yeoh (RM 051). Mille’s craftsmanship has garnered recognition beyond celebrity endorsements. In 2007, he joined the Foundation de la Haute Horlogerie, and later that year, he clinched the Aiuguille d’Or award—the most coveted accolade in the world of horology.
Richard Mille Today
At the onset of this year, the French visionary continued to push the boundaries in the watchmaking realm. In partnership with McLaren, Richard Mille introduced a timepiece designed to mirror the automaker’s extraordinary achievements—a feat unveiled at the Salon International de Haute Horlogerie in Geneva. The RM 50-03, limited to just 75 pieces and weighing a mere 38 grams, stands as the world’s lightest split-second tourbillon chronograph. It achieves this remarkable feat through the utilization of Graph TPT, a cutting-edge 2D graphene composite that measures just one atom thick, placing it in a league of its own.
Furthermore, for avid admirers of Mille, the RM 50-03 stands as a testament to the enduring commitment of the luxury watch brand to the very philosophy it was founded upon nearly two decades ago: an unwavering dedication to exclusivity, innovation, and an insatiable pursuit of opulence.