Richard Mille’s 20 Years Of Savoir-Faire In The Creation Of Tourbillon Watches Is Legendary
Using a “no gimmicks” approach as a starting point, Richard Mille’s success is based on three important criteria: pushing the limits of technical innovation by incorporating technologies and materials found in cutting-edge industries like F1 car racing and aeronautics, imposing infinite creativity and respecting the centuries-old heritage and traditions of fine watchmaking. There are practically no standard components in a Richard Mille timepiece and nothing is superfluous; everything serves a purpose and must meet the highest standards. Take for example the trademark spline screws used throughout the watch movement and that are highly visible on the case, which required months of development and investment and over 20 operations during the manufacturing process. Technological and hard-to-work materials such as grade 5 titanium, ARCAP, graph TPT, carbon nanofiber, LITAL and ceramics are used extensively because they’re lighter, tougher, more scratch resistant or more impervious to shocks.
Over the years, Richard Mille has established quite a name for itself for its mastery of tourbillons – having made around 50 different tourbillon models since its founding – including the RM 27-01 Tourbillon Rafael Nadal in carbon nanotube composite. The world’s lightest tourbillon wristwatch at only 18.83 grams including the strap, it effectively combines the worlds of technique and art. One of horology’s most ingenious and complex mechanisms to make, the tourbillon is a system originally invented and patented by Abraham-Louis Breguet in 1801 to compensate for errors of rate caused by gravity in upright positions, where the escapement is mounted in a revolving cage with the regulating organ at the center. Considering that a Richard Mille lightweight tourbillon escapement with its cage requires hours of hand-finishing using a microscope, then hours of pre-assembly before the watchmaker can use it in a movement, nothing is too challenging for the brand.
The first and only Richard Mille tourbillon with a rectangular case, the RM 017 Tourbillon Extra Flat with its highly technical character, was introduced in 2011. With a movement plate in black PVD-coated grade 2 titanium, its manual-winding caliber is one of the thinnest tourbillon constructions ever made at just 4.65 mm thick, and the timepiece shows off the brand’s approach where movement and case are developed in total harmony to optimize performance. Demonstrating its attention to case design and the three main components (bezel, middle and caseback), over 18 days of machine adjustment and more than 400 hours of technical research and drawing are required before production can even begin. Each case involves 202 separate machining operations, and this rigor is applied to all parts of the watch.
In 2015, Richard Mille propelled its expertise in three-dimensionality to the next level with its first automaton timekeeper, the 30-piece limited-edition RM 19-02 Tourbillon Fleur work of art, in which five hand-crafted petals encircling a flying tourbillon escapement unfold and shut automatically or on demand, animated via a complex mechanism comprising five levers surrounding the underside of the petals. It echoes the longstanding Swiss tradition of creating mimetic mechanical objets d’art that imitate nature, born during the Age of Reason, when various miniature animal, insect and flower automata were manufactured in precious metals and lacquer to enchant royalty worldwide. “I thought it was interesting to start with a universal theme with a fairy tale facet: a flower that opens and closes, revealing the technology and the tourbillon,” Mille says. “Ensuring this feature was highlighted and genuinely artistic made the design and production extremely complicated. For example, we wanted to imitate nature and a magnolia as closely as possible; as such, when the flying tourbillon with its ‘inset stamen’ opens fully, it is raised by 1 mm, exactly like a real flower when it opens, in order to increase its chances of pollination. Once again, extreme technique fulfilled its role by bringing the intention and the concept to life with sublime effectiveness.”
Playing with watchmaking codes, the hand-wound RM 26-02 Tourbillon Evil Eye in a matte black TZP ceramic case takes a tongue-in-cheek approach to the terrifying connotations linked to the evil eye, referencing the curse believed to be cast by a malevolent look, but giving it a much friendlier appearance. Produced in a limited edition of 25 pieces, it is a modern-day talisman designed to reflect back negative energy. The work of Genevan master craftsman, Olivier Vaucher, the enameling needed to be modified several times to obtain the desired look for the hand-carved red gold eye and the micro-lacquering painstakingly carried out by hand for the realistic design of the flames.
Inaugurating a line of products devoted to the extremely demanding craft of fine jewelry-making in 2015, the RM 51-02 Tourbillon Diamond Twister echoes a fireworks display exploding in 14 diamond rays out of a tourbillon cage at six o’clock. Available in an edition of 30 pieces, it recalls the power of a whirlwind or the patterns of certain marine creatures, plants and trees. Having observed a wealth of spiraling structures in nature’s organic forms gave Richard Mille the idea of including volume and swirls in its jewelry watches, just as it had already done in some of its technical pieces. The baseplate of the manual-winding tourbillon is in black onyx and its skeletonized bridges are in PVD-treated grade 5 titanium, while hand-finishing techniques such as anglage and black polish are used throughout the movement.
When Richard Mille created its very first in-house automatic tourbillon movement in 2018, it chose to launch it in a ladies’ watch rather than in a gents’ timepiece – proof of its profound dedication to the feminine universe. The RM 71-01 Automatic Tourbillon Talisman that comes in 10 variations was designed by Cécile Guenat, creative and development director and the daughter of Richard Mille’s business partner, Dominique Guenat. Resembling amulets adorning women’s wrists, the tribal arts and Art Deco-inspired horological sculptures come in entirely gem-set gold cases and bezels, while each of the 10 hand-set dials decorates the heart of the timepiece and is a mere 0.9 mm thick. The tonneau-shaped skeleton Caliber CRMT1 in titanium weighing just eight grams – the brand’s eighth in-house movement and its only proprietary tourbillon caliber to date – sparkles with diamonds, mother-of-pearl, onyx and black sapphires. “The first challenge was to produce an automatic tourbillon movement that could be housed in the narrow, curved case of a RM 037. The second was to meet all our standards in terms of performance, be it chronometric results, automatic winding or shock resistance,” explains Salvador Arbona, technical director for movements. “It is designed to be worn day-in, day-out precisely because it has an automatic-winding mechanism.”