One doesn’t have to talk to too many people about luxury watches before the question of cost comes up. “Why do watches cost so much? Don’t they just tell the time? And more to the point, doesn’t your cellphone do that already?”
Well, yes. Your cellphone does tell the time. In fact, it probably tells it slightly better than the vast majority of watches out there, but that is not the point. Watches are small, portable, crucially functional works of art. They are objects of personal expression. They are many things to the people that love and understand them. Ironically, time-telling is rarely the reason for a watch lover to buy a watch.
Watches, good ones at least, are meant to challenge us. They excite us. They make us think. More to the point, they make us marvel at what is possible. Richard Mille has never been a brand short on the “wow” factor, but, in recent years, it has intensified its continued research into novel materials. The result is a brand capable of producing mind-blowing watches that look like nothing else on the market. And as many passing observers will notice, they are also priced like few things on the market.
A Million Dollar Wristwatch
What does a million-dollar wristwatch look like? That is a fair question for anyone confronted with this kind of ticker for the very first time. Unfortunately, there isn’t a straightforward answer. Many watches have been sold for seven figures or more, and there is very little consistency between the styles that go for that kind of change.
However, it is certainly not uncommon to see wild materials deployed alongside an eye-catching aesthetic that screams high-tech or deep pockets. We are used to seeing Rolex watches dripping with diamonds selling for crazy amounts... however, Richard Mille takes a totally different tack (most of the time).
Here, self-developed materials like TPT carbon and layered quartz take center stage. Occasionally, diamonds will be used on ladies' timepieces, but it is by no means a given. One of Richard Mille’s distinct advantages is not needing to pander to trends. There is no need to define a woman’s watch by the presence of diamonds when a brand can literally craft an entire case out of solid sapphire.
Better still, for female fans of Haute Horlogerie, Richard Mille never skimps on the movement front. Unlike many of his peers, the enigmatic watchmaker enjoys surprising his female clients by designing calibers that can inspire and delight through their technical wizardry and often futuristic appearance. It is a refreshingly uncommon approach to watchmaking for women and something for which Mille should be commended.
What makes these movements so good?
Richard Mille's movements have always boasted striking designs. That goes without saying. Even the uninitiated observer could notice something different and oh-so-special about the brand’s calibers, which are, now, at least, in-house creations.
Back in 2013, Richard Mille opened its own components factory. This was a massive leap for the brand since it previously relied on the capacities and abilities of its suppliers. Since the main goal was always to push the boundaries of horological possibilities, they now had the freedom to do so without interference.
Astoundingly, it only took the brand five years to get from its first caliber (the CRMA1) to producing its first tourbillon movement (CRMT1). That kind of foot-to-the-floor acceleration is perhaps what makes Richard Mille’s partnership with Formula 1 teams and the brand’s association with many individual drivers so apt. Like the hyper-advanced engines and car components seen on the world’s greatest racetracks, Richard Mille’s watch engines are super calibers able to go head-to-head with any in the industry. What they lack in tradition, they more than make up for with innovation.
And while the old ways take time, the new ways cost money. This kind of experimentation isn't cheap, so the watches that come out the other end of this process sometimes command shocking sums. However, if you are a fan of watchmaking, it’s hard to say that these watches aren't worth it. The chances of you purchasing one may be slim, but we can agree that you can still appreciate the technologies and techniques developed by brands like Richard Mille. Especially since these revolutionary techniques tend to trickle down the food chain until they find their ways into relatively affordable alternatives.
Let’s not forget, it wasn't that many years ago that the idea of ceramic being anything other than a highly specialized and rare material in watchmaking seemed nonsense. Now, even microbrands can afford to use ceramic components in their watches’ constructions. Customers of brands like Richard Mille may seem flashy and unnecessarily braggadocios upon the first glance at their wrist. But remember this: They are funding the future that the rest of us get to enjoy.
The art of dial design
One of Richard Mille’s foremost traits is the dial-less display. While his watches are not so much skeletonized in the traditional sense, ambitious bridges make for a display defined by coalescing chaos. Sure, the size, shape, and case material (maybe even color) might give you a chance of recognizing a Richard Mille across a room, but the dial will leave you in no doubt. After all, why spend all that time and money creating something so novel and then hide it behind a solid dial? That would be sacrilege, no? Disrespectful, at best...
Beyond the excellent mechanics and dizzying displays of Richard Mille’s, perhaps the most exciting aspect of these watches’ designs are their cases. Mille’s cases have always been a talking point. The classic tonneau shape seems an odd juxtaposition for such a modern brand, but the idea is very different from the classic silhouette that inspired the form.
The cases of Mille's timepieces are crafted from a range of materials like titanium, gold, carbon composite, Carbon and Quartz TPT, and sapphire. In addition to these somewhat “out-there” materials, the cases are curved to improve the watch's ergonomics. This means the watch's don’t just look futuristic, but they fit futuristically, and the massive diameters or intimidating heights hug the wrist as well as possible.
You pay for the best
Simply put, Richard Mille timepieces are some of the most extravagantly designed and made watches you will find on the market. The brand produces the "super cars" of the watch world. If that kind of image or forward-thinking appeals to you, then this might be the brand for you.
That is, of course, you have rather deep pockets. Richard Mille’s watches can cost several hundred thousand dollars (and up). So, unless Mille feels like running a special project to bring some of his more fascinating creations (like the arresting Quartz TPT which tops the RM 27-03 Manual Winding Tourbillon Rafael Nadal for a patriotic look sported by the Spanish superstar), the majority of us might be left to admire from afar. But, in the grand scheme of things, that is still one heck of a privilege in itself.