After completing what they believed were the final touches on Richard Mille’s latest RM014 tourbillon in the winter of 2006, the engineers who build his complicated movements at Swiss specialty house Renaud & Papi called for a bottle of Champagne. But instead of offering his congratulations, Mille scrutinized the piece and then expressed dissatisfaction. He was not pleased with the polishing on the network of steel tubing that holds together the unusual movement. The bottle was sent back to the cellar, and the engineers went back to their desks. Mille is maintaining his exactitude though he is changing his collection, expanding it beyond the automotive-racing themes that distinguished his breakthrough designs. His latest models, the RM012 and RM014, reference architecture and sailing yachts, respectively.
The RM012 represents Mille’s most ambitious engineering undertaking. The so-called Architectural Tourbillon replaces the movement’s most basic element—the base plate—with a lattice of extruded stainless steel tubes that hold the wheel pivots in their proper positions. The design unites the structural functions of the base plate with those of the movement bridges. “It was an absolute nightmare to position these tubes,” says Mille. “The tubes are angled up about 15 degrees from the horizontal to give the piece depth, and the pivots must be positioned to the micron.”
While the RM012 ($450,000) dispenses with many of the brand’s hallmark auto-racing details, the platinum 30-piece limited edition still draws your eye into the intricate movement. By eliminating a solid base plate, Mille has reduced the movement to its essential functioning components, yet he has done so without making the watch look delicate, like a conventional skeleton. The tubular struts give the watch a brawny, load-bearing character, while also exhibiting a meticulous finish. Mille insisted that every crevice on the tubular latticework be finely polished, though such standards resulted in a 30 to 40 percent rejection rate at the quality-control stage.
Mille’s admiration for the work of Italian superyacht builder Perini Navi, whose founder and director, Fabio Perini, is similarly obsessed with details, led him to create his first nautically themed watch, even though he has minimal yachting experience. “Here is a company that completes just two or three vessels a year,” Mille says of Perini Navi, “and everything about them is absolutely refined.” Mille’s RM014 tourbillon (shown at right), which is priced from $222,000, and sister watch RM015 tourbillon with GMT, priced from $259,000, are intended to evoke the grace and power of Perini Navi’s immense sailboats, including the Maltese Falcon, venture capitalist Tom Perkins’ 289-foot modern square-rigger. Mechanically, these watches are similar to Mille’s early tourbillons, but the cases are grooved like decks, the crowns are shaped like winches, the bridges and cocks sweep like the curves of a boat’s superstructure, and the main barrel suggests a loaded winch drum.
Mille’s new models represent his most significant advances as a designer since he introduced his first collection in 2001. They also suggest a broad range of possibilities for his young brand. In the coming years, you can expect more racing- and sailing-themed Richard Mille timepieces, as well as designs that reference new fields such as aviation. “I am interested in anything technical,” says Mille. “The watch case is almost like a canvas. Inside it, I can do anything I want.”