The accomplishments of the 16-year-old eponymous watch brand, Richard Mille, have been told too many times. With time- pieces selling at an average price of $115,000, to as high as $3M for a limited edition of 10 that was already sold out — the case for most of his watches — it is no surprise that his watches are dubbed as “the secret billionaire’s handshake”. Mille, 67, is a machine-obsessed, car and airplanes enthusiast who was, in the ’90s, the CEO of the watchmaking division at French jewellery brand, Mauboussin. He was also in charge of the launch of a line of tourbillon watches, but he wanted more than just to be involved in the business side of things — he wanted to create, to be involved in watch-making. In 1999, Mille left Mauboussin and launched his own company two years later; one that prides itself on innovation and technical prowess — a passion that has consumed him since the age of 12.
Alan Lee/ Uber Digital London
The man behind the eponymous brand, Richard Mille, turned his passion for cars and airplanes into timepieces that command a waiting list.
Richard Mille, the brand, is a young company when compared to his peers who have been in the industry for more than a hundred years, but it is one that reportedly has a waitlist that stretches into years. What is clear but less discussed is perhaps Mille’s move into expanding the brand’s offerings for women. Here, the man himself explains the reasons behind his “racing machine on the wrist” gaining traction among the ladies.
The RM 19-01 Tourbillon Natalie Portman is the Oscar-winning American actress’ first watch designed and created with Richard Mille.
Your watches are very much inspired by cars and machines, yet they are so well received by women. Does that surprise you?
I enjoy the fact that even our ladies’ watches are very technical in spirit (and on the inside), regardless of how many diamonds or beautiful lines they may possess. To me, a ladies’ watch is like a classic sports car — elegant and sexy on the outside, technique, power and precision on the inside... That is not only our idea of the perfect ladies’ watch, but also the perfect lady.
German dressage rider Jessica von Bredow-Werndl’s attributes of passion, tenacity and determination make her the perfect partner for the brand.
Richard Mille’s watches could easily appeal to both sexes. Why do you see the need to specifically tap into the women’s market?
I do have several timepieces that
are perfect for either men or women, however, there are many sporty
models that tend to be rather more
man-sized. About 10 years ago,
many women enjoyed wearing
large chronographs, and size was
not an issue. In the recent years,
however, there’s an incredible rise in the popularity of smaller, and more feminine models. Nonetheless, I keep all the options open for women by creating a lot of variety within the ladies’ collection, covering the whole gamut from high-end jewellery tourbillons to more technical automatic watches with date and function indicators, specific gold straps, and timepieces with cases in ceramics of different colours, titanium, even pink sapphire, and everything in between.
Richard Mille embarked on a mythological journey with Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh and the RM 051 Tourbillon Phoenix.
How important is it to have these women’s timepieces in your collection?
Extremely important, and it has always been the case, or at least for a long time. I brought out a ladies’ model, RM 007, early in the brand’s development that [has] remained very popular through the years, and in 2014 we broadened the ladies’ collection extensively with the RM 07-01 Ladies, RM 037, RM 19-01 Tourbillon Natalie Portman and RM 50-01 Tiger & Dragon Michelle Yeoh. I was very lucky that exactly after we launched, there was a new impulse in the women’s market for complicated, mechanical timepieces. Since approximately the beginning of the last decade, women have become much more engaged with the wrist-watches they want to own. Not only [do they] they appreciate the physical beauty of the watch, but also the unseen interior of the timepiece, along with its precision and ingenuity. As you know, women want choices and options, and I do my best to provide them in every way imaginable.
The RM 51-01 Tiger and Dragon was launched in 2014, in celebration of Yeoh’s film “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon II”.
How is it different designing watches for women compared to men?
It’s hard to quantify because there’s no formula to it. With a woman’s timepiece, there are endless possibilities when it comes to colours and combination of materials. It’s slightly different for men, where bold colours and design are more expected and appreciated. Well that’s the conventional idea, but the truth is, while most Western men do not want watches set with stones or flowers, in the East and Far East, there are men who purchased the RM 19-02 Tourbillon Fleur, or a men’s model with [a] full stone-set case and dial. I guess when discussing differences in design and taste between men’s and women’s watches, it is best to narrow down by countries. A great watch is like a work of art. It must be multifaceted, possess different layers of attraction and attachment with its owner.
What do you want to achieve from the partnerships you’ve established with your brand ambassadors? How do you choose them?
With every partnership, the most important things are trust, friendship and the ability to get along and inspire each other. I don’t see any point working with people I dislike, just because they are famous or important. In fact, I can tell you honestly, without naming names, that I have rejected some partnership proposals because I felt uncomfortable with a person’s character. I am fascinated by public figures who cut straight to the chase no matter what, thanks to a novel vision and uncompromising determination. For me, a partnership of any kind has to fit into the Richard Mille family so to speak. By the way, regarding the women’s watches we were speaking of, a new member has just joined the ranks of Richard Mille partners, the celebrated actress Margot Robbie. This collaboration between Robbie and the brand marks the beginning of a new story.
The RM 07-01 is the continuation of Richard Mille’s first ladies’ watch, the RM 007.
What’s your favourite thing being a watchmaker?
You know, I am not a watchmaker at all; I am a creator and conceptor. I love extreme [techniques]. That is to say: I have a very deep understanding of watchmaking, the possible and the impossible, the methods and means, traditions and systems that drive it. In the creative process leading to a finished product, I work with a top team of highly skilled engineers and experts who translate my ideas and concepts into concrete products under my direct supervision.
Why pursue a career in watches when you have such a huge interest in cars?
Most people do not realise that cars and watches are identical; the only difference between them is their size. They are both machines, both need to be reliable at all times and under all kinds of stressful conditions, they both need regular lubrication and maintenance in order to function correctly, they both combine very traditional as well as hyper-modern technological advances in their realisation. I don’t use the phrase “A racing machine on the wrist” without reason!
Richard Mille’s choices for brand ambassadors are those whom he feels are aligned with his passion; strong, determined characters like American golfer Cristie Kerr who was the first American woman to top the Women’s World Golf Rankings list in 2010.
What’s your design philosophy?
There is one central concept that guides us, and that is to always be open to new ideas and impulses. That means not pre-judging any idea or possibility within watchmaking as out of place, impossible or unusable — until such time as you have examined the proposal carefully and can make an educated decision about it.
Name one surprising thing about yourself that most people would not expect of you.
Our watches are very advanced, sometimes controversial, and are always tinged with a revolutionary approach and philosophy, yet in business I am extremely conservative, careful and traditional.
View Richard Mille's women's collection here.
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