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How a Futuristic Material Revolutionised Richard Mille’s Watches

By T: The New York Times Style Magazine Singapore

Entirely dressed in carbon TPT and titanium from bezel to the folding clasp, the RM 07-01 ladies timepiece is a technical marvel that balances structure and elegance
 
Courtesy of Richard Mille
Entirely dressed in carbon TPT and titanium from bezel to the folding clasp, the RM 07-01 ladies timepiece is a technical marvel that balances structure and elegance

Unconventional forms and unusual materials have come to define modern watchmaking as we know it today. Among some of the more idiosyncratic inventions in the market is carbon TPT — which stands for Thin Ply Technology, a novel material introduced to the market in 2013, which has become a hallmark of Swiss watchmaker Richard Mille today.

Carbon has been used in various wristwatch components for a long time. But the new type of super-lightweight carbon fibre created by North Thin Ply Technology (NTPT) made waves when it first appeared on the watch scene, specifically on the signature tonneau-shaped case of a Richard Mille watch. Originally developed for sails of racing yachts, carbon TPT consists of multiple woven carbon fibre layers set in resin and further set in an autoclave. Each layer of carbon fibre is stacked at 45 degrees offset to the previous layer. To put it simply, this material makes for an exceptionally sturdy watch case, even as it achieves a feather-light weight for agility. Through the tedious process of milling multiple layers, the resultant carbon structure also boasts an organic, almost wood-grained finish that is slightly different on every watch case.

Courtesy of Richard MilleA side view of the RM 07-01 watch.
A side view of the RM 07-01 watch.

The successful partnership between NTPT and Richard Mille saw the Carbon TPT case migrating to other signature collections of the house — most notably the iconic Richard Mille RM 27-03 seen on the wrist of world-renowned tennis player Rafael Nadal each time he throws a victorious punch in the air.

For almost 20 years, Richard Mille has come up with some of the most technologically advanced innovations in the market, featuring extreme lightness and invariably accompanied by a real performance objective linked to an athlete.

It took seven years for Richard Mille to perfect a timepiece that would withstand the brutal and punishing conditions of tennis played Nadal-style. The watchmaker’s encounter with Nadal was met with resistance at the beginning and the player famously broke a series of Richard Mille watches through the years, simply by wearing them while playing.

Courtesy of Richard MilleThe unique collaboration between Rafael Nadal and Richard Mille has resulted in many remarkable innovations since 2010.
The unique collaboration between Rafael Nadal and Richard Mille has resulted in many remarkable innovations since 2010.
Courtesy of Richard MilleIn a striking red and yellow hue, the RM 27-03 pays tribute to Rafael Nadal’s native country, Spain.
In a striking red and yellow hue, the RM 27-03 pays tribute to Rafael Nadal’s native country, Spain.

The streak finally ended when his RM 027 was upgraded (for the third time) with the carbon TPT case, resulting in a watch weighing a mere 20 grams. In creating a watch that had zero negative impact on his game (even when asserting his powerful backhand), the watchmaker had created a game-changer for Nadal. The athlete, who has since won a record-breaking number of French Open tournaments, now finds use for the watch in checking for time during critical moments of the competition — a habit unheard-of before Richard Mille.

Despite the innately harsh and industrial masculine features of carbon TPT, the Swiss watchmaker went on to rework the signature material into sportier models like the RM 33-02 as well as its feminine watches. In its ladies’ timepieces such as the gem-set RM 07-01 and the RM 037, especially, Richard Mille showcases its technical prowess by formulating a case made out of carbon TPT and diamonds — two conceptually different forms of carbon — to create the perfect combination of feminine elegance and power.

Courtesy of Richard MilleThe core innovation in the RM 27-03 watch is its tourbillon calibre that is built to withstand shock up to 10,000 g’s; Rafael Nadal, a record-winner of the French Open, displays a discipline that is fundamental to the house ethos.
The core innovation in the RM 27-03 watch is its tourbillon calibre that is built to withstand shock up to 10,000 g’s; Rafael Nadal, a record-winner of the French Open, displays a discipline that is fundamental to the house ethos.

To Richard Mille, every watch model should represent its house codes of elegance and resilience, qualities that are equally befitting of its brand ambassadors. International actress Michelle Yeoh, who is a friend of the brand alongside other female ambassadors such as athlete Nafi Thiam and golf champion Diana Luna, says, “Richard chooses his partners based on the values they represent — the same ones he wants his (eponymous) brand to be associated with.”

But what happens now that the novel carbon TPT seems to have exhausted its pioneering approach? At SIHH 2019, Richard Mille unveiled, for the first time, the ladies RM 07-01 wristwatch with a carbon TPT bracelet. According to the watchmaker, the bracelet took slightly over a year to engineer, ultimately resulting in a bracelet made out of 44 carbon composite links weighing a total of only 29 grams.

Whether proven from extreme performance testing or breakthroughs, Richard Mille’s instinct to venture into the unexpected is demonstrated through his innovations. While not many will reap the extreme benefits of the revolutionary material carbon TPT, it albeit stands as a symbol of innovation — one that provides a modern discourse from the anachronistic existence of traditional watchmaking, staked by the house of Richard Mille.