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Richard Mille's Breakthrough Material, Carbon TPT, Now in Ladies' Watches

By Caroline Suganda

SunSun
The RM 037 for ladies, rendered in Carbon TPT and red gold.
The RM 07-01 for ladies, rendered in Carbon TPT and red gold.
Richard Mille
 

"Carbon TPT. Richard Mille.
"

This head-scratching acronym was often used in the same sentence as Richard Mille. I have come to expect nothing less from this 17-year-old watch brand; after all the man behind the brand is obsessed with his own quest for finding the next “big thing” in material with performance that surpasses the last.

The Carbon TPT (which stands for Thin Ply Technology) material has been, perhaps, Mille’s latest obsession over the last five years. NTPT the company, which makes the
 carbon composite, is the world’s leader in ultra-
lightweight prepreg (reinforcing fabric that has been pre-impregnated with a resin) materials. Carbon has 
been commonly used in many forms over the years for 
its strength and lightweight properties, but the carbon made by NTPT has never been used for watchmaking. It was developed for sails and racing yachts, and notably in vessels that won regattas.

Mille’s commitment and passion for this material is unsurpassed, to say the least. This longstanding partnership led to the opening of a 300-square-metre production facility at Renens, Switzerland. Early this year, NTPT entered into an agreement with Mille to develop and provide its lightweight thin ply materials exclusively to the watchmaker for its use in items of horology and jewellery, which means we won’t be seeing copies of these items anytime soon.

When compared to any composite materials with physical properties that are already well known, Carbon TPT improves the rate of occurrence of breaking stresses by 25 per cent and of micro-cracks by 200 per cent. Its unique properties also provide the watchmaker a level of design engineering customisation and weight reduction that were not possible with conventional composite technologies.

However, the hardness of this material imposed serious problems too — when the first sample arrived at Richard Mille’s manufacture, it was almost impossible to cut the Carbon TPT material. With a lot more fibres in its construct compared to regular carbon, it wore down the standard tools used at the facility. The cutting machines have to be recalibrated and given special plating to ensure less erosion when it comes into contact with such an abrasive material.

Richard MilleThe Carbon TPT case displays regular but undulating pattern, almost like wood grain, formed by multiple layers of parallel filaments obtained by dividing carbon fibres.
The Carbon TPT case displays regular but undulating pattern, almost like wood grain, formed by multiple layers of parallel filaments obtained by dividing carbon fibres.
Richard MilleThe RM 011 in Carbon TPT, where the material was first used to create a Richard Mille piece.
The RM 011 in Carbon TPT, where the material was first used to create a Richard Mille piece.

But why is it so important for Mille to produce a watch crafted out of such high resilient material? It’s because, Mille the man, likes to put his creations to the test. He engaged his friends in the sports arena to test the timepiece out on the tennis court, running track, and even the F1 track. Unlike other sportsmen who would only put on their sponsored watch to pose with their trophy, Richard Mille’s “friends of the brand” — just like how he calls them — wear them during the competition itself, going through the most demanding of physical ordeals.

How well do these timepieces stand up to the wear and tear of the respective sports? With serves that exceeds 200kph, tennis player Rafael Nadal has broken several Richard Mille watches, prior to the invention of Carbon TPT. But the new Carbon TPT passed the 5,000 G-force and shock test at first try. It has also withstood the G-force generated by a professional golfer’s swing like Bubba Watson’s as well as the intense vibration of a steering wheel that Felipe Massa held on to inside an F1 car.

Just for the Ladies

Back in 2014, Mille had the foresight to launch a collection for the ladies (the RM 07-01 Ladies and RM 037 models), right before the surge in interest in the women’s market for complicated, mechanical timepieces.

“To me, a ladies’ watch is like a classic sports car — elegant and sexy on the outside, technique, power and precision on the inside,” says Mille, whose offerings for the ladies are equally technical in spirit and on the inside, regardless of how many diamonds they boast. They are obviously not delicate nor dainty pieces, but they certainly piqued the interests of women high-spenders who appreciate the handsome aesthetic, as well as precision and ingenuity of those timepieces.

Richard MilleBelgian heptathlete, Nafi Thiam, wears the RM 07-01 in Carbon TPT.
Belgian heptathlete, Nafi Thiam, wears the RM 07-01 in Carbon TPT.

The Carbon TPT material found its place in the women’s collection, on the diamond-set RM 07-01 and RM 037 — the latter is Mille’s most popular model for women. This material lends an even more lightweight alternative to its usual ceramic or gold, and a rather interesting abstract background canvas — as opposed to a flat, smooth base — for the diamonds to sparkle on.

Earlier this year, Richard Mille welcomed Belgian heptathlete, Nafi Thiam, as the first female athlete of the house, joining other famous women like celebrity actresses Michelle Yeoh and Margot Robbie, as well as Italian golf champion, Diana Luna. With the Carbon TPT qualities very much qualified to withstand vigorous movements in sports, the next watch Mille makes for Thiam’s next competition might just be in carbon TPT.

Unless you are in competitive sports, or happen to swing your wrist at 200kph on a daily basis, chances are, you won’t be reaping any benefits from the exceptional quality of Carbon TPT. But it satiates one’s own pride of owning an innovative piece of “art work” for the wrist, one that reaffirms that million-dollar handshake.