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Women and Watches — It Shouldn’t Be That Complicated

By T: The New York Times Style Magazine Singapore

For its ladies’ watch straps, Richard Mille has placed equal amount of time and effort as it would the movement and case.
 
Courtesy of Richard Mille
For its ladies’ watch straps, Richard Mille has placed equal amount of time and effort as it would the movement and case.

Women are a growing segment of watch-buying consumers in our current era. According to Brian Duffy, chief executive officer at Watches of Switzerland, in 2019, women accounted for more than 40 per cent of sales in its organisation, which is one of the UK’s largest retailers of Swiss watches. These days, as perceptions of femininity and masculinity constantly evolve, watch brands are expected to respond to the changing wants of its female customers in order to remain competitive in the market.

It is true that watchmakers (who are mostly respectful traditionalists) are increasingly acknowledging the fact with more timepieces designed with women in mind — a diamond-embedded collection, a scaled-down watch face or an occasional token complicated moonphase timepiece. Yet even these concessions highlight stereotypical, dated ideas of what women want in their watches. “Today’s world [has] made women as active as men in business, social media and many other life spheres,” says Marina Lunkina, who works in public relations in Moscow, to The New York Times, “It’s obviously affected our style.” Now, women are demanding complex watches with a strong, modern appeal that breaks the conventional ideas of femininity.

What then do these developments mean for an industry that periodically looks backwards?

Courtesy of Richard MilleThe Richard Mille RM 07-01 ladies’ timepiece dressed entirely in carbon TPT.
The Richard Mille RM 07-01 ladies’ timepiece dressed entirely in carbon TPT.

Consider Swiss luxury watchmaker Richard Mille, who founded his eponymous brand in 1999. When he first introduced the tonneau-shaped, technically-charged Richard Mille RM 001 watch in 2001, he forged a name as that rare watchmaker to break the traditional mould of watchmaking, creating timepieces that shook up the cosy industry. “The first time I witnessed the Richard Mille RM 001 in the flesh was like [watching] Ursula Andress rising out of the sea like Botticelli’s Venus, accompanied by the Kärntnertortheater Orchestra’s 1824 performance of Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy,’” wrote Wei Koh, Singapore-based founder of watch magazine Revolution, for a 2018 article titled “The Watch That Changed the World.”

The unmistakeable shape of Richard Mille’s watches was conceived during one of Mille’s sleepless nights. “I was trying to create a form that would sit perfectly on the human wrist, and had a certain organic sensuality but also expressed my obsession with performance and technicality,” says Mille, who, on the night in question, carved that shape into a bar of hotel soap and brought it back home with him to recreate again as a cardboard prototype of what would turn out to be a legendary design.

Today, dozens of numbered releases make up the watchmaker’s collection, each a testament to Mille’s unparalleled ability to make comfortable yet extremely durable performance timepieces that continue to intrigue and provoke a whole new generation of consumers, which include women. Richard Mille has been one of the few watch brands to provide varied, complicated and robust ladies timepieces since 2005. Over the years, the brand has also established meaningful partnerships with trailblazing women around the world, like record-breaking Belgian athlete, Nafi Thiam, and the internationally renowned Hollywood actress Margot Robbie, who was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine in 2017.

Courtesy of Richard Mille“I endorse the idea that it is most important to look for ways to surpass yourself in order to become the best and accept whatever time it might take,” says Richard Mille, sentiments aligning with Nafi Thiam’s athletic spirit.
“I endorse the idea that it is most important to look for ways to surpass yourself in order to become the best and accept whatever time it might take,” says Richard Mille, sentiments aligning with Nafi Thiam’s athletic spirit.

In 2014, Richard Mille unveiled its very first metal strap (created out of gold) and did so on two ladies watches: the RM07-01 and RM 037. Each bracelet, composed of dozens of links, requires a total of 65 machine hours to programme and manufacture before it is hand-finished with 36 titanium spline screws and a single gold double-fold clasp. The following year, the Swiss luxury watchmaker released yet another bracelet in precious metal called the “Open Link” that is entirely handcrafted and hand-finished. Years of development and experimentation have gone toward achieving the ergonomic comfort for these straps, where the individual links nicely follow the contours of the human wrist.

Harmonising perfectly with the voluptuous silhouette of Richard Mille’s signature Tonneau case, the bracelets extend not only the brand’s design language but the characteristic profile of the modern, powerful women oft associated with Richard Mille. “I enjoy the fact that our ladies’ watches are very technical in spirit on the inside, regardless of how many diamonds or the beautiful lines they may possess,” says Mille. “That is not only our idea of the perfect ladies’ watch, it is also our idea of the perfect lady.”

The third bracelet to join the ladies’ watch strap collection is the carbon TPT bracelet that was carried from its men’s collection onto the RM 07-01 ladies’ watch in 2019. The emblematic carbon TPT is a characteristically important carbon composite material unique to the house. Conceptualised and engineered over 13 months, this bracelet, consisting of 200 parts, weighs a mere 29 grams.

For its female customers, Richard Mille has proven to be as much of a trailblazer as ever — equally if not more considerate in pushing its creative and technical boundaries, much like how it has brought the complex architecture of carbon TPT to another level by perfecting the technique of setting gems into the material.