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The Making of Richard Mille’s Bonbon Watches

By T: The New York Times Style Magazine Singapore

 
Richard Mille Bonbon Collection

The bits and pieces that made up RM 07-03 Marshmallow with gradient strap and Velcro closure.

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Richard Mille Bonbon Collection

The lollipop swirl ready to assemble in RM 37-01 Sucette.

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Richard Mille Bonbon Collection

Richard Mille’s creativity and technical expertise bring the miniature sweets on the dials to life.

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Richard Mille Bonbon Collection

In Richard Mille’s workshop, the Bonbon collection took 18 months to complete. More than 3,000 candy miniatures were made with more 16 different types, some are as small as 2 millimetre-square.

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Richard Mille Bonbon Collection

Assembling the dial of RM 07-03 Marshmallow.

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Richard Mille Bonbon Collection

The RM 16-01 Réglisse bears a liquorice on its dial.

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Richard Mille Bonbon Collection

Richard Mille’s creativity and technical expertise bring the miniature sweets on the dials to life.

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Richard Mille Bonbon Collection

From left: RM 07-03 Marshmallow; RM 37-01 Cerise; RM 16-01 Fraise.

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Amidst the hustle and bustle of Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH), an annual event where the watch industry congregates to have first look at the year’s new horological offerings and trends, there was a sense of diffused playfulness running through the halls; spotted among the mass were mint green-and-white striped leather “take-away” lunch bags, boldly emblazoned with the catchphrase “A Racing Machine on the Wrist”, in pastel pink. Like the bread crumbs in Hansel and Gretel, walking against the mass of people with these lunch bags led to the mothership — the Richard Mille’s booth, where its interior had been transformed into a candy wonderland. Men and women in business suits found themselves walking beneath oversized “candies” — lollipops, marshmallow, candied fruits, liquorice allsorts, sour fruit leather belts — as candy stripes anchored the booth’s wall. And at the centre of the room stood individual showcases housing the Bonbon collection, Richard Mille’s headliner collection for the year. 

From a watchmaker who charted many horology impossibilities, the Bonbon collection is quite a surprise, albeit a sweet one. Technical innovation has always been at the heart of Richard Mille’s timepieces, but this year’s collection, which took all of 18 months to complete, unwrapped the idea of serious watchmaking laced with a whimsical approach — each timepiece is not only inspired by candy but some also sport miniature candy and fruit lookalikes. 

The result is a 10-piece collection with three of Richard Mille’s flagship models as its foundation: the RM 16, RM 07 and RM 37. There are two categories: Sweet (with four models) and Fruits (with six models). On the dial of RM 07-03 Marshmallow is a bed of fluffy goodness swirling across the dial; its crown mimicking gumdrops. The RM 37-01 Cerise contains an assortment of toppings such as lollipops, chewy gummies and citrus slices, all carefully arranged atop the watch movement, while the hour markers are indicated by colourful gumballs. 

The 3,000 titanium candy miniatures in the whole collection were brought to life by grand feu enameling (an enamelling method that starts in an 800-degree Celsius oven), and delicately hand-painted to imbue that sense of realness. 

While it’s a bittersweet farewell as this year marks Richard Mille’s final appearance at SIHH, T Singapore spoke to Cécile Guenat, artistic director at Richard Mille on this guilty pleasure, made possible by the brand’s creativity combined with its technical prowess. 

T SINGAPORE: The Bonbon collection is somehow very unexpected yet in line with Richard Mille’s DNA. What were some of the interesting first reactions?

CÉCILE GUENAT: “Daring”, “boisterous”, “unexpected in Haute Horlogerie”. One of the comments that we heard the most during the week when it was presented in January at the Salon [International] de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) was, “only Richard Mille could do this!”. The company’s independence allows us to think out of the box. At the same time it’s very serious and technical, as always with Richard Mille. 

T: How did this collection come about? What was Richard’s initial reaction to the idea?

CG: When I first told Richard and showed him the first sketches, he immediately came on board with the idea — even though the sketches were nowhere near complete, and despite the idea being in its preliminary stages. Afterwards, as with all projects, it was real teamwork involving lots of people. With time, the project came to life and choices became clearer. 

T: What was your starting point? 

CG: I transposed the concept that had been explored in jewellery or fashion to haute horlogerie, especially the principle of capsule collections. My task is to come up with new projects, with special emphasis on the ladies’ watch. By looking closely at the existing range, the references to the universe of confectionary were almost instinctive. The crowns of the RM 07-01 and RM 037 reminded me of Italian ice cream or the toppings on cup cakes. The case of the RM 016 reminded me of liquorice. 

T: Did you ever feel this collection was too risky, too hard to nail? 

CG: When I started to do the first drawings before the executive committee meeting (where projects are presented to Richard Mille and business partner Dominique Guenat, who’s her father), I thought, “this is pretty cheeky and unusual!” I really believed in the idea — that’s exactly the Richard Mille philosophy, a serious brand that breaks codes. 

T: How do you straddle the line between being too childlike and playful, yet sophisticated enough for your clientele?

CG: The theme may seem lightweight, but it’s really very serious! Technical expertise is the hallmark of the Richard Mille brand. There was no question of not being true to that. It may seem banal, but we defined  a palette of 60 colors. It was necessary to make sure all the hues worked well together. We saw the result when the first set of 10 models came out. It was very stressful, but really exciting! There were also the miniature sweets — we concentrated on its hand-painted work and the “sugar” effect to make it as real as possible. We had to meet quite a few technical challenges in order to convey the impression of texture, taste, ingredients and colour. 

T: Let’s talk about the Velcro fastening on the watch. Why Velcro? 

CG: Why not? The Velcro bracelet is already used a lot by Richard Mille. Clients really appreciate it. We just found a way of using it differently for this collection, so that it was fully integrated into the 10 models. 

T: What kind of emotion do you want the wearer to experience?

CG: Joy, something new and boldness!