In the 2018 world of watches, there are quite simply no hotter brands than Rolex, Patek Philippe, and Richard Mille.
While Rolex is a household name and Patek is at least known to readers of TLP/The Economist (and hip-hop/rap enthusiasts), Richard Mille is the new kid on the block and the relative unknown. Founded just 20 years ago by its namesake, the “Racing Machine For Your Wrist” brand has utterly exploded in popularity among the insta-oriented jetset class in recent years. With production increasing at 10-20% per annum, RM is set to manufacture a cool 4`800 pieces this year. Less than 40`000 have ever been produced by the Les Breuleux-based firm, which is less than Patek makes every single year and about what Rolex manufactures every day.
But it’s not just scarcity that makes RM’s such a hot ticket, there are dozens of other manufactures producing as many or fewer pieces per year. What’s different about RM is, well, Richard Mille. While the man himself takes flack from anal retentive cognoscenti for not being a watchmaker by training, the marketplace clearly has no such misgivings about him or his products. RM timepieces are in short supply and high demand because they feature innovative materials, ultra-high shock-resistance, iconic and easily recognisable design, superlative finishing, and enough pro athlete and celebrity partnerships to make Hans Wilsdorf (or even Red Bul)l blush.i Their key to selling their $100`000 – $2`000`000 timepieces like hotcakes is, like anything else, all in the storytelling.
What’s Richard Mille’s story ? That whatever extreme activities you’re up for, your luxury watch is too! Whether you want to play tennis, polo, or golf, or just pretend to do so from the comfort of your hedge fund office, you can wear an avant garde work of mechanical art on your wrist while you do it. As a fairly active and reasonably well-heeled fellow myself, I have to admit, it’s a compelling narrative! At least online, but how would it measure up in-person ?
On a recent business trip to Toronto, home of the only Richard Mille boutique in Canada, I went to find out first-hand.
First, the good stuff. The three young girls staffing the shop were very welcoming and non-judgemental. You sometimes hear stories of brusque and dismissive retail staff at high-end watch stores who take it upon themselves to qualify their potential clientele before either has even said a word to the other, but that certainly wasn’t the case here despite this being the high-end and most exclusive boutique in the country. Wearing nothing more identifiable than Nike runners and a Barbour yellow rain jacket, and lugging my pretty damn discreet Rimowa carry-on, I was greeted as kindly as could be by the attractive trio. They eagerlyii showed me the entirety of their modest 10-piece stock, but we quickly focused on the three tonneau-shaped men’s pieces that they had : RM17-01 White Gold,iii RM029 White Gold, and RM67-01 White Gold Diamond, which retail for about USD$ 480`000, 110`000, and 180`000, respectively.
Here are the wrist shots, in that orderiv :
Of course, none of the pieces sampled were, to my mind at least, “true” Richard Milles, which is to say, ultra-lightweight mechanical marvels that are all but undetectable to their fortunate wearer until he or she so deigns to admire the time, such is their sublime comfort. These sampled pieces being cased in precious metals rather than titanium or the really very sexy NTPTv meant that they all wore like pretty conventional watches, which couldn’t but be a disappointment for what is easily the most hyped haute de gamme brand on the planet, one that I was all but sleepless to check out. As conventional watches, yes, Richard Mille pieces looked incredible under the loupe, but the hoopla about the much balleyhooed “3Dness” of the timepieces was, at least in my estimation, a bit overblown.vi As a first impression, there were no goosebumps and none of the transcendence that the best art induces in us. It was a let-down (if a very cost-effective one).
While I’m reserving final judgement until I can get my hands on an NTPT-cased (and velcro-strapped!) RM27-03, RM35-02, or RM67-02, the balloon of expectations has already been fairly deflated.
As it stands, Richard Milles aren’t magic, at least not all of them, but if you’re in the insta-oriented jetset world, there’s really nothing more visibly affluent to wear on your Netjets flight to dinner at Nusr-Et before cocktails at Jimmy’z. And that’s worth something.
It just doesn’t make much sense for this country boy.
___ ___ ___
- Here are but a few of RM’s many illustrious partners :
- Rafael Nadal
- Bubba Watson
- Felipe Massa
- Romain Grosjean
- Jenson Button
- Fernando Alonso
- Stoffel Vandoorne
- Sébastien Loeb
- Jean Todt
- Alexander Zverev
- Yohan Blake
- Wayde van Niekerk
- Pablo Mac Donough
- Alain Prost
- Mutaz Barshim
- Mark Cavendish
- Michelle Yeoh
- Jackie Chan
- Natalie Portman
- Sylvester Stallone
- While eagerness readily overcomes lack of experience in some domains, the bright-faced Barbie dolls staffing the Toronto boutique (save the slightly more experienced store director Becky), couldn’t tell a variable geometry rotor from a fixed one and didn’t know what the “60-second” in 60-second tourbillon referred to. They were perfectly polite about the misunderstandings and technical details, but after almost a year of employment at such a high-end boutique, there’s not really much excuse for not having these kinds of things sorted. Maybe RM clientele aren’t into the nuts and bolts, preferring a sparkly show, but I was seriously underwhelmed by the expertise exhibited by the staff in general, and that can’t help but colour my perception of the watches themselves. [↩]
- Though the watch had “RM17″ on its caseback, the firm’s North American website shows the tourbillon version of the square-cased RM016 as being called the RM017…
- You’ll note my vintage 1950’s square-cased Movado in the background. This was the piece that my parents gifted me for graduating high school and the only watch I’ve ever received as as a present or “reward.” Why passing my grade 12 exams with straight A’s was an accomplishment worth recognising at all when I was clearly off to University the next fall is a question best left my parents. [↩]
- NTPT = North Thin Ply Technologies, a company founded in 2001, started out working on composite materials for racing sail ship masts, but has now expanded to manufacture high-performance materials for skis, watches, F1, and aerospace. From their website :
These products include a range of weight-saving prepreg materials, including UD tapes of 15-300 gsm, conventional prepregs, multiaxial preforms and machinable carbon fibre blocks. The company also produces highly uniform composite tubes and automated tape laying (ATL) machines.
Cool shit, eh ? [↩]
- If you really want depth in the Z-axis of your mobile art pieces, the haute de gamme space has as yet no rival to Greubel Forsey, which is why this Tourbillon 24 Secondes Contemporain with blue dial in rose gold is on my
bucket list30’s list but an RM isn’t (yet).