At the mention of Richard Mille, classic cars don’t exactly spring to mind. The watches are all about advancement through the use of the best materials, so why would they be the driving force behind an event meant to celebrate the elegance of vintage machines? After all, these are watches that demand attention, the case size alone means it’s going to turn heads, not to mention the colorful and intricate faces. They stand juxtaposed to the wonderfully simplistic styling and quiet luxury of a classic car, so where is the common ground?
That’s one of the many questions I had for Richard Mille the man, about Richard Mille the brand, while we chatted on a balcony overlooking the 3rd Annual Chantilly Arts Elegance in Chantilly, France.
With the average transaction price of a Richard Mille watch being $180,000 and a line featuring pieces that go for over a million dollars, one could assume that it is simply a convergence of tastes. People who can afford a Richard Mille watch can afford to collect vintage automobiles, but do they? I can’t definitively say if that’s the case, but I was pleased to find that there’s much more to Chantilly Arts Elegance Richard Mille than simply “celebrating wealth.”
While the watch line is comprised of seriously intricate pieces that incorporate technology and design elements from modern race cars, Richard himself prefers the classics when it comes to automobiles. His interest in them goes all the way back to when he was very young, closely following Formula 1 and building scale models.
A true automotive enthusiast, he finds cars in museums to be “a bit sad” and believes that cars are “living objects” meant to be shared with the public and driven, no matter their provenance. True to his word, Richard told me that he was bound for Spain in a few days to drive some of his cars on a track, including a 1970s McLaren F1 car.
This led me to believe that Richard is a man who just gets it when it comes to cars and car culture. He is not just another wealthy individual amassing a collection to serve his ego, but rather to honor the engineers who worked tirelessly to push the boundaries of technology in their respective eras. A fascination with the mechanics of race cars is very apparent in Richard Mille watches, especially the new RM 11-03 that was launched that weekend. The crown was inspired by competition wheels, and ribbed pushers are styled after pedals, protected by NTPT carbon, which is widely used in Formula 1. Having delved into where that fascination comes from with Richard himself, the watches make a whole lot more sense.
The overall message I took away from the conversation was this: if high-performance automotive technology is continually advancing to improve performance, then the same should be true of watches. To Richard, there is no reason to “make replicas,” which is what he believes many other watch manufacturers are doing by producing the same watches, with the same movements that they’ve been making for years. Instead, he thinks it’s important to “push boundaries, create something fresh, something new,” and that’s what Richard did with the RM 011 in 2007.
Now, that watch has evolved into the RM 11-03, much like the 911 has been evolving since the ’60s. Like the famous German sports car, the Swiss sports watch doesn’t leave the design of the original behind, but rather improves on it, specifically by adding stepped columns on the caseband and bezels that increase overall stiffness and durability. A totally new rotor design and increased bridge skeletonization are visible through the back of the case – and man, is it something to lay one’s eyes on. For a lover of movements, studying the new grade 5 titanium and white gold variable geometry rotor must be akin to me peering through the rear windscreen of a Ferrari F40.
When our conversation concluded, it was time to admire priceless vehicle after priceless vehicle, and while doing so I thought about the similarities between the automotive community and the horological community. In the upper echelons of each, you have contemporary products that vastly out-perform those of the past. However, it’s not always ultimate performance that people are looking for. In fact, quite often the attraction to a watch or a car is purely an aesthetic one, and the internal workings are given little to no consideration.
I’m often guilty of this kind of thinking myself, but lately I’ve become more intent on better understanding what separates a watch like RM 11-03 from other brands in the way that a car like the 1939 BMW 328 Kamm Racing Limousine was ahead of virtually everything else of the era. The easy answer would be the details, and specifically the level of attention to them.
The RM 11-03 is the natural evolution of an astounding design that took hold 9 years ago with the RM 011, and is without a doubt the most insane watch I’ve every had the good fortune to put on my wrist. It looks like it should weigh a ton, but it’s actually quite light, and because of the curved casing, it sits quite comfortably on the arm. It’s a watch that’s difficult to take your eyes off of because of the intricate details, but one that’s easily appreciated even if you don’t understand the inner workings of an automatic flyback chronograph, or the point of having a crown made from grade 5 titanium.
The same goes for the ’39 BMW 328 Kamm Racing Limousine, which was one of my favorite cars at the show. It’s visually arresting, but the development that led to its appearance is equally important as the look itself. Working closely with Professor Wunibal Kamm, a pioneer in aerodynamic design, BMW developed a body with a streamlined shape based on the BMW 328 sports car.