A conversation with Mr Richard Mille, President& CEO, Richard Mille.

By Peter Chong

With exclusive, never published before hand sketches,showing development of the design of the fascinating watches

 

 

PC: Richard, thank you formeeting me and for being here for this interview. My objective for thisinterview is to allow our Timezone readers to have a better understanding ofyou as the man behind the brand, and a good look at the central keypropositions of the Richard Mille watches.

 

Shall we begin with yourinvolvement in the watch business. You have been in this business for a longtime, although the Richard Mille brand is a fairly new company. Tell us moreabout your background.

 

RM: In fact, I had always been a manager, a frustrated manageras my mind was always occupied by numbers, finance, figures, marketing, when infact I was passionate about technique.

 

I am totally mad about this subject; watches, cars, aircraft. I am notpersonally a watchmaker, and I am pleased to say, Enzo Ferrari was not a cartechnician, but he had a very clear idea of what a high-performance car should be.

 

I believe I have a precise idea of what a high-performance watch shouldbe. I think I have gone deeper into technique than many others . Nowadays, alltop of the range models for any brand are developed with teams of engineers,with computers, with cad machines, so I had no hang-ups about starting my ownbrand, with a strong concept and very precise technical ideas.

 

PC: You had an illustriouscareer with Mauboussin before you started on your own; tell us more about thathouse.

 

RM: I started with Mauboussin as CEOof the watch company, in 1993, and finished as Chairman and CEO; as CEO of theJewellery Company and CEO of the Holding in 1998. The House of Mauboussinstarted in the 19th century, based in Place Vendôme, Paris, and hasalways been a very creative Jeweler.

 

I left the Company for 2 reasons: my project for launchingmy own watch was ready, and I did not agree with some members of the family ontheir latest strategy , which was to abandon selective distribution and replaceit with a hypothetical �mass market� distribution. This proved to beunrealistic and megalomaniac. Since then, the new owner has reestablished acorrect distribution policy.

 

 

PC: Where did you first startyour fascination on watches, and how you built your businesses?

 

RM: I do not know whether the fascination for watches wasfirst or whether it was the love of technique, research and development. I wasabout 9 years old when I dismantled my first watch, which of course I couldn�tput back together again.

 

But I remember the many times I worked on spare parts thatI later used on my model cars that I had built from scratch and that I stillhave today. Since then, I have spent mytime reading technical books relating to watches, cars, aircraft, etc�and thisnaturally led me to visualise a strong conceptual watch which was highlytechnical but without gimmicks.

 

This concept was, however, so technically complex that itled to the very high end positioning where it stands now. This is how mypassion was transformed into reality, and the tremendous success of this brandis certainly due to the fact that the inspiration was purely technical and notat any time commercial. This is stilltrue today.

 

 

PC:Tell us more about why you decided to startRichard Mille.

 

RM: Withoutbeing megalomaniac, we all dream of leaving something behind us on earth. Itseems that connoisseurs consider this brand as a turning point in watch history, and this certainly was amotivation. It is always agreeable tohear so many nice things about a product which is your baby! I also had theright partners, my old friend Dominique Guenat, and Audemars-Piguet/Renaud& Papi, money from my

shares inMauboussin, so all lights were green!

 

PC: You exude great drive andpassion, has the Richard Mille the man always been like this? (Richard waswaving his hands in excitement and jumping up and down making his point in thehotel suite in Geneva when we met�testimony to his passion and �fire andbrimstone� style of expression) Were there difficult times during the birthingof Richard Mille the brand, and how has this great passion pulled you through?

 

RM: Itâ��svery easy to be driven and passionate when your work just happens to be yourpassion ! There must have beentimes when I questioned myself as to whether I was going the right way, buthonestly, I donâ��t remember them. I wasalways convinced that my direction was the right one and I had and I still havesuch faith in my product.

 

PC: What are the key tenets and special propositionsthat the brand will bring to collectors?

 

RM: I modestlythink, and professionals confirm it, that this brand opens a new era in watchhistory, in terms of concept, technique.

 

PC: I certainly agree with theprofessionals too. Shown right is the design development of the chronographdial, showing hand sketches by Richard.

 

RM: It has the 3basic requirements for auctioneers, i.e: Authenticity, quality, rarity, and Iwould add another: creativity, which represents an important aspect in terms ofartistic value.

 

All important artistic periods, as in painting forexample, represent a complete rupture with existing works. I wanted the Millewatch to represent a rupture, but at the same time, I wanted to keep the bestof watch-making tradition, such as hand finished angles, work that many top brands do with machinestoday.

PC: How do you intend to deliver this (these)promise(s)?

 

RM: By simply refusing to go into the mass market and by alwaysbringing models with Technical added value.

 

PC: I thinkyour products look absolutely beautiful and are a breath of fresh air, but thecollecting community has been shown very fickle � favoring new, innovativebrands while the novelty is there, and then going back to the traditionalmakers after the �honeymoon is over�. How do you intend to stay relevant foryears to come?

 

RM: I am aware that many brands disappointed their clients by turningtowards commercial objectives. This is in fact what I have been avoidingdesperately all my life.

 

The success of my brand is due to the fact that I can pass on my passionto my client, and my clients can saythat they won�t change this watch for another, although they have plenty othersin their safe. It means that they know my watches are truly genuine, and thatthere is no lie in the technical data.

 

So I am not going to revert to a situation � with purely commercialobjectives � that I�ve always hated, and which I have done everything possibleto step away from. On top of that, I think I have more that enough technicalideas and concepts for the next 20 years to come and I would be too frustratednot to transform them into reality! The great painter�s collections becamevaluable because of continuous creations. After 2 years of existence, wealready are at model N° 9, model No.10 is in the pipeline and with the arrivalof each new model, more important developments!

 

PC: Can you tell us more about No.9 and No.10? What about No. 7.

 

RM: Let mestart first with the RM 008 which will be available shortly.

 

PC note to audience. The RM008 is a split secondchronograph with tourbillon. Also shown left is the original design of theunique case, which is elegant and at the same time exudes strength andengineering feel�much like a Ferrari.

 

This is certainly the mostcomplicated watch I have ever made and I would go so far as to say that it willprobably be one of the most complicated the world has ever seen. It�s been five years in development andtaken up thousands of hours of study to arrive at this point. The watch itself will have over 500 separatepieces.

 

As for the RM 009, it will belightest mechanical watch ever seen, made from ultra-modern materials. Without wanting to give too much away, Iwill tell you that its price will be inversely proportional to its weight!

 

I am very proud of the RM 007which will be released in May of next year. The 007 is my first watch designedfor ladies and I have done everything I can to avoid the stereotypical femalewatch. Often ladies� watches are simplymodified versions of the man�s watch with a few diamonds for good measure. Irealised that women of today are much more demanding; they are now powerfulexecutives, they choose their own cars and will appreciate a watch with a bigpersonality.

 

The RM 010 will have to remain mysecret for the moment but I can assure you that there are lots of developmentsin the pipeline.

 

 

PC: Please dolet me have the details when you are ready, Timezoners all over the world arewaiting with bated breath for this one! Richard, let me turn now to yourfascination with Formula 1 racing. Why this fascination? How and where doesthis relate to watchmaking?

 

RM: I am infact more interested in F1 techniques than in the sport itself. F1 is so rich in terms of development thatit is a great source of inspiration in areas such as performance, rigidity,resistance, reliability, materials, and functions.

 

PC: What lessons have you learntfrom F1 techniques that you have applied to your watches? Do you believe awatch movement has to be absolutely rigid with respect to its case ? Do you feel a lighter watch is technicallymore superior to a heavier one? What about the movement what special features?

 

RM: From theoutset, my objective was to make a watch using the same thought processes as adesigner of an F1 car. A watch that isextremely technical but robust enough to withstand all sorts of vibrations andshocks. I do believe that a movementmust be rigid. I use carbon fibre for the base platebecause I have found that this is the most stable.

 

PC noteto readers: The RM006 was a world first to implement a carbon fibre movementplate�what began as an experiment to test the new material, resulted in abeautiful watch.

 

Plates made from gold, brass and copper are notrigid and will react to temperature changes and shock. Carbon fibre, which isamorphous, will not react in this way and remains rigid, with excellentisotropic results, as well as chemical stability. For example, this material will not react to thermic shock.

 

PC: You are personally involved in all aspectsof the design and production of the watches. How do you do this? You are not awatchmaker, so where do you get the engineering and know how? This page isscattered with your personal sketches, many of them shown to the public for thefirst time. Shown right is the sketch showing the development of the dial, thenumerals, and placement. Even small details are handled personally.

 

RM: Although I amnot a watchmaker, I have very precise technical ideas and concepts. I am involved every step of the way when wemake the movements, as I design many of them, as well as cases, dials, and allaccessories. I also design the displays and the packaging. I also follow anyaspect of watch production, with myfriend and partner Dominique Guenat.

 

PC:Tell us more about Dominique?

 

RM:Dominique has been my friend for nearly 20 years and our business relationshiphas always been based on a mutual respect, frankness, total confidence in eachother�s morality and of course a love for developments in watchmaking. Dominique took over the family business,Valgine, in 2001. Valgine has a historyof more than 100 years and has always specialised in private business, working for the the prestigioushouses.

 

We decided to start a jointventure in 1999 and created a group of companies specialising in different watch areas; manufacturing small of special cases or other, assembling movements(tourbillon, automatic….) and assembling the final product. Our objective is to remain with limitededitions that have high technical added values.

PC: Describesome of these high technical added values.

 

RM: As Ipreviously mentioned, my ideas come from a mixture of watch/car/aircrafttechniques. This is why the result is performane, resistant to shocks, haspractical functions, is ergonomic, and has long lasting materials, etc� infact, all these technical developments are there for a purpose, and not just asartistic developments. As I said, I take the best from the tradition, the restis open, as long as it has a use and is not a gimmick, because I hate gimmicks!

 

 

PC: You havebeen known to throw your watch on the floor, or across the table to drive homethe point that your watches are especially tough. Are those watches stillrunning well? Do you really encourage your customers who buy these beautifultimepieces to rough-handle their watches?

 

RM: I justwanted to prove that this watch is not a piece to be put in a safe, but a realinstrument to be worn. This is why Felipe Massa, Formula one driver for SauberPetronas, has been wearing a tourbillon RM006 without any maintenance for 8Grand Prix. He hasnâ��t had the slightest problem with it, in spite of intensevibrations and shocks. In the Canadian Grand Prix, this tourbillon resisted, aswell as the pilot, a deceleration of 113 G, the highest ever recorded by theFIA. A final note however, I would not encourage owners to throw their watcheson the floor - the case could bescratched, or the glass broken – but I do insist that these watches really arefor everyday use, like a Formula One you could drive to the office!

 

 

 

PC: You use somerather interesting materials in your watches. Tell us about some of them, theirspecial qualities, and special problems you have encountered working with them.Note to Timezoners: shown left is the design of the crown.

 

RM: Thebasic requirement for perfect material, especially for an important componentsuch as a movement plate, is rigidity and physical and chemical stability. Themore a material is amorphous and neutral, the better. Titanium or carbon fibershave got these kind of characteristics. It has taken a long time to validatethese materials. Others have been abandoned. We are now developing othermaterials for other purposes but, on the other hand, I do not want to releasematerials just because they�re sexy without checking their shelf-life. Anyresults must be exactly adapted to the technical requirements. This is whatwe�ve done with components in ceramics, ARCAP, Titanium grades 2 and 5, Carbonfiber.

 

 

 

 

Sketches of the pincers of the split second hand onthe Rattrapante RM08, and design of the rotor bearing of RM005.

 

PC: What is your relationship with Renaud et Papi? How has this playedinto Audemars Piguet�s very similar Royal Oak Concept watch?

 

RM: I have�family� like relationships with Audemars-Piguet and Renaud & Papi. Thisrelationship is based on friendship, together with mutual intellectual andtechnical exchanges, and we develop this everyday. This is quite unusual in thewatch business, where companies are not used to sharing ideas and making jointdevelopments.

 

We have some �babies�in common,and the best is to yet come!

 

PC note to Timezoners: See design exchange documentshown left showing the collaborative nature of the relationship.

 

PC: Thank you very much, Richard, and obviously youhave had very good success with RM watches, and I wish you even greatersuccess.

 

 

© Peter Chong October 2004.

 

 

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© 2012 Bourne In Time Inc.