Richard Mille Master of Time

With a first watch designed in collaboration with an artist (the famous graffiti painter Cyril Kongo), a range of models that rival each other in their extraordinary technical prowess, new stores opened worldwide and its ever-growing success, watchmaker Richard Mille is today more than ever a star. An interview with a charismatic, visionary creator.

For the first time, Richard Mille has produced a watch co-designed with an artist, the graffiti painter Cyril Kongo. How did the idea come about?

Richard Mille. Like all our models linked to a personality, the RM 68-01 Tourbillon Cyril Kongo (that’s its name) started with a meeting. I was working on a project with the Airbus Corporate Jets team when they told me about this boy from the graffiti world who worked mainly in Hong Kong, a city where it’s illegal to paint on walls. I was impressed by how good he was at overcoming difficulties and also his style. Making the move from work on a huge scale (graffiti on a wall) to a tiny one (working on ultraminiature watch mechanisms) was a technical and artistic challenge. And since his work is exuberant and bursting with life, and he himself has fun and enjoys finding ways around constraints, we could only get on.

Was this new model complicated to make?

R. M. More and worse than that. We had to deal with some unbelievable issues. First, at the workshop, they looked at me and thought, “Here we go, the boss is asking the impossible again.” For instance, they suggested I should use industrially painted bridges and assemblies, etc., but that wasn’t what Cyril and I wanted. Our goal was a 100% authentic creation. So we treated each part like a work in itself: the baseplate, bridges, dial, exterior… everything was made just for this model. We looked for colorings that were compatible with the oils used on the mechanism; ones that wouldn’t be too thick, emit any vapors that would harm the gears or glass, or be liable to reduce performance; ones that would last for two hundred years, and so on. We shed blood and tears, but we got there. The result was magical: a 3D graffiti work combining titanium, NTPT carbon and ceramics, where all the components were spray-painted by hand by the artist. Cyril Kongo said it was as if he were painting a car and, apart from the bodywork, he had to coat the chassis, engine, each piston and all the rest to an accuracy of one micron. The plan is for a series of thirty pieces, which will all be unique works.

Richard Mille

17 Avenue Matignon, 75008, Paris Phone : 01 40 15 10 00
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Previously, you created models with sportspersons such as Rafael Nadal and Felipe Massa. Is this a change in strategy because your fellow watchmakers have cornered all the sportspersons?

R. M. You know, I don’t allow my opposite numbers and friends to define our vision. Each has their own niche and credo. At Richard Mille, a sportsperson isn’t a model who wears watch X as they might equally wear watch Y, but an enthusiast familiar with high performance who works with us to design a model connected to their field. They have forced, force and will continue to force us to the wall. Aside from watches linked to top-class athletes (tennis, golf, polo etc.) and aside from our lifestyle lines, I thought we could add another string to our bow, but I’ve been waiting for the right moment and appropriate person to take that step, which I’ve been thinking about ever since I founded the firm. Don’t forget that my axiom from the outset was to open up luxury watchmaking to the whole world. Every world. Since I enjoy clashes of culture, I love creative people who upset ‘right thinking’, the monoculture and the political correctness that makes everything so inflexible. Like others yesterday and today, this watch manages to do that. I’m so proud of the result! I may make one for me. I deserve it, don’t I?

Are there other partnerships of this quality in view?

R. M. Better than just in view. Some agreements have already been signed, others are in preparation… but shush! What I can tell you is that we’re working with John Malkovich, an artist who has always inspired me: a mysterious actor and cultivated, stylish man full of ideas, everything I love. Then, on the advice of Rafael Nadal who believes he’s a future no. 1, we’ve also signed a deal with the young tennis prodigy Alexander Zverev, and so on. The whole point – and I insist on this – is to develop genuine creations together.

Can the success of Richard Mille be explained by this need to form a creative and not just a promotional osmosis?

R. M. I think so, yes, because it’s one of our trademarks. We are focusing and will continue to focus on the authentic, on very high-quality watchmaking that cultivates and develops exclusivity: the ‘nec time ultra’. Over the last three years, the firm has been doing better than ever in a rather sluggish market. Our ladies’ models have been a factor in this growth since they already represent 30% of our turnover. We offer women automatic mechanical watches that are distinctive, practical and not clichéd but ‘differentiating’, and colorful and lively, too, and that appeals to them. You just brought out the RM 07-02 Pink Lady Sapphire for women.

Does this technical achievement show that your watchmaking approach is the same for women as for men?

R. M. Watchmaking technology is a sophisticated concept that women appreciate. That automatic caliber protected by a case in solid pink sapphire – not the gemstone, but the ultra-resistant watch-crystal material – is incredibly difficult to make. The case requires forty days of machining and finishing. It holds the new CRMA5 caliber, with a skeleton gold baseplate set with diamonds. That again was quite a challenge.

How do you keep people wanting more? You open stores yourself…

R. M. Yes, but not two, three or ten, with corner stores here and there! We recently opened a store in Munich and another in Monaco. The one on the avenue Matignon in Paris is doing very well… So we’re keeping it on a human scale. And that human scale, the attention paid to others, the pleasure of discussion: those are things I love. A Richard Mille watch is a part of me. It speaks, suggests, tells a story… It isn’t just another marketing option, a soulless addition to an anonymous range. Our clients are aware of that and I think it’s what they appreciate.




By Thierry Billard. Pictures : Didier Gourdon - Published the
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