To prove a point on the lightness and robustness of the watch, to show that it could be done, and to strap it to the racket arm of one of the world’s most powerful hitters of a tennis ball, Richard put it all on the line. A tourbillon, which Richard has always maintained is a good escapement for absorbing shocks, and a suspension mechanism (made of titanium aluminide) built into the case provides a watch capable of withstanding repeated 100 G-force shocks, and yet make the watch light enough so as not to burden the player, then you have the basic remit for the latest technical tour de force from Richard Mille.
Launched this week, in what was one of the most talked about secrets in the watch industry, the player to be wearing this ultra-light watch is none other than Rafael Nadal. Nadal hits the ball as hard as any other player in the world, and has been testing the watch under armbands for the past few months. It is not that the watch has to withstand a one-off shock of 100G, but continual and perpetual shocks over the course of several hours. The watch had better be working too as most of the world’s sports photographers will have images of the watch on high resolution camera’s, and if the watch does not measure the minutes and the hours, in line with other clocks over the scoreboard, then it is sure to be found out. For this reason, last I talked to the research and development team at Richard Mille, the watch had been tested up to 400G, and they were planning to try for 1000G. Seems improbable, but they were facing the testing with confidence.
I first came into contact with the plans for the watch over a year ago. Richard was in London for some business with retailers, and I had the chance to talk to him. As the conversation moved from one topic to another, I asked him what was new. A glint in the eye, a furtive look around, and he opened the folder he was carrying. I have a new watch, lighter than the 009, and for Nadal. Nadal the tennis player? I replied. Yes, it has to be light, it has to be able to withstand constant shocks, it has to be … beautiful. Look, he exclaimed, flicking through the papers in the folder, as he showed me the drawings. Look at the shock absorbers, the bridges, and the case will be a polymer carbon; under 20 grams including the strap. I looked, studied; how was this going to come about? It was an ultra-light tourbillon that was simply stunning. It would be lighter than the RM009; it had to be, Nadal would be wearing it on his racquet arm.
I saw the prototype at SIHH, and then in Les Breuleux. Out of all the ‘special’ tourbillons that Richard had designed and made, I had always loved the RM006 the best. I loved the way the movement was built up from the baseplate. It gave it a 3 dimensional aspect to the movement that would draw the eye and the owner can see the mechanics as a sculpture, rather than a movement with the parts of the plate cut away. The same type of movement is evident in the RM019. The RM027 is a return to that style of watch, only in this instance the movement is suspended over the baseplate using a platform held to the front element plate of the case.
At the research part of Richard Mille in Les Breuleux I was shown the various materials that had been tested, and found that they were either to be not durable enough, or not light enough; sometimes a combination of both. A veritable smorgasbord of new materials were tried to form a case that was intended to be light enough so that it could not be noticed. The photos show a number of materials and even a past case. For the case and strap materials from racing yachts were tried, but again, too heavy. A lightweight kevlar-type material was the winner for the strap. For the glass, an anti-reflective perspex was used; there can be no crystal in such a watch as the crystal would probably weigh as much the watch itself. Even at this stage, with the watch announced to the watch world, Richard continues to ‘tinker’ with the composition of the case material.
Just about the whole movement is made from titanium aluminide. While the finish is the ‘industrial’ Richard Mille variety, it matches with the nature of the watch itself. The black back plate gives a stunning relief to the 3-dimensional aspect of the movement. Where as with the RM006, the movement was build from the base plate, with the RM027, the movement and the base plate are suspended above the black base of the case. As such, the 3-dimensional aspect to the movement appears more pronounced and draws the eye into examining the intricate parts therein.
Some of you might be thinking that this is just a high end Swatch – right? I am going to argue that you are not even close. Sure, the case is a fancier form of plastic (carbon content admitted), as is the crown guard. The movement is basic in that it is time only, but it has a tourbillon, and constructed of some lightweight metal. But then, I think you would be missing the point. Who here has ever lusted after a Ferrari; an Enzo perhaps? Or the new Maclaren McLaren MP4-12C? To cut weight, to push the boundaries of what is possible, new materials are introduced into areas where previously no one would have tried. Cars started off being made of steel; engineers such as Bentley and Bugatti started to introduce and experiment with new alloys such as aluminium. You cannot stand still.
You cannot make a watch for the raquet arm of a tennis player from gold! He would be standing there wondering why his timing was off, why nearly every ball either landed in the net, or in the fourth row of the seating. Any watchmaker can have a player stand there with the trophy and their watch after the match. It is another matter entirely to have the player wear it in the match, where the watch is taking continual shocks, and to make sure that when the player lifts the trophy, or seen at his seat, that the watch is still ticking. The watch was developed for a purpose. Over a year of solid research and development went into what appears to be a simple watch. You choose to own one because you love it for what it is; a research piece at the lower bound of what is possible. And if you love it, it will make you smile.
Announced on April Fools day, this watch is no joke! It really is no joke – it is a return to form for Richard Mille and his pushing the boundaries for the tourbillon wristwatch. I have to say that I am smitten by the watch, and if I had the cash, I would. Can you imagine a better sports watch than this one? It has it all: stealth, technology, and a ‘lightness of being’.
Thanks to Contributors on Richard Mille forum on Puristpro.com
The Grand Sonnerie