Why Are Richard Mille Watches So Expensive & Special?
Ignatius Quiaoit11 October 2023 | 14 min read
I. History of Richard Mille Brand
Known for their avant-garde designs and celebrity endorsements, Richard Mille has a lot of history in the watchmaking scene from previous watchmakers.
The famous brand is named after its founder, Richard Mille, who was born in Draguignan, France in 1951. He started his career in watchmaking in 1974 and held various managerial positions at numerous watch brands.
In the 1990s, he became the managing director and shareholder of the watch division of French jeweller Mauboussin.
During his managerial tenure, Richard Mille met the likes of Giulio Papi, the Director of Research and Development at Audemars Piguet Renaud et Papi.
Being the Audemars Piguet’s high-end watchmaking division, Richard Mille was learning from the best.
It was only a matter of time until Richard Mille wanted to go his own way. His vision and expertise gave him a calling for something “more.” In 2001, he created his brand, intending to break the traditional codes of high-end watchmaking.
Richard Mille and Dominique Guenat established Horometrie SA in Les Breuleux, Switzerland. During its inception, Audemars Piguet was a minority shareholder, with many of the technological advancements at Richard Mille coming from Audemars Piguet Renaud et Papi.
Their first watch was the aptly named Richard Mille RM 001. Though the first, the RM 001 was not a simple undertaking. Boasting a tourbillon and a limited edition run of 17 pieces, the RM 001 was marketed at €150,000. A lot more than other watches at the time.
Being the first Richard Mille watch out of their design studio, the watch set out to wow everyone who would have the chance to glance at it.
What strikes the first viewer of the watch is the see-through dial. You get a full glimpse of the newly developed movement within the RM 001.
Yet, looking through the dial, you get a glimpse of the tourbillon movement. Known for their accuracy and existence in only the most quaint watches, the RM 001 sports the tourbillon on the face of the dial.
As an antithesis to the ideals of typical watchmaking, the tourbillon is present and proud to be on top of a sports watch.
For one, Richard Mille wanted to design the watch to withstand the strongest shocks and bumps. Knowing that he wanted to take inspiration from the race cars that were around him.
To wow potential buyers and the watch industry alike, Richard Mille designed the baseplate of the RM 001 around German silver. Along with that, a black PVD coating was added to the baseplate.
This coating reduced the need for lubrication, one of the main things that require extra servicing in watchmaking. Moving from German silver, Richard Mille then decided to make the baseplate out of grade 5 titanium.
To showcase the watch, Richard Mille himself threw the watch across the room when first introduced in the year 2000. This shocked everyone in the room, much to the enjoyment of Richard Mille. Yet, the watch came out unscathed with the tourbillon still kicking.
Coming after the RM 001, the RM 002 came out with a torque indicator. Directly following the sequel, the RM 003 sprang out the gate sporting a second time zone.
Note that all of these unique designs came in the avant-garde tonneau shape that is inherent in Richard Mille watches. All sport a skeletonized dial, showing the inner functions of every watch, and sports rubber watch bands for each timepiece. These design queues are a key part of the brand.
The RM 004 came out swinging with the brand’s first split-second chronograph. Now, Richard Mille could have gone out with a normal chronograph, but that’s just not the Richard Mille way. The split-second movement was needed.
These watches came in both titanium and rose gold, something we’ll see to be inherent in Richard Mille’s case designs.
The majority of available split-second chronographs at the time were only from the most established heritage horology brands. Watches from the likes of Patek Philippe, A. Lange & Söhne, and F.P. Journe were the only ones available.
Furthermore, these only came in the diminutive designs of these watchhouses. None were coming out like how the RM 004 came out.
Yet, Richard Mille did it as their fourth introduction in their entire watch lineup. To be able to produce a ready split-second chronograph after being open for only a few years is a feat in and of itself.
The watch itself is a clear paradox of itself and the idea it represents. From the start, the idea of a split-second chronograph is archaic and sometimes only reserved for big brands.
Yet, the RM 004 is exactly that. It is a split-second chronograph. Yet, the design aspects of the watch itself come from the likes of Richard Mille, meaning it’s avant-garde with its aspects of sports watch design.
The RM 004 is very much one of the main aspects that define the brand, Richard Mille.
The RM 006 then came out with the brand’s first watch to be fitted with a carbon-fibre baseplate. Known for being super light and thin, carbon fibre is famous in the aircraft and automotive industry. For it to make its way into watches was an inevitable thing, and what more with Richard Mille.
Owing to the material’s complex makeup, the process of creating carbon fibre baseplates is an expensive undertaking for Richard Mille’s luxury timepieces.
Going all out with the RM 008, Richard Mille upgraded their already amazing RM 004 chronograph by including a tourbillon with torque and power reserve indicators. The inclusion of these complications further exemplifies the amazing watchmaking skill that is present within Richard Mille.
Of course, not leaving the lady’s watch segment behind, the brand then launched the RM 007 and 009 using the newly developed ALUSIC metal that is frequently used for space-going craft.
In 2006, Richard Mille released the RM 012, featuring a tourbillon with tubular architecture. Doing away with the flat baseplate, the engineering marvel of producing carbon nanotubes to be housed inside a watch is significant. Along with that, the innovation and thinking needed to produce and design a system like that.
The RM 012 won the highly-respected “Aiguille d’Or” award at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève in 2007.
As any brand gets into precious metals and lighter-than-air materials, it is inevitable that they then delve into the world of racing. For Richard Mille, with their titanium and carbon-fibre materials, this was a no-brainer.
The RM 011 Felipe Massa Flyback Chronograph was developed in honour of the Brazilian Formula One racing driver. This specific flyback chronograph design inspired several other sports collaborations with other athletes.
As much as we have talked about their sports chronographs and high-tech tourbillon designs, Richard Mille has also delved into the world of flat watches and beauty (while still looking like a Richard Mille, of course).
Coming out with its flat and rectangular shape, the RM 016 looks as if a Cartier Tank was injected with the Hulk serum. Though thinner than most Richard Mille watches, the RM 016 touts the same high-quality materials that you can expect from other RM watches.
The material used in the RM 016 is Titalyt, a new material iteration of titanium. Titalyt is titanium treated with electro-plasma to increase the hardness of the metal by creating a ceramic coating around it.
As if acting as both a nod to and a middle finger to traditional watchmaking, the RM 020 is a Richard Mille in every aspect except housed like a pocket watch.
Not sporting any traditional watch bands, the RM 020 comes with a metal chain that you can place inside a traditional pocket watch pocket. Perfect for any outings at the tennis court with high-waisted slacks.
Adding to the already established ladies’ collection, the RM 019 is a lady’s tourbillon. As of 2023, women now take up 25% of all sales with the brand.
Shying away from their design standards, the brand released the RM 025 Tourbillon Chronograph “Diver’s Watch.”
Coming from already known knowledge about the strength of round cases for diving, Richard Mille decided to develop their first dive watch in this shape. Housed in a titanium and rose gold case, the watch is measured to withstand 100m/300ft of pressure.
Following their history in athletic collaborations with the biggest names in sports, Richard Mille partnered with Rafael Nadal to develop the RM 027 Tourbillon. At the time, this was the world’s lightest wristwatch, only beaten by another Richard Mille.
By developing such a light watch, Richard Mille was able to place this amazing timepiece on the wrist of one of the largest-to-life players in tennis. It was able to withstand the high G forces that a tennis player’s wrist experiences when playing a match.
Moving into the world of polo, Pablo Mac Donough, the world’s number one polo player, has a collaboration with Richard Mille. However, this watch is nothing like the other collaborations. Sporting two separate dial cutouts, the watch sports a micro-blasted titanium and titanium carbide case.
Though taking some time with their “land-based” efforts, Richard Mille finally released an aviation-themed watch with the RM 039 Tourbillon Flyback Chronograph.
Featuring another avant-garde-themed round case, the watch came with an aviation-inspired logarithmic scale bezel to track speed and fuel consumption; also includes a second-time zone function just like traditional GMT watches.
Taking their expertise to another level, Richard Mille shocked the world when they developed the RM 056.
Featuring an all-sapphire case in the tonneau shape, critics were shocked at the craftsmanship of the piece. Understanding the complex process of creating sapphire crystals and shaping them, the RM 056 is an amazing piece of work.
Richard Mille opened a second factory in 2013. Located in the Canton of Jura, the ProArt SA is home to the brand’s manufacturing centre for watch cases, baseplates, pushers, bridges, and bracelet parts in precious metals.
II. Notable Richard Mille Collaborations
Richard Mille and Ferrari have had a long relationship. Both brands were very much into motorsports, with one driving and making racing machines and one making watches inspired by cars.
It was inevitable that Richard Mille would develop a watch that was specific to Ferrari.
In 2021, Richard Mille came out with the RM UP-01, an ultra-flat manual winding watch designed for Ferrari.
Being only 1.75 mm thick, the watch still adheres to the main principles of every Richard Mille watch, meaning that this watch is still shock-resistant to an amazing degree and can withstand almost everything (save for the only 1 ATM water resistance rating).
The ultra-thin movement boasts a power reserve of 45 hours, something mind-boggling to think of how to even fit the normal power reserve barrel in such a small watch.
Along with that, they were able to fit the usual movements of telling time into such a small area.
What separates the watch from others is that the display for the hours and minutes is separate. This helps give the watch and the movement their ultra-thinness.
The majority of the watch is made out of grade 5 titanium along with minute traces of aluminum and vanadium.
B. Michelle Yeoh
Though known for their sports watches, Richard Mille has also collaborated with people of the arts. One of those people is actress Michelle Yeoh.
Starring in countless Asian films along with being a Bond girl in Tomorrow Never Dies, Michelle Yeoh is a hallmark in the long history of cinema.
It was through their mutual friendship with Jean Todt that Michelle Yeoh was able to meet Richard Mille. Through their shared love for the arts and craftsmanship present in both acting and watchmaking, the two decided to collaborate on a set of watches for women.
The pieces created were the RM 051 and RM 51-01 Tourbillon, with the latter being Michelle Yeoh’s watch.
The RM 51-01 is limited to 20 pieces. It features a manual winding tourbillon movement with hours, minutes, and a power reserve indicator.
Designed and released in 2011, the watch features a design personally handpicked and inspired by Michelle Yeoh. Applied on the dial are the marks of the Tiger and Dragon with the dragon clutching the tourbillon movement in hand.
Both animals are prominent in Asian culture. The Tiger symbolizes the male archetype and the “Yang” supremacy.
The animal was regarded as a demon hunter. Within the military, the tiger was a symbol of courage and was adorned with weapons and shields of soldiers.
The Dragon is a common symbol in China. The image usually symbolises unification within a group or nation. The animal usually represents prosperity and happiness in our current times.
With these inspirations, we can see the intricate design path that Michelle Yeoh took in the design of the RM 51-01.
The applied animals were hand engraved from red gold by a special team within Richard Mille. Along with that, specific tools were created for the design team.
Include that with the countless diamonds strewn across the front of the case. Overall, the watch is a great symbol of both prosperity and the amazing minute details that Richard Mille is capable of creating.
III. So Why Are Richard Mille Watches So Expensive?
So, with that history settled, most would wonder why Richard Milles are expensive watches. For a lot of brands out there, whether watches or any other industry, most of the money goes to the research and development done to create new products.
This is no exception at Richard Mille. Coming from their first watch ever, the RM 001 Tourbillon boasted several prototypes made from German silver. And even there, the German silver was coated in PVD to enhance the structure of the watch itself.
All of this was done even before they finally settled with grade 5 titanium. Yet, each of these materials is expensive in its own right.
Note that titanium is only used for some specific special edition watches in other brands and if it’s used in common editions, then they’re only within major brands. One of the main reasons for the high price tag is definitely the materials used.
Another major thing to take into account in the price of Richard Mille watches is the movements present in each of their collections.
For one, they came out swinging with a tourbillon. Known for being used as a measure of accuracy, the tourbillon has become almost obsolete in the current world. The movement is known for being expensive to develop and introduce in a watch. Yet, Richard Mille did exactly that.
Not to mention that their fourth watch ever to come out was a split-second chronograph. Being way more complicated than a normal chronograph, for a brand to come out with a split-second movement right out of the gate is a feat on its own.
Another thing is that Richard Mille is partnered with Audemars Piguet Renaud et Papi (now renamed Audemars Piguet Le Locle) the high-end technological arm of Audemars Piguet.
Knowing the current prices and marketing of almost all Audemars Piguet watches, one could assume that the pricing of Richard Mille may come from their AP brothers. Using the services of the high-horological arm of an established brand costs a lot of capital. Using their connections for each watch design is going to bring the cost of the watch up.
Along with that, we shouldn’t look any further than Richard Mille’s marketing budget, the collaborations and brand deals they have with countless sports athletes and art icons.
Another aspect of the price that Richard Mille sells is the time and labour that is needed to create these watches. For every piece that Richard Mille comes out with, one should think about the time needed to develop and then manufacture these luxury watches.
The design and thought process needed to come up with an innovative design is a long one. Design processes take into account every aspect of the watch’s life.
From the amount of shock, it is expected to withstand the amount of water pressure that it may experience. Add to that the design details, like in the case of the Michelle Yeoh special editions with the brand.
Each design is handmade and engraved by a team. This greatly adds to the time for each piece, along with the cost.
In getting everything right, Richard Mille does not want to waste their precious time in designing their pieces. With their want to do everything right, this means that the time spent on every aspect of the watch is another amount of time needed for labour. This, of course, increases the labour cost.
Being based in Switzerland, the manufacturing and material procurement process is not cheap. Add to that the amount of collections and the limited production of each collection within their catalogue.
They only release their watches in limited quantities. Changing every collection and only having them for a short run means that the machinery needed to make the watches needs a recalibration every single time a new design is out.
Lastly, one would have to think of the market that Richard Mille is reaching out to. That’s the market of those with enough money that they don’t know what to do with it. With this demographic, sometimes, the price is the marketing.
By making their watches unattainable for the average person, they market themselves as something to aspire to. To flaunt with. This brings them to an exclusive club that only a few can join. They have become a status symbol.
As a business, they also need to survive and keep their profits at a level that makes them operate normally. To enable this, Richard Mille limits their production. They only release watches in the double-digit range. Keeping the numbers low means that every single piece is collectable in its own right.
By making each collectable, they are within their right to have these sometimes crazy pieces that some people don’t understand.
Yet, it is clear to understand the high price of Richard Mille watches. From the amount of time that it takes to develop. Including the number of prototypes and materials used for each one, with the reality of throwing away all the precious metals used in the previous iterations.
To the design and technical know-how needed to develop each piece and to test it according to the principles of the brand. This is the usual process of a brand that delves into innovative technology.
The fact that their factories and labour are based in Switzerland only means that they are spending a lot of money on only the best people and technical expertise.
This is a major factor in the cost of the watch. To add to that, the amount of collaborations the brand has with various sports outlets and teams brings their branding up, which inevitably brings the Richard Mille watch prices up, too.
But to all the naysayers who say that Richard Mille is overrated avant-garde vomit, you do not understand the proper watchmaking expertise that is at play here with this luxury brand.
From the inception to the execution of the brand, there is something to laud the brand for.