Both, Richard Mille and his namesake have a reputation for being flamboyant. He is as popular as his watches are and they both have a way of surprising you, as I realised, when I had a meeting with the man himself. We met for lunch at the Royal Automobile Club, London.
How did this all begin?
R.M.: I started my brand at the age of 50. I decided it is now or never. It was a challenge for me, as I am not a watchmaker.
50? Wow! Wasn’t that a risk?
R.M.: Of course, I did a famous “pros and cons” spread sheet. I had many entries for the cons but only two entries in my pros: my passion and my drive!
What about the competition? And brand acceptance?
R.M.: I was aware of the competition and wanted to get into that very exclusive club of watchmakers where none could get an easy access. So I decided to create my own niche and create my own space that was entirely virgin.
Despite being an unestablished brand; not to mention so highly priced, your very first timepiece itself was a hit. What’s the secret?
R.M.: My first model was unique. I didn’t copy anyone. And that earned me respect in an industry where almost everyone is camping against each other. And I priced it double the existing rates. Many people thought it was madness. In fact, my friends were betting on how quickly I will go bankrupt. Unfortunately, for them, they lost their dinner bets!
My business plan was conservative and I hoped that there would at least be a few dozen people who would like to buy my watches. Instead, there were hundreds and hundreds of them. We (were and) are very profitable company.
What makes your brand tick?
R.M.: My brands rests on 3 pillars…
The first is the best possible technique and innovation. For me, only the best will work. I, first, think about the best innovations I can do in the industry and then about the cost.
The second is the best of artistic and architectural dimensions. It should be aesthetically perfect. According to me, watchmaking is the alchemy between technology and elegance. So, wearing those mechanical gems is also an art of living.
The third is the best of the Swiss watchmaking. Everything has to be finished by hand, much like racing cars in Formula 1. Of course, it gets crazily expensive but I do not like to compromise.
You have a vision, yes. But does it not get challenging for the team to bring it to reality?
R.M.: The Black RM 027 Tourbillon we created for Rafael Nadal. They wanted a watch for the tennis star which was extremely light and shock resistant. We created a masterpiece that Rafael wore when he won three consecutive Grand Slam titles on three different surfaces. It weighs just 20 grams.
Everyone told me that it was impossible to play tennis wearing tourbillion (since it is such a delicate mechanism). I proved the contrary.
Sometimes I envision watches that are so complicated that it takes years to develop. (Having said that) I must confess though that there have also been times when I’ve had my director say, “Boss, I think you need a holiday”!
Titanium seems to be your preferred metal of choice…
R.M.: Plates made from gold, brass, and copper are not rigid. They will react to temperature changes and shock. Titanium will not react in this way. It remains rigid and has chemical stability. For example, this material will not react to thermic shock.
… but isn’t it more expensive and a challenge to mould?
R.M.: It is much more complicated to make a body of the watch of titanium than solid gold! And since the true craft is in the architectural and engineering complicity, the price of the production material is only fractional.
Being in your team sure seems to be a challenge, yes?
R.M.: I have a young team that has Mille in their blood. We are located in a very obscure place in Jura Mountains. We use heaters all year round. But we are very passionate about what we do. And my team makes the impossible, possible…