What’s so special about a Richard Mille watch? We all know about the exclusivity (less than 3,000 pieces per year), the impeccable quality, and the celebrity ambassadors. But there are many more features that added up to the success of this highly exclusive watch brand: exclusive materials, astonishing finishing, distinctive complications, innovations and a unique feeling that creates a desirable object. In order to understand what Richard Mille is all about, the Monochrome Watches team visited the famous Parisian shop Chronopassion to discuss the brand, its watches and to get hands-on with one of the most complicated watches in the collection, the RM 022 Aerodyne, featuring a tourbillon, a dual-time indicator and… carbon nano-fibers.
No doubt about it, the Richard Mille RM 022 Aerodyne is an extraordinary timepiece. We could have stopped there, showed you pictures, and it would have been enough to tickle your love for watches. But instead we’re going to try to explain what makes a Richard Mille watch distinctive and why the RM 022 might represent the quintessence of the brand’s know-how in a single timepiece.
First, the materials. The structure you can see through the dial that looks like a honeycomb — it is, in fact, the baseplate of the movement — is made from a very exclusive component developed by NASA. It is made of orthorhombic titanium aluminide with a carbon nano-fiber core. NASA created the honeycomb geometrical pattern as core material for supersonic aircraft wings. It allows an extreme resistance to torsion and high temperatures and is very lightweight. It was actually Hautlence that first used a honeycomb structure as a watch dial, on its HL models (like the HL Ti that we reviewed for you) and in its more recent creation, the Destination. (The latter, however, was not developed by NASA.)
Impressive, right? But what is the purpose? Richard Mille has always focused on resistance, strength, and weight reduction as important factors in its watches, so new materials are always being put to use. It’s a bit of a “public secret” that brand founder Richard Mille himself deliberately dropped one of his tourbillon watches on the floor to demonstrate its resistance. Are these super-lightweight materials essential? Of course not, but they do add to the watches’ cool factor.
But a Richard Mille watch is not only about materials, but also complications. And the RM 022 is packed with some very intriguing functions — a tourbillon, a dual time zone (with a very clear display), a power-reserve indicator, a torque indicator and some other pretty cool innovations. The one-minute tourbillon can be seen in the bottom half of the dial, embedded in a spiderweb structure (regrettably, concerning that last part: the tourbillon is mostly covered by the spiderweb bridge). The endstone used for the tourbillon cage is made of ceramic, which (again) adds to the durability. The RM 022 also indicates a second time zone via a transparent sapphire disk. The second time zone is highlighted over a white-colored plate near 3 o’clock and can be adjusted using the pusher at 9 o’clock.
The dial also features a torque indicator, which provides a visualization of the mainspring’s internal tension, allowing optimization of the movement’s timing. Below 53 dNmm, the spring is too slack; at the other extreme, above 65 dNmm, excessive tension can adversely affect the running of the movement. At 11 o’clock is the power-reserve indicator, set for 70 hours when fully wound. The last indication on the dial, positioned just beneath the 3 o’clock index, is the function selector. Using a push-button in the center of the crown, you can switch between 3 positions – W (Winding), N (Neutral), H (Hands, to set the time) — so you’ll never have to pull out the crown, another function guided by the need for durability.
The Richard Mille RM 022 packs some impressive and well-thought-through technical features that aid in keeping ideal accuracy and chronometric performance throughout the whole range of the power reserve. First, there’s a fast-rotating barrel that makes one full revolution in six hours rather than 7.5 hours. Advantages of this type of barrel are that it prevents any adhesion of the mainspring in order to increase performance and that it makes for a more regular and efficiency curve in the mainspring. The delivery of energy is more constant during the 70-hour power reserve, thus providing a better chronometric performance.
Finally, the RM 022 features a free-sprung balance for a better isochronism (accuracy over time) and precision. The balance is built without a regulator, like Patek Philippe’s Gyromax balance or the balance used in the Grönefeld Parallax Tourbillon, and the rate is adjusted by weight screws on the balance wheel’s rim. On less exclusive timepieces you’ll find a the balance spring with a regulator, which allows small changes to the length of the spring in order to adjust the precision.
Looking at the back of the watch, you enter a very different universe, far from what you may be used to in classical watchmaking; no Geneva stripes or circular graining here. However, the RM 022 is still haute horlogerie down to the bone. Every single component is finished by hand: for example, the screw-heads and slots are polished (and all made in titanium, which is exclusive to Richard Mille), and so are the counter-sunk screw openings and the bevelled angles of the bridges. Some features refer to traditional horology, such as the rubies embedded in screwed chatons, here presented in a very modern interpretation. The mainplate is made in the aforementioned honeycomb structure. The execution of the whole movement is top-notch and fully coherent with the technical look of the watch. The tonneau shape of the case, part of the Richard Mille brand’s DNA, is made of satin-finished 18K rose gold. As simple as it looks at first sight, the satin-finishing is quite spectacular, especially with the mirror-polished, angled edges. It can only be made by hand and requires some very specialized know-how. The technical look is completed with the 12 spline screws made of grade 5 titanium. These spline screws allow for better control of the torque applied to them during assembly, and at the same time they are unaffected by physical manipulation during assembly or disassembly; they will also age well. Again, all of this is part of the typical Richard Mille design codes.
On the wrist the RM 022 is a medium-size watch, measuring 48 mm x 39.7 mm and 13.85 mm in height at its thickest point. To be honest, it’s one of the most comfortable watches I’ve ever tried on. The curved shape of the caseback allows a perfect placement and you totally forget its weight, even though it’s made of gold. The Richard Mille RM-022 Aerodyne Dual Time Zone is available in titanium, white gold or rose gold, and in a limited edition with a carbon fiber case. The retail price is €438,000 in rose gold, €397,656 in titanium, and €450,500 in white gold. The price tag is understandable considering the watch’s level of innovation, complication and finishing.