Richard Mille unveiled only one new timepiece at last week’s SIHH watch salon, but it was a doozy. With its RM 50-03 McLaren F1 model — which debuts as the world’s lightest split-seconds chronograph tourbillon watch, at less than 40 grams, including strap — the brand introduces yet another new high-tech material into the world of watchmaking: Graph TPT, also known as graphene.
Graphene was first isolated by Professor Andre Geim, of the University of Manchester’s School of Physics and Astronomy, back in 2004. He and his colleague, Professor Konstantin Novoselov, won the Nobel Prize for the discovery in 2010, and established the National Graphene Institute at the University in 2015. Collaborative research by the Institute, McLaren Applied Technologies, and North Thin Ply Technology (NTPT) has resulted in a watch case machined from an improved form of Carbon TPT, whose physical properties have been enhanced by the introduction of graphene.
A nano-material six times lighter than steel and 200 times stronger, graphene is currently the focus of work between McLaren Technology Group and McLaren-Honda, which aim to introduce the material into McLaren Grand Prix race cars. Richard Mille —whose timepieces have long displayed the influence of motor racing in their design and materials — saw graphene’s physical properties as a means to significantly lower the density of its carbon composite watch cases while at the same time increasing their resistance.
Carbon TPT, which Richard Mille first introduced to the watch industry in 2013, is comprised of 600 layers of parallel carbon filaments, each of them no more than 30 microns in thickness, that are impregnated with a super-charged resin and compiled by a CNC machine that shifts the orientation of the fibers by 45° between layers. This composite material is then heated to 120º Celsius, at 6 bar of pressure, to solidify it. With graphene added to the resin mixture, the final result is the material known as Graph TPT, used exclusively by Richard Mille in the arena of watchmaking. The three-part Graph TPT case of the RM 50-03, achieved through long hours creating and programming special ultra-precise cutting tools to manipulate the material, is highly resistant and extremely light, while also displaying the same undulating, wood-grain-like striations characteristic of other Richard Mille watches made from Carbon TPT. It measures 44.5 mm x 49.65 x 16.10 mm.
The movement is also incredibly lightweight — just 7 grams — owing largely to the use of grade 5 titanium and Carbon TPT for the baseplate and bridges and to the extreme skeletonization of these and other components. (Titanium is used extensively in McLaren Racing’s Formula 1 engineering build program, to lighten and reinforce chassis and aerodynamic elements and as a material in gearboxes, connecting rods, and valve systems. The movement’s combination of drawn, polished, satin-finished and soft-polished surfaces are all executed by hand. The dial, also made of titanium, required three hours of anglage and polishing.
Carbon TPT is also used for the transverse cage, inspired by the wishbone suspension structure of a McLaren-Honda Formula 1 car and affixed to the caseband, which supports the movement in the absence of a traditional casing ring. This unconventional system enables a perfect fit between the movement and case and increases resistance: in tests conducted at Richard Mille’s workshops, the cased movement withstood shock loadings of 5,000 Gs without incident.
The RM 50-03 McLaren F1 combines a tourbillon escapement with a split-seconds chronograph function in a single mechanism, thus demanding perfect transfers of energy. This need to reduce friction led Richard Mille’s watchmakers to improve the profiling of the teeth on the movement’s barrel and gear train, resulting in more balanced torque and optimized yield. Both the torque and the 70-hour power reserve are indicated on colorful scales positioned between 11 and 1 o’clock at the front of the watch.
Other technical and aesthetic touches influenced by McLaren’s Formula 1 racing machines include the hollowed chronograph pushers, which evoke the air intake ducts on a McLaren Honda car, and the shape of the crown, which resembles the cars’ racing competition wheel rims.
After extensive research on split-seconds clamps, Richard Mille has developed for this watch a new split-seconds mechanism that reduces the chronograph’s energy consumption by 50 percent while at the same time reducing arbor friction. The six-column wheel that controls the various rockers for the split-seconds function was designed to guarantee flawlessly simultaneous movement, clean function lock, and very stable settings.
Graphene and its distinctive properties have also found their way into the strap: the nano-material was added to the rubber strap to increase both its elasticity and its resistance to wear.
The Richard Mille RM 50-03 McLaren F1 will be produced in a numbered, limited edition of 75 pieces and will be available only at Richard Mille boutiques, priced at $980,000. Each watch will be accompanied by a 1:5 scale model of the McLaren-Honda racing car driven in 2017 by Double-World Champion Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne.