Richard Mille wouldn’t take no for an answer, and he makes a convincing pitch for innovation.
“I wanted to make the watch of my dreams that I could never find anywhere,” he states. “Everything I wanted, people told me it was impossible to make; this or that couldn’t be done. There was always a wall. And I never believed that this wall was really there. I thought of myself as an oddball just passing through, not out to revolutionise the field, but simply to express what I knew was inside me and wanted to make, without compromise. The only limits I acknowledge are those of the technically feasible, and we are rolling these back with every day.”
With such fire in the belly, Mille – considered the father of modern horology today – officially launched his brand with the RM 001 back in 2001, the first tourbillon timepiece to carry the Richard Mille name.
Since then, Mille hasn’t looked back, multiplying partnerships in fields as wide-ranging as motorsports, sailing, tennis, art and cinema. He loves creating watches with those who have risen to the top of their professions, including the likes of Felipe Massa, Fernando Alonso, Alain Prost, Rafael Nadal, Yohan Blake, Jackie Chan and Natalie Portman.
Open to everything and never having done any market research or analysed his competitors, all his collaborations have started in an organic, informal way, as opposed to a planned and calculated approach, since he always prefers to work together with people whom he likes and who have the same mindset. His timepieces are tested vigorously by them, subjected to accelerations, G-forces, vibrations, lateral and longitudinal shocks.
“I have no interest in photography shots as only PR material; in my view, this does not really achieve anything for a few reasons,” he insists. “On one hand, I want people to wear their Richard Mille all the time because they love it, not because they must, which would make it a fake gesture. Most important is that by developing new watches for new disciplines, being tested ‘out on the field’ so to speak, the engineers and researchers at the manufacture are challenged to create new ideas, methods and means for novel movements.”
Born in 1951 in Draguignan in the Var, France, Mille studied marketing in Besançon and entered the world of watchmaking almost by accident. He recalls, “My family had no connection to watchmaking at all. My father wanted to be a sailor, but my grandfather was against it. It was another generation. So my father made sure to allow me to follow whatever I wanted. He always told me, ‘Whatever you do, follow your passion.’ I’d like to emphasise, however, that I am by no means a watchmaker – a handicap I make up for in unfettered passion for technicity in all its manifestations.”
From the beginning, Mille wished to create the Formula One of horology. Extremely avant-garde and technically powerful yet incorporating traditional watchmaking, his timepieces transpose high technology and futuristic materials into purity of design and extraordinary creative beauty, perhaps skills inculcated during his experiences at French watch company Finhor (bought over by Matra), jewellery house Mauboussin, and as a consultant for Audemars Piguet, Repossi and Baccarat.
It’s hardly surprising that outside of watches, Mille’s main passion has always been cars, sometimes even racing them. With a collection of over 100 historic and race cars, he is one of the most influential figures in the world of vintage automobiles. He says, “I’ve always been a passionate admirer of technicity and mechanics, and this from my earliest childhood. Added to this is my utter fascination with gorgeous historic cars. My first car was a Renault Alpine A110 that I treated myself to with my first month’s salary. My passion has grown from there. Formula One cars from the 1970s are a central theme for me because it was such an exciting period in racing history.”
Today, Mille sponsors the Nurburgring Classic, the McLaren, Haas and Sauber F1 teams and e.dams in Formula E – emotional choices as it comes down to having interesting dialogues and sharing philosophies with the organising teams. Together with his friend Patrick Peter, he brought back the concours d’élégance to France with the Chantilly Arts & Elegance, now a biennial affair. “The concours d’élégance was something that simply had to be revived in France; it is a fantastic event that has earned a reputation in history. I have always sought to open haute horlogerie to the world of sports, to art, to life, if you will. Applying this attitude to the auto show seemed like a splendid idea to me.”
Having just launched the Richard Mille Young Talent Academy, which identifies racing drivers with significant potential, he has been a partner of Le Mans Classic since the start, and the brand will present a new limited-edition timepiece bearing the livery of the event at the next race taking place in July 2018. “My passion for cars has no limits,” he concludes.
“This is also the problem because my family complains that I love cars too much. But I think without this love of cars, my watches wouldn’t be what they are.”