His brand makes the most expensive serially produced watches in the world, his name is frequently mentioned in top-rappers’ lyrics, he collects racing cars, resides in a real French château, and acts like an epitome of class. The one and only Richard Mille talks courage, new challenges and his hate for gimmicks. 

Table of contents

You often say Richard Mille is in a niche of its own. Does it mean not having a direct competition makes your brand immune to the current turmoil of the watch market?

Yes and no… In fact, we have no competition at our level, and in business that is not a bad thing in itself. However, it would be simplistic to make that the lynchpin of success, as there is more to it – namely, we are constantly offering our clients the most amazing and exceptional horological works, with new models, complications and concepts coming out every year. So, I love to be diversified; we are not a niche brand anymore, but a general brand covering several niche. And what I want to do is to perform well in each niche. Our clients can never become bored, and they know they can count on us to delight them. We have worked very hard to achieve such respect, and we always do our best to nurture this love affair.

What Richard Mille timepieces do you consider the most important landmarks of your career and why?

One can always say it the first watch I made because it has the magic and DNA of the whole brand in it – a kind of cliché answer. But for me it really is the newest timepiece I am working on at any given moment which is another cliché but the reality. Every time it is a different challenge. What I did last year might as well be light years ago, because I am always moving forward… I never look back.What I am proud of is that some of the timepieces became milestone pieces and collectors really look for them. The ‘old’ Richard Mille watches have a real value on the second-hand market or on the auction block.

What is your inspiration when you choose the exotic materials never before used in the industry?

My view on these issues is very clinical; in other words, I want  to know what a material can do, what it offers, its strengths and weaknesses. I am totally unconcerned about what the traditionalists think regarding their use. Don’t get me wrong – I have great respect for traditional watchmaking, materials and techniques, and you will find many of these in our watches. But my sense of tradition stops when I hear things like ‘we always use this to make that’ or ‘nothing else can work for this part or structure in the watch’. Just imagine if we still built cars following the materials available in 1925? Watches are no different in that respect. Each material has a precise and proper objective, I hate gimmicks.

RM 19-02 Tourbillon Fleur

Everyone can see your success, but still no one dares to go this far in high-tech watches and introduce something as breathtaking as graphene. Can you guess why?

I don’t know for sure, maybe you should ask them! If I were  to guess, in all honesty, I would say that you need two things in order for this to work: firstly, the courage to be different, and secondly a clientele that trusts you to deliver landmark developments and is interested in purchasing them.

What is the best and the worst part for a head of a watch company to not be a watchmaker himself?

Oh, well I would say that it is an advantage not to be a  watchmaker but I love technique! If I were one, I would probably see the difficulties first, and get stressed out by that. Much better to dream freely and be  a little distanced from the nitty-gritty. I am never frustrated but I am never satisfied. I never ask for the totally impossible, but I always ask for things that have never been done before. There is a difference between the two, and it is better to leave certain aspects of the realisation to my team.

What are your thoughts on the Swiss Made trademark? Why does the product of unique technologies and design like Richard Mille still needs this logo?

I have made it a point that our watches are 100% Swiss made in  every single detail, because I do believe in the quality Switzerlandrepresents. Our factory, as one of the only ISO-normed  watchmaking companies in Switzerland, is therefore a ‘super Swiss’ example, and I expect perfect quality in everything we do. The world we live in may be global, but Swiss watchmaking has a tradition going back more than 500 years.

How is the company organized today? As far as we know, you have made some structural changes in recent years.

Regarding manufacturing, I am slowly and organically growing, in order to be as flexible and independent as possible, within practical limits. We are quite dynamic in term of creation, but at the same time, I like to control the growth. The two are not mutually exclusive. Having direct control over casemaking and more and more movement parts means supply to our clients can be more stable, and the dangers of delays or hold-ups in the supply chain are minimised. Furthermore, it also means we can quickly and efficiently try new ideas out and make decisions regarding their implementation without any lost time.

Do you produce your own movements or are you getting them from your suppliers?

We actually work in the most traditional way: truly self-contained  manufactures have never existed in Switzerland; the industry has always used multiple expert suppliers who execute according to your plans and designs. We work with Audemars Piguet Renaud & Papi , they have a real expertise with high complications and provide us a kind support for the production of our tourbillon movements. For the automatic movement, Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier is our partner. At the same time, we produce more and more parts at our factory in Les Breuleux, Swiss Jura, in order to remain flexible and to support the development of new in-house movements, so invariably, the reality is a mix of both approaches. To date, we have produced 6 in-house calibres. Even if we are a young brand, we are today certainly by far the brand that has got the best technical experience, in all different senses. I have very reactive team, they understand what I want and how I want to work. This translates into a lot of time saving as a lot of  unnecessary discussions are eliminated, since the goals are clear  right from the start.

How do you decide the number of limited productions? It’s quite understandable when we are talking 20 or 1000, but how to choose between 5 and 20?

Well, quite simply, it is often related to the level of difficulty. For some pieces, like the first sapphire-cased watch, only five were made because the material was so difficult to work with and we had no previous experience with it.

How do you choose your ambassadors? What personal and professional qualities do you take into consideration? Is it always your initiative, or it works both ways?

It is virtually all a question of my intuition, some tips from friends, combined with an emotional response. Life is too short to work with people you don’t feel comfortable with, so it is imperative that I also enjoy sharing time with the people who become partners and collaborators on our various projects. And of course, the same applies in reverse: people we work with have to be in love with the brand as well, otherwise it becomes a purely financial and marketing transaction. I will never work with people who are not passionate believers of our haute horlogerie vision.

The motto ‘a racing machine on the wrist’ became the essence of the brand. Who was the author of this saying?

It was me… Because my greatest passion is racing cars and sports  of all kinds, as well as the fact that watches and sports cars both  share the same engineering issues and challenges in their design  and construction – only on a different scale. I thought the phrase  was really perfect to describe this in a direct manner.

Everyone knows you are a renowned sports car collector.  What is your grail?

My grail car is Ferrari 312P from 1969. There is really only one  car in the world. It’s a pure, beautiful car, a marvel made by the designer Mauro Forghieri, an exceptional piece of art.

What’s the third best thing in the world after watches and cars and why do you like it?

No comment!

How does it feel that your timepieces are frequently mentioned in pop culture? Do you consider yourself a superstar?

No, not at all, and such a status is not really who I am. Really,  honestly, I get the greatest pleasure from clients who enjoy and value our watches, who understand what we are trying to do. I think this is the same feeling that an architect, composer or artist would have when people appreciate what they have created. Glamour and fame are nice, but sharing and communicating your ideas with others and seeing them becoming truly passionate about your work is, for me anyway, incredibly gratifying. And after all, we only  make watches.

How do you see the future of luxury watchmaking?

I think the real problem is that no one seems to know what the word luxury means anymore. How can you offer luxury when you can’t even define it? Is it luxury when you compromise on materials and production to save money? Is it luxury to cut an opening in the dial over the balance wheel to create a fake tourbillon look? Every brand has to accept that they cannot make real, high-end luxury products and expect to make a quick fortune. Creating genuinely high-end products is very tough and hard work, believe me. I think there will always be a market for that, if companies start delineating luxury seriously within a 21st century, contemporary context.