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How Richard Mille’s love for cars has translated into stunning watches

Richard Mille has partnered with McLaren and race car drivers such as Sebastien Loeb over the years to release timepieces suited for motor sports.

When Richard Mille is ready to start his workday, he heads towards the garage of his 18th-century French chateau
in Brittany. Not to a car, so he can drive to the office, but to an area that overlooks his garage, which houses his beloved fleet of classic cars. It’s a collection of historically important models, including Bruce McLaren’s first Formula One car and a Ferrari 312B that won the 1970 Italian Grand Prix.

With its founder’s well-documented passion for automobiles, it is hardly surprising that ultra-premium watch brand Richard Mille has been closely linked to motor sports from the start. The brand, which began life in 1999, has been the main sponsor and official timekeeper of the Le Mans Classic, since the vintage car race kicked off in 2002. Also, its first celebrity ambassador was F1 driver Felipe Massa, who has also been a test driver for the brand since 2004, with its watches strapped to his wrist during F1 races as a high-speed, real-life testing ground for Richard Mille’s tough timepieces.

Today, of course, Richard Mille’s stable of motoring partners includes McLaren and the Lotus F1 racing team, and race drivers such as Jenson Button and Sebastien Loeb. It is also part of wide-reaching events such as Formula E (as a sponsor of the Renault E.dams team) and the women’s race Rallye des Princesses in France. A lot more than just exercises in marketing, several of those collaborations have yielded some of the watch company’s most sought-after timepieces – including, most recently, the new, ultra-sporty RM 11-03 McLaren Automatic Flyback Chronograph, which was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in March, alongside McLaren’s latest Ultimate Series hypercar, the P15 Senna (both novelties are shown on these pages). Turn the page for more on this snazzy timepiece, along with Richard Mille’s other high-octane partnerships.

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THE LOOK OF SPEED

A closer peek at the first timepiece from Richard Mille and McLaren Automotive.

POWER PLAY

The RM 11-03 McLaren has 55 hours of power reserve, courtesy of a double- barrel system. While it’s not a particularly long power reserve, the two barrels help to create greater torque stability for more accurate timekeeping. Helping to keep the mainspring wound is Richard Mille’s signature variable-geometry rotor, which can be adjusted to suit a wearer’s activity level.

CROWNING GLORY

Made of grade 5 titanium, the crown is designed for optimal operation, with a collar made from Alcryn rubber. This collar is accented with clou de Paris decoration – a nod to traditional watchmaking. According to Richard Mille international marketing director Tim Malachard, it best represents the identities of both brands. He tells us: “Our in-house team made it possible to transpose the design of the McLaren Ultimate Series rims onto this component. It is particularly complicated to execute the rim spokes, skeletonised in multiple directions.”

SPEEDY DETAILS

The headlights of the McLaren 720S inspired the design of the watch’s chronograph pushers, which are made of titanium and fitted to the caseband. Adorning the bezel are titanium inserts that resemble the McLaren F1 car’s bonnet air vents.

LAP IT UP

Tracking up to 12 hours of elapsed time, the flyback chronograph allows the timer to be instantly restarted and the counters reset, making it useful for recording lap times; the wearer does not have to waste precious seconds stopping, resetting and restarting the chronograph.

HOLDING IT TOGETHER

The baseplate and bridges are made from black PVD titanium. According to the brand, grade 5 titanium is a “biocompatible, highly corrosion-resistant and remarkably rigid alloy” that helps the movement’s gears to run smoothly.

SOLID CASE

As with McLaren race cars, lightness and toughness are paramount when it comes to the body of this timepiece. Measuring 49.94mm in length, 44.50mm wide and 16.23mm thick, the case of the RM 11-03 McLaren is made of interlaced sheets of Carbon TPT and Quartz TPT in orange – a snazzy hue that pays tribute to McLaren’s livery colours. Comprising layers of carbon fibre and silica filaments, the case is lightweight yet strong, and exceptionally resistant to high heat.


“Working with (McLaren Automotive design director) Rob Melville was an immensely positive adrenalin rush,” says Tim Malachard, international marketing director at Richard Mille, of the development process of the RM 11-03 McLaren Automatic Flyback Chronograph. “It was about rising to meet a pretty considerable technical challenge and coming up with something other than just a dial with an inscription.”

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The orange-and-black timepiece is the first collaboration between Richard Mille and the car-making division of the British marque. But fans will remember that this is not the first Richard Mille ticker bearing the McLaren logo. In 2016, the year both brands embarked on a 10-year partnership, the RM 50-03 McLaren F1 was unveiled. Weighing less than 40g, the tourbillon split-seconds chronograph is the world’s lightest mechanical chronograph, thanks to its case, which is made of Graph TPT. This proprietary material is essentially layers of carbon fibre, impregnated with a resin comprising graphene – a carbon allotrope six times lighter than steel but 200 times stronger.

While Malachard points out that “the RM 11-03 McLaren benefits from a lot of the technical research” put into its predecessor, he notes that achieving
a comprehensive, unified aesthetic was key in the development of the former.

“At the forefront is the McLaren attitude, with a lot of attention paid to specificities of the current line of McLaren race cars and supercars,” he says.

Using Richard Mille’s signature model, the RM 11-03, as a starting point, the new McLaren Automotive limited edition features an updated case, redesigned in carbon and quartz TPT by Melville and Richard Mille engineer Fabrice Namura. From the colour of the watch (McLaren orange, of course) to the crown, carefully executed design details embody the DNA of both high-performance brands.

Unsurprisingly, to encourage motoring matchy-matchiness, first dibs on the timepiece goes to McLaren Ultimate Series car owners, who get priority in purchasing the 500-piece limited edition, which is priced at 180,000 Swiss francs (S$241,000).


DRIVING INNOVATION

Other partnerships with famous figures in the world of motor sports, and the creations that have resulted.

FELIPE MASSA

Since 2004 and until his retirement last year, Richard Mille’s most longstanding ambassador put several of the brand’s watches through their paces on the F1 racetracks, helping to shape its horological identity in those early days. Says Malachard: “From the beginning, he wanted to wear a watch in the cockpit during races, and he challenged Richard (Mille) to create a very light and resistant watch for that purpose. The watch had to feel weightless, even under conditions where vibrations and high g-forces were at play. This is when the theme of lightness first entered the brand’s identity, with the use of carbon nanofibre for the watch’s baseplate.” The most dramatic demonstration of the toughness of those timepieces, of course, occurred at the Hungarian Grand Prix in 2009, when the Brazilian driver had a near-fatal crash – and the RM 006 tourbillon watch on his wrist emerged from the accident still keeping good time.

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JEAN TODT

Road safety isn’t the sexiest topic in the blazing world of motor sports, but it is definitely one of the most important. So, it’s little surprise that when Richard Mille partnered Jean Todt, FIA (International Automobile Association) president and UN Special Envoy for Road Safety, the first timepiece that came about was centred on the trope.

In typical Richard Mille style, of course: Released in 2012, the RM 36 Tourbillon G-Sensor Jean Todt’s most interesting mechanism is a sensor that displays the force (in the number of g’s) accumulated by the watch’s wearer during rapid decelerations. Obviously, it might not serve much practical purpose for the average driver (and if you actually experience such g-forces on our roads, you would probably be in a lot more trouble than a watch can help with), but, hey, it’s still a neat – and meaningful – idea.

SEBASTIEN LOEB

Showing how many things really boil down to a matter of perspective, the G-Sensor in the RM 36 goes from being a road-safety symbol to one designed for the kind of extreme speed reached by French rally driver Sebastien Loeb. Again probably of limited use to folks tootling along at an average speed of 80kmh, the RM36-01 Tourbillon G-Sensor Sebastien Loeb is one of the brand’s few round watches – and is distinguished by a rotary g-sensor placed right at its centre. Resembling a wheel, the sensor shows the number of g’s accumulated by the driver as he rapidly accelerates or decelerates. A button at the centre of the sapphire glass quickly resets the reading to zero.

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