Richard Mille, a genuine fan and connoisseur of the sporting world, noticed something odd when he first started meeting the top competitors he was singling out as partners. With performance paramount in their minds, they often removed their watches to engage in their chosen sport in order to comfortably and effectively perform at the top of their game. Mille was inspired — he realised that all he needed to do to be present on these oft-photographed wrists was to propose models they would hardly know they were wearing.
Mille, who prides himself on creating timepieces that work for the sportspeople he represents, views all fields of sport as potential laboratories. The more the sport involves physical and mechanical constraints, the more interesting it is in his eyes. Therefore, the timepieces that result from his collaborations in the sporting world are 100% functional and comfortable, built from the ground up with the objective of assisting the athlete in question.
It was in 2011 that Mille first became involved in golf, and together with Bubba Watson decided to design and manufacture an innovative tourbillon watch with the capacity to withstand the conditions specific to golf. Three obsessions guided this quest: lightness, extreme shock resistance and comfort, which were guiding principles for the subsequent timepieces that Mille designed with the watchmaker’s other sporting partners. Keep an eye out; newer versions of these watches will be unveiled in the coming months.
At just 20, American Nelly Korda is one of the youngest athletes in the Richard Mille family, and also one of its most accomplished for her age. With her win at the Women’s Australian Open earlier this year, Korda broke into the top 10 of the Women’s World Golf Rankings, moving up to the ninth position from 16th, and becoming the second-highest ranked American in the world, surpassed only by fifth-ranked Lexi Thompson.
It was in 2016 that Korda’s professional career took off, when she won the Sioux Falls LPGA Golf Tournament leg of the Symetra Tour. She went on to victory in the LPGA Taiwan in Taoyuan and claimed her first LPGA tour title. At 15, Korda was already playing in the US Women’s Open, before joining the US team in the Junior Solheim Cup, two years later. Her amateur career culminated in the Harter Hall Invitational 2015 and the PING Invitational 2015.
Her career in sports was almost pre-determined. Her parents, Petr and Regina, and her brother Sebastian all enjoy careers in professional tennis, while she and sister Jessica have taken their talent to a different sort of green by opting for golf instead. With Korda’s second LPGA triumph in Adelaide, Australia is once again abuzz with the name Korda — following her father’s Australian Open title in 1998, Jessica’s 2012 victory in this same tournament, and Sebastian’s win in the Australian Open junior Championships just last year.
American golfer Bubba Watson, a partner of Richard Mille since 2010, stands out with his unique physique, personality and self-taught golf game, and is the epitome of the power and precision humans can attain.
A multiple Major champion (12 professional wins) who won the Masters Tournament in 2012 and 2014, Watson is leaving a legacy as one of the best players of his generation with one of the most powerful drives ever seen. He has consistently been the longest hitter on the PGA tour since 2006. In 2007, he boasted an average drive of 288.2m and could hit a ball over 320m, generating a ball speed of up to 312kph. He has finished top of the driving distance statistics five times in his career.
This provided inspiration and an opportunity for Richard Mille to create timepieces specific to the rigours and needs of Watson’s environment, and a perfect real-world test for the brand. In total, three highly technical, tough and stylish timepieces have been created for this exceptional golfer, each one involving new movement concepts, materials and designs — the RM 038 Bubba Watson Tourbillon, the highly skeletonised RM 055 and, most recently, the RM 38-01 G-Sensor Tourbillon, which can measure Watson’s forceful swings.
In reality, this means that the RM 38-01 can record up to 20 Gs of acceleration, a very important insight for golfers like Watson, who is renowned for his ability to hit a ball at his almost record-breaking speeds.
Although it is her sporting prowess that has made Cristie Kerr famous, it was her passion for philanthropy that sealed the deal for Richard Mille, many of whose partners head up foundations or are involved in various charities. Inspired by her mother, aunt and godmother’s battle with breast cancer, Kerr’s Birdies for Breast Cancer foundation raises money and awareness to fight the disease. While Kerr donates US$50 to her foundation for each birdie she scores, she also uses the association to bring together the stars of women’s and men’s golf as well as many other celebrities. The foundation collected US$3 million in its first 10 years.
Even as a child, Florida-born Kerr showed a natural aptitude for golf and by nine, had emerged as the best in her age group. Progressing from an impressive amateur career, she participated in the LPGA for the first time at just 18, and in 2007, won the US Women’s Open. With 16 victories on the LPGA Tour, seven appearances in the Solheim Cup, three victories in the Wendy’s Three Tour Challenge and 140 Top 10s, Kerr is one of the most talented women golfers in the sport.
Her hard work mirrors the effort that goes into each Richard Mille timepiece, parallels that she frequently acknowledges. “I am honoured to join an elite stable of brand ambassadors for Richard Mille, I look forward to representing the artistry, craftsmanship and excellence that embody the Richard Mille brand,” she says. Kerr wears the RM 007 Titanium, which you can spot on her wrist as she takes on the greens in the LPGA Tour and the Lacoste Ladies Open, of which the watchmaker is partner for the second consecutive year.
The first female sportsperson to be sponsored by Richard Mille, Diana Luna began her professional career in 2000, when she won four Italian championships and one European championship as part of a junior team. In 2004, the young Italian won her first title at the Tenerife Ladies Open, before going on to win two major tournaments in 2009 — the AIB Ladies Irish Open and the SAS Ladies Masters in Norway. That same year, she scored again, becoming the first Italian in the history of golf to qualify for the Solheim Cup European team.
Victory came once more in 2011, at the Ladies German Open. During the competition, Luna achieved a first in the history of women’s golf, playing 72 holes over four days with no bogeys. Again in 2011, she won the Deutsche Bank Ladies Swiss Open, before coming second the following year at the French Open (Lacoste Ladies Open). In her young career, Luna clocked up 31 top-10 finishes and five victories each on the European circuit and the PGA of Italy.
Luna’s successes have mostly been in Europe as family life is her priority — the appeal of her trans-alpine life has always trumped the admittedly larger prize purses offered across the Atlantic. In which case, Luna’s dream is not far from her native Italy — looking back at her career, she says that if she had had the chance to exchange some of her successes for a single victory in a Major, she would choose the British Open for its history and heritage.
This article first appeared on May 20, 2019 in The Edge Malaysia.