It’s something extraordinary, you could say. Richard Mille, the nec plus ultra horologist, known for the most innovative and technologically-advanced timepieces, is now courting an emerging and increasingly influential group of watch enthusiasts: women who want it all — beautiful, bejewelled timepieces fused with cutting-edge technology and horological complications. Gone are the days when it was all about the aesthetics. No, no, no. Women are leading the vanguard and ravenous for the most complicated pieces, challenging watchmakers around the world to up their game when it comes to timepieces that marry beauty, craftsmanship, artistry and innovation.
Over an intimate dinner for 100 in Paris recently, at the celebrated neo-chic Monsieur Bleu restaurant, in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower to one side and the Palais Tokyo museum of art to the other, host Richard Mille certainly chose a fitting location whereby the restaurant’s famously high Art Deco ceiling gave away subtle hints as to the end design of its highly-anticipated new ladies’ collection — the RM71-01 Automatic Tourbillon Talisman.
The use of talismans, after all, is nothing new. Since time immemorial, from the Mesopotamians to the dynasties of Carthage and ancient Khmer with their amulets to modern-day Turkish blue eyes called nazar boncugu, universal om symbols or perhaps the hamsa, shaped after the hand of the Prophet’s daughter, Fatima, the wearing of these symbols of luck, protection and beauty has transcended the ages. And it is fitting that this should be the inspiration and name for such a dazzling new collection as it marks several milestones, firstly, the debut of Cécile Guenat as Richard Mille’s ladies’ collection director, and also the unveiling of the maison’s first-ever automatic tourbillon movement developed in-house, the calibre CRMT1. For those unfamiliar with her name, Guenat is the daughter of Mille’s longtime friend and partner, Dominique, and is herself an eminent jeweller.
“We are known for our incredibly technical, high performance watches that draw inspiration from the automotive and aeronautics industries, even though women’s watches have represented a considerable percentage of our sales for several years now. That said, we needed a modern, creative and talented young woman to inject new energy into our status quo and take the women’s collection to new heights. It is Cécile who met this challenge by overcoming technical obstacles, freeing herself from consensus and establishing a unique and resolutely contemporary style,” says Mille.
When the timepieces were finally revealed after dinner, the eagerly-assembled guests enthusiastically applauded the suite of 10 variations, each available only in a limited edition of just five pieces. At first glance, the attention is arrested, first, by the visage. No expense was spared and the finest gemstones were used to adorn the new RM71-01 Automatic Tourbillon Talisman in designs that seem inspired by primitive art as well as Art Deco. “My work is the fruit of very different influences,” says Guenat. “In designing this collection, I drew not only on Art Deco but on the tribal arts — masks and African sculptures — whose impact on all great modern and contemporary artists has been enormous.”
The horological cognoscenti, meanwhile, immediately appreciated the elegant tonneau-shaped skeletonised calibre, developed entirely by the team at Les Breuleux. Predominantly cloaked in titanium, it is 6.2mm thick and weighs just eight grams, while the automatic winding tourbillon movement with hours, minutes and variable-geometry rotor also marks the eighth movement to be produced in-house. “The first challenge was to produce an automatic tourbillon movement that could be housed in the narrow, curved case of an RM 037,” pointed out Salvador Arbona, Richard Mille’s technical director for movements. “The second was to meet all our standards in terms of performance, be it chronometric results, automatic winding or shock resistance.”
Three years in the making, the RM71-01 Automatic Tourbillon Talisman journey actually began when Guenat was first asked to join the company to infuse it with her creative flair and designs. A renowned jeweller, she is a graduate of the Geneva School of Art and Design and has worked in Lausanne and London where she created collections for a number of couture houses and branded designs. From initial sketches to choosing the stones, Guenat also placed equal emphasis on staying true to the brand’s appreciation and love of luxury and fine jewels as well as its unwavering commitment to technological prowess. Mother-of-pearl, diamonds and black sapphires are set against a clean palette of black, white and gray and is at once a blend of the urbane as well as the wild, each design telling a different side of Guenat’s story. “It was a great experience, really interesting and challenging,” she shares. “To draw something and then see the final piece and also, you get to work with all these wonderful materials.”
“The RM71-01 is created by a woman for women,” adds marketing director Tim Malachard. “Now, everything we do is all about technique and ergonomics and we are also sensitive to making watches that are comfortable to wear. From the creative point of view, Guenat’s expertise and feminine side [is invaluable] to see what women naturally like, it’s a sensibility that only women get.”
And judging by the enthusiastic response at Monsieur Bleu that night, it was an observation that hit all the right notes. “The ladies’ collections are selling extremely well,” notes Malachard. “We at Richard Mille have always liked technical challenges but now [we are also focusing on] aesthetics with a feminine touch.” Adds Guenat, “I like a woman to choose for herself and, for me, I hope this design can be appreciated by all kinds of women.”
Speaking on Richard Mille’s famously high net-worth clientele, Malachard admits that “they have evolved. Our influences, which are automotive and aerospace-based, now include aesthetics and ergonomics. The ladies’ collection represents 25% [of our market now] and we see it to be 30% to 40% soon. Where 7 to 10 years ago, men bought them as gifts, it is the women now who are interested and buying for themselves as well as learning how the timepieces are crafted, the materials we use and going through our press books with interest”.
On what else the future holds for the maison, Malachard mulls for a minute before saying: “One day, we hope to do something without the dial, just the movements. That’s the story of the brand. We like challenges, we like headaches,” and he adds laughing, “We are never bored!”
This article first appeared on July 9, 2018 in The Edge Malaysia.