British supermodel Kate Moss might have uttered the infamously controversial sentence “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” but if you were among the hundred or so lucky folk invited to view the latest RM UP-01 Ferrari by Richard Mille up close in Maranello, Italy, recently, few words could have rung truer.
Slim was clearly in style, as the Richard Mille RM UP-01 Ferrari — the maison’s first watch born out of its collaboration with the marque — elicited a chorus of wondrous gasps when it was unveiled over an exclusive dinner (prepared by Italy’s three Michelin-starred Massimo Bottura of Osteria Francescana, no less) in a purpose-built marquee right by the Pista di Fiorano, a private racetrack owned by Ferrari for development and testing purposes and where its legendary founder Enzo Ferrari would reputedly sit trackside to watch the little scarlet cars whizz pass daily. The evening’s hosts were none other than Richard Mille, founder of the eponymous watchmaking house, and Benedetto Vigna, CEO of Ferrari.
In recent watchmaking history, only Piaget and Bulgari could lay claim to the title of “world’s thinnest watch”, with their Altiplano Ultimate Concept (measuring 2mm thick) and the newer Octo Finissimo Ultra (1.8mm, and launched in March this year) respectively. But just as Scuderia Ferrari’s main aim is to shave seconds off their lap times, Richard Mille pushed its technical limits to the hilt by successfully knocking off a whopping 0.05mm from Bulgari’s record to present the new RM UP-01 Ferrari, an astounding mechanical timepiece just 1.75mm thick and whose movement measures just 1.18mm. To give a sense of perspective, 1.75mm is about the thickness of a 20 sen coin. A coin! “The movement’s thickness is just about that of a compact disc,” volunteers Tim Malachard, Richard Mille’s marketing director.
“Exceptional” appears to be about the only adjective that will do when describing this groundbreaking watch. Overall, the RM UP-01’s creation appears to have been completely dictated by technicality while its design detours slightly from the brand’s established stylistic codes. After several years, more than 6,000 hours’ development time and dozens of prototypes, the latest Richard Mille timepiece heralds the house’s new and improved (if that could be possible) approach to watch mechanics. After all, there is a reason Richard Mille watches are known as “racing machines for the wrist”.
Julien Boillat, Richard Mille’s technical director, points out, “For such a project, it was necessary to set aside all the knowledge we had amassed over years of practice, and every conceivable standard of watchmaking. This is precisely what we did throughout our collaboration with the laboratories of Audemars Piguets Le Locle. Shaving off those last millimetres of depth was an extremely demanding and lengthy process. I think we created new white hairs for the team,” he jokes.
“Working on the thickness was the No 1 challenge,” says Yves Mathys, head of production for Richard Mille, this time in all seriousness. “Ferrari shaves seconds off their racing times. We shave millimetres [off the case].”
“UP” stands for ultra plat, or “ultra flat” in French. And it is within this sliver-thin case that the RM UP-01’s entire movement and main plate is contained. Assembled entirely in-house, the timepiece is powered by the Calibre RM UP-01 manual-winding movement with hours, minutes and function selector.
Manufacturing such a slim concept watch is one thing; being able to make a commercially available timepiece — albeit limited to just 150 pieces — is quite another. “This was the real challenge, as it is not a concept watch,” Malachard says. “This watch is meant to be worn — and it is extremely comfortable to wear. [Building this watch offered] a new challenge for us. But we like to test ourselves. The RM UP-01 Ferrari is very different from anything we’ve done in the past 20 years and it certainly is a record piece in terms of how thin it is.”
Form + function
Slightness should not be mistaken for weakness, though. Skinny as it is, the timepiece is designed for the hard knocks of daily life. Made for everyday use, yet commendably robust and hardy (as Richard Mille’s endless and rigorous testing has proven), the RM UP-01 Ferrari is able to withstand accelerations of over 5,000 G’s and packs its own punch with a 45-hour power reserve and water-resistance up to 10m.
To deliver a watch this thin, the team at Richard Mille had to entirely redesign the architecture of the escapement. It was also necessary to rethink the winding mechanism and eliminate the winding stem, whose minimum diameter of 1.5mm precluded its inclusion in such a slim watch. In its place, two crowns — one for function selection, the other to use the selected function — have been integrated in the case as movement wheels. To ensure optimal function of the going train, Grade 5 titanium was used to fashion the baseplate and skeletonised bridges, ensuring perfect flatness without compromising strength. The patented extra flat barrel was also fitted with an extraordinarily fine hairspring.
“It is like an F1 car, whereby everything contributes to the entire product when it comes together. Even in the realm of extreme flatness, we were determined to make a watch that met the same validation requirements as all our other models,” says Salvador Arbona, technical director for movements at Richard Mille. “In this quest for absolute flatness, we had to offer a watch that, far from being a concept watch, was up to the task of following a user’s daily life, whatever the circumstances.”
As the watch is meant for everyday use, weight and comfort were key factors. Titanium was an obvious choice because of its lightness and ability to withstand an onslaught of laboratory-monitored strength tests. “We’ve never tested a watch the way this one was,” says Mathys. The total watch, including its strap, weighs just under 30g. Richard Mille enthusiasts would remember how there has been only one watch in the brand’s history that has proven lighter — Rafael Nadal’s 18g
RM 027 tourbillon, which the Spanish tennis legend has proudly sported since 2010.
For aesthetes, the futuristic-looking RM UP-01 is also shaped a little differently from other traditional tonneau-style Richard Mille timepieces — more Tank Divan than Tank, if one were to use a Cartier-inspired analogy. Certain automotive aficionados have also commented on how the case resembles a car’s dashboard.
In it to win it
It is also no secret that founder Richard Mille is passionate about motor racing himself and his eponymous brand has enjoyed a long friendship with Ferrari. Many parallels may also be drawn between the brands. Both are industry leaders with a dedicated following, with the words “exclusivity”, “independence” and “high craftsmanship” figuring strongly in their equations. Oh, and lest one forgets this is a Richard Mille x Ferrari timepiece, a laser engraving of the iconic cavallino rampante (prancing horse) logo, the proud symbol of the sports car manufacturer as well as its racing division, features prominently on the right-hand side of the dial. Should you happen to have a magnification loupe in hand, be sure to observe the logo up close. The workmanship is so fine you will be able to see the musculature on the animal’s body.
“It’s a dream for us to be here at Maranello,” said Mille in his opening speech after the cocktail session, with Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz in attendance — much to the delight of the assembled guests. Sainz was there fresh from his first Grand Prix win at Silverstone, which saw him becoming only the second Spaniard to win an F1 race after Fernando Alonso.
“We love competition, we love everything that is based on performance,” Mille continued. “What is fantastic is that Ferrari won its image from the battlefields. Ferrari stands for competition, performance, high technicality, and this is also what we are aiming for. We love performance. We like to go to the limits. And, sometimes, beyond the limits!” A point that the RM UP-01 Ferrari’s birth so clearly proved.
This article first appeared on July 18, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.