For 15 years Richard Mille has been shaking up the timewear world with his hi-tech designs, and in his terrible teens this independent watchmaker hasn't done surprising us. Happy Birthday Mr Mille!
COTE: Fifteen is something of a rebellious age! How are you taking it?
Richard Mille: I took the risk of doing things exactly as I wanted to, without factoring in security. In all honesty, it's an amazing feeling to have got where we are. It's always nice to see where the brand sits in fine watchmaking, up there with the biggest names.
Being independent makes you a free spirit in a highly structured field, do you like that?
Of course, being independent is the only possible way of working; it's the key to our success. I shoulder the responsibility for all the decisions and I work with a motivated team who shares my passion. So we react very quickly to new trends and always stay ahead of the field.
Selling six-figure watches that are unconventional in design takes some doing, doesn't it?
It's easily explained: I've developed a niche in which there was no competition. Enthusiasts look for something unprecedented, modern and truly different. Our first watch was given an amazing reception, as if it was expected, and the brand very quickly found its audience.
How would you sum up these 15 years?
I'm proud to have opened fine watchmaking up to totally innovative concepts – 15 years ago there was nothing remotely like our watches. Our tourbillons with cases and titanium components, our first use of carbon nanofibre, a torque indicator, a function selector, a split-seconds movement – I could go on... We set the pace and now more watchmakers are taking risks and trialling innovations.
You've a fine team of ambassadors, how do you choose them?
Watchmaking is always in the spotlight so has to open up to the world, art, sport, lifestyles. I love pitting our products against concrete difficulties, that's why the disciplines we choose involve extreme sports in which mechanical watches are pushed to their limits. I'm fascinated by off-the-scale people who have a new vision, determination and a romantic side. Observe, reflect, take the plunge and go for it – a method that works! With our ambassadors we experiment, they're a human testing laboratory.
Who are Richard Mille customers?
Our clients look for something exclusive, different; they'll be enthusiastic about anything that shakes up the norms. Richard Mille clients aren't looking for social acceptance, they're true connoisseurs with a long-standing, well-informed interest in watchmaking. We venture into unexpected territories and people driven by that same passion understand us.
Tell us about this year's new products. What are the stand-outs?
We presented three new ones at the SIHH*: a very elegant extra-flat automatic watch, the RM 67-01, a split-seconds chronograph, the RM 50-02 ACJ Tourbillon conceived in collaboration with Airbus Corporate Jets, and an incredible mechanical fountain pen, the RMS05. Later in the year we'll be launching others – don't miss them!
In these hard times only a handful of watchmakers are doing well and even creating jobs.
If you continue making contemporary new watches and accept you have to take risks you can do well even in the present climate. We just do everything possible to ensure we respect and maintain a personal relationship with our clients, without ever becoming over-confident. Perhaps that's why 2015 was a record year for us despite all the troubles agitating the world today.
What are your next challenges?
I can't reveal our new projects, you'll have to wait a few weeks! But I can tell you there'll be a lot and that we're going to be moving into new fields of action.
Your day-to-day motto?
Nothing is impossible to achieve, there's always a solution!
The SIHH* spotlighted independent watchmakers, what's your opinion on that?
It should have been done years ago! We must be open to all serious creativeness, however small the scale. What's more these artisans are maintaining traditions and knowhow. Even though our work is futuristic, in our watches you'll find all sorts of hand finishing and details based on traditional techniques. I'm delighted the independents are preserving these principles for future generations. Richard Mille is one of the very few independent watchmakers in Switzerland, and consequently we face the same challenges.
* Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie.