I discuss with Theodore Diehl about luxury independent watch brand Richard Mille’s expertise in the field of tourbillons.
Why have tourbillon watches become one of Richard Mille’s specialties?
The tourbillon escapement is one of the most difficult to make, so it is already in itself a sign of high quality and watchmaking prowess. This fits the brand’s goal of being at the pinnacle of watchmaking. With more than 85 components weighing a total of only 0.436 grams in a space smaller than a cubic centimeter, it is a remarkable feat to manufacture and extremely difficult for the watchmakers to assemble.
With the RM 017 Tourbillon Extra Flat that came out in 2011, why did Richard Mille decide to make its first tourbillon in a rectangular case?
As a brand, we never want to be pigeonholed. Although the curvaceous tonneau shape is visually exceptional and recognized as a Richard Mille even at a distance, it is in the end only one of many case forms that we have mastered. The RM 017 Tourbillon Extra Flat, inspired by the rectangular case of the RM 016, was an expression of this philosophy. This same approach can be seen throughout all of our collections, from ultra-light sports watches in modern materials to the use of precious metals, round diver’s watches, ladies’ watches in different sizes and with different functions, high jewelry pieces, watches for track and field, the golf course and racetrack… We want our clients to be able to find their heart’s desire in every possible variant of function and case design within the brand’s offerings.
How did you successfully combine the worlds of art and technology to craft the RM 19-02 Tourbillon Fleur? What were the biggest challenges in creating the flying tourbillon movement with a flower that opens and closes and a stamen that rises 1mm?
It is important to remember that the most artistic creations in watchmaking are always born from technical mastery, whether it concerns the traditional mastery of a centuries-old craft or a new technical approach to achieve a special effect. Both of these areas were united in the RM 19-02 Tourbillon Fleur. All of the gold and enamel work was executed using techniques that are thousands of years old, yet the movement is a modern masterpiece that is unlike anything else seen in watchmaking history. The coordination of each flower petal’s motion, the creation of the on-demand possibility to open and close the flower, the energy requirements of the flower together with the raising of the tourbillon without influencing the demands of accurate timekeeping… The problems that needed to be solved were simply staggering, especially when you take into account the small space within which everything must function perfectly!
Tell us about the craftsmanship techniques incorporated in the RM 26-02 Tourbillon Evil Eye by the engraving and enamel artisans from Olivier Vaucher whom you worked with.
All of the raised relief work you see in this timepiece is created by hand in solid gold using very small, specially-designed tools of course, often with the help of a microscope. After the shape is perfectly executed, it is further treated with grand feu enameling. This is what gives the eye its striking depth and realism. In this very artisanal craft, the motif is painted with various rare oxides in liquid suspension that are dried and then fired at a high temperature, between 800°C and 900°C, several times under the extremely attentive eye of the enameler. This makes the original oxide colors become as hard as glass and forever permanent. The surfaces are then finished with several more layers of transparent lacquer, which are also fired in the same way. These multiple layers collectively create an exquisite visual depth that cannot be achieved by any other means.
What were the greatest difficulties in gem-setting you encountered on the RM 51-02 Tourbillon Diamond Twister, and were any new innovative techniques used?
The Diamond Twister is made using known setting techniques, but with a challenge: the problem was the incredibly small dimensions of each “twist”, as it were. Because the diamonds have almost the same width as the precious metal, it is very easy to deform the metal if the artisan is not concentrating every moment as he works on it. Therefore, it was a very demanding job for the setter, even though the basic techniques used are part of every high-level stone setter’s palette of working methods.
With the RM 71-01 Automatic Tourbillon Talisman, tell me about your brand’s commitment to women’s watches, and the direction Cécile Guenat has taken your ladies’ collections since she joined in 2015. Why launch the brand’s very first automatic tourbillon movement in a women’s timepiece?
Actually, we have been producing ladies’ watches almost since the company’s founding; many collectors often forget this and usually only remember the men’s watches. What is different today, however, is that the brand has enlarged and added numerous variations in movements, case materials, colors, strap materials, strap configurations and combinations to the ladies’ collections. Cécile Guenat’s work is an essential part of this development and her work proves that we are deeply committed to the future of women at the brand. I would add that the new ladies’ tourbillon caliber is yet another example of this commitment and a reflection of the fact that women today are becoming more and more interested in the mechanical aspects of watchmaking.