Richard Mille opens up about watchmaking

The man who spends seven to eight years on a watch feels the luxury business is artificial and spills on how he got Nadal as a brand ambassador.

December 4, 2016

The Frenchman is a relative newcomer to the luxury watch market but is already one of its major players. Mille spoke to EDGAR about his brand’s relationship with Rafael Nadal and why making watches is “blood and tears”.

What do you think of the luxury watch market today?
I think the luxury business in general is very artificial. The packaging is more interesting than the product sometimes. It’s mass production that tries to please everybody.

How long do your watches spend in development?
Sometimes seven or eight years. Of course that affects the price. People ask me sometimes, how come a watch can cost so much? So I explain the process to them and the tons of development that it takes to produce just two pieces. Producing watches is blood and tears. There’s a French phrase we use: ‘the mountain gave birth to a mouse.’

Your brand is still young but you have quickly gained respect. How pleasing is that?
Yes, we’ve been in business for 15 years, so we are still a teenager. I had to work hard to be respected, and today we are very respected. I feel that brands with amazing history sometimes use it as a ‘pillow of laziness’ as they say. People sleep on their legitimacy. We are the youngest brand but we have the best technical experience.

How did your collaboration with Rafael Nadal begin?
When we first talked, Rafa was not willing to enter into a discussion about wearing a watch during a match. He refused at first. But he loved the brand. 

Why did you choose him?
He is considered to be a very physical player; he’s similar to the golfer Bubba Watson [another Richard Mille ambassador] who hits the ball a very long way. I do extreme watches for extreme conditions and I love to put my watches in danger so I chose Nadal. I like to go to the battlefield! 

Complicated watches aren’t typically seen as being compatible with sport, are they?
People say you should never wear a tourbillon to play golf, but I say no. I believe you can have a very sophisticated, complex watch that is also easy to wear. I love extreme complexity combined with everyday use, I love that. And Nadal is the perfect instrument for those two elements.

What do you remember about the first watch you made for Nadal?
Ha! Nadal said he wanted it to be extremely light, shock resistant, and comfortable. He said, “I don’t want to feel it, I want it to feel like a second skin.” I went to the factory and told my developers I wanted to make a watch under 20g. My technical director said I needed a holiday, and that I must be tired to ask such a crazy challenge. But we succeeded. The watch weighed 18g.

Did Nadal like that first model?
I gave him the first prototype to train with in July 2009, with the idea that we would launch it at the 2010 French Open. He broke five watches playing tennis – he smashed them up!

Is the collaboration going to continue?
Yes, we just signed a new ten-year deal. I was in Monte Carlo recently and I was chatting with the driver who drives all the tennis players around. I asked him who was the nicest player and he said Rafa because he always asks ‘how are you?’ I saw him training in Paris once and afterwards watched him sign autographs for kids for one hour. Rafa is a fantastic, beautiful person.

Have you ever played a game of tennis with him?
No – just BabyFoot!