Richard Mille’s RM56: the Watch that Shouldn’t be Worn
Richard Mille has crossed into a new frontier. Yet again. With the first release of the RM001 for his eponymous brand in 2001, Mille redefined how a watch could be considered and constructed. Drawing from the design of Formula 1 cars and aviation, he presented a timepiece with innards more resembling a car or an airplane than a traditional watch. He also threw financial caution to the wind, building one that didn’t take cost into mind. It was the artistic execution and realization of vision that drove the creation not the final price tag.
With the RM56 Mille presents another surprise and questions the industry to expand its definition. Certainly the complete sapphire construction of the case RM56 and the eyebrow raising price tag of 1.65 million bring immediate attention and focus. Though the hot topic of conversation, these are not the most interesting aspects of the watch. It’s what the construction and price tag of the watch communicate about what a watch is and can be.
By definition, a wristwatch was created as a functional tool to tell time. There’s no question it’s also a palette of artistic expression, exemplified by Vacheron Constantin’s Metier d’Art collection, Cartier’s expressive dials and Van Cleef and Arpels Poetic Complications, as seen this year in the charming “Poetic Wish.”
Richard Mille seems to be questioning the purpose of the watch altogether and the environment it calls home. Almost exclusively a watch resides on the wrist. With the RM56, Mille pushes the wristwatch into the realm of decorative art. Perching under a spotlight in the vitrine at Mille’s booth at the Palexpo during SIHH 2012, the sapphire queen drew crowds of ogling patrons marveling at its intricate construction. The whole purpose of SIHH is for retailers and journalists to handle the novelties and get a close up view. With few exceptions the RM56 stayed comfortably posing for photographers like an invaluable artwork behind its display glass.
Without question the RM56 tells time and functions as a watch. Based on the RM008 movement, the RM56 boasts in addition to hours and minutes, power reserve, function and torque indicators, and a complex split-seconds chrono—but it’s 20% lighter than the original movement, necessitating redesigning over 400 parts. In order to accommodate the movement, the crystal is made from three individually carved and milled pieces of sapphire crystal, which takes over 1000 hours of work, and comes in a limited edition of 5 pieces.
But the real issue is the practicality of taking the watch out for a wrist spin in public. I would argue the RM56 is more a kinetic sculpture meant to be exhibited and admired rather than worn. While sapphire crystal is a scratch-resistant material used to protect the dials of watches, it’s not particularly strong. In fact it’s quite brittle and can break when placed under stress. One wrong move, a knock against a desk or doorway or a drop to the floor, and OOPS! The RM56—and your 1.65 million dollars—is a memory in shattered sapphire.
The RM56 is meant to be admired and contemplated like a painting, and perhaps, on an occasion, taken out of its showcase for careful examination.
What really would’ve been cool is if the RM 56, was accompanied by a nice vitrine or at least a recommendation for a good watch framer
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