Although Richard Mille might be best known for its extremely technical, sporty timepieces (think tennis champion Rafael Nadal wearing his $725,000 watch during major tennis tournaments), its ladies’ watches are beginning to grab more attention, thanks to the combination of beauty and brains.
For its ladies’ collection director Cécile Guenat’s debut, the house released its first-ever automatic tourbillon, RM 71-01 Automatic Tourbillon Talisman. A former jewelry designer, Guenat brings a new visual identity to the timepieces, while keeping them instantly recognizable as a Richard Mille. Come into its Swiss workshops to see how these incredible timepieces were created.
Without traditional watch training, Guenat brought a purely fine-jewelry approach to her design, which is fitting since many women consider their watches to be pieces of jewelry (especially when studded with diamonds).
Guenat was so inspired by the new movement, which had been in development for several years, that she came up with not one but 10 different designs. Each shares an Art Deco aesthetic featuring strong geometric lines and a color palette of diamond, black sapphire, mother-of-pearl and onyx, as well as a traditional tonneau-shaped case, but each dial and case design is different.
The skeletonized movement weighs just 8g, thanks to its ultra-light titanium components, and it has a 50-hour power reserve. It’s quite robust and designed for everyday wear. But it’s not just functional: The variable-geometry rotor is gem-set with diamonds, and components have been chamfered and polished by hand.
Most watch dials are flat (even engraved dials have an even height), so that the hands can easily move above it. Guenat wanted to play with volume and use different planes on the dials, which required employing jewelry techniques and dial specialists.
The specialist dial makers claimed they had never used this number of artistic crafts in one piece before, requiring diamond setting, inlaying of mother-of-pearl and onyx, 3D micromachining, polishing and sandblasting. If an error was made at any point in the process, the complete dial was scrapped and the artisans began again.
Each of the 10 designs has a different diamond pattern, ranging from circles to triangles and stripes, some alternating polished gold with pavé and snow-set diamonds.
The designs are so intricate that it took nine months for a full-time team to finish five pieces. In the Geneva workshop, each 18K white or pink gold case was marked by machine, then the diamonds were set and adjusted by hand, with artisans reworking the machined metal to secure the stones and achieve the perfect look.
Looking at the 10 designs together, it’s almost as if you’re seeing a new high-jewelry collection that happens to have a superb movement within. Each version is limited to five pieces, so they have the exclusivity of haute couture as well.