In 2010 luxury watchmaker Richard Mille partnered with superstar professional tennis player Rafael Nadal to create what can only be described as a worldwide sensation. The cause of all the fuss at the time was of course the newly announced RM 027 Tourbillon, an incredibly complex timepiece so light (weighing in at just 20 grams with the strap on!) that Nadal would actually wear it during all of his future matches.
Demonstrating that rare combination of marketing an engineering ingenuity, Richard Mille successfully elevated the role of the humble Brand Ambasador and in doing so ensured that every time Nadal stepped out onto the court millions of eyes would be watching not only his racket but also his wrist.
Of course the watch’s US$500,000+ price tag also helped raise a few eyebrows along the way, after all who in their right mind would wear something so expensive (and presumably so fragile) for a spirited match of tennis? Here again we must credit Mr. Mille not only for this innovative thinking but also for his flair for showmanship. You see, despite housing one of the most complex and delicate mechanisms in watching (aka the tourbillon), the RM-027 is anything but fragile.
For a start the movement baseplate is made from Titanium and LITAL® alloy, a high lithium content alloy containing aluminum, copper, magnesium and zirconium, possessing a density of 2.55. The addition of Lithium, one of the lightest elements, to the alloy mixture, provides great strength without adding unnecessary weight. It is for this same reason that this particular alloy is also used in the aerospace industry in the construction of the Airbus A380, helicopters, rockets and satellites, as well as in F1 racing cars.
That wasn’t enough though. To ensure absolute structural integrity, the case, composed of a composite containing large amounts of carbon, provides a tough and resilient enclosure for the tourbillon movement at its center. The back bezel and caseband are monobloc to ensure total lightness. The glass; the bezel and the flange in carbon have remarkable properties of stiffness and torsional rigidity. Suffice to say this is one very light, very strong watch.
The problem however is that only 50 of these original pieces, each carrying an astronomical price tag of US$525,000, thus putting them out of reach of all but the most affluent enthusiasts. The follow up RM 27-01 launched in 2013 (also limited to 50 pieces) was arguably even cooler than the original but, much to the dismay of fans worldwide, remained equally inaccessible with a ticket price in excess of US$600,000.
Then, just when it seemed like all hope was lost a miracle (of sorts) happened. At the 2014 edition of the SIHH, Richard Mille officially unveiled the new RM 35-01, also known as the ‘Baby Nadal’ watch.
The Richard Mille RM 35-01 ‘Baby Nadal’
At first glance the new RM 35-01 does not really seem to share much in common with its nearest sibling – the aforementioned RM 27-01 – other than a similar black, red and yellow color scheme. That’s because it is a completely different watch, with a new case and of course a new movement, which you will note does not feature a tourbillon.
To be honest I found that last bit a little disappointing at first. After all, one of the coolest things about Nadal’s watch is that it features a tourbillon capable of withstanding the incredible shocks he obviously subjects it to on a routine basis. That being said, it seems it would not have been economically feasible to offer this feature in the RM 35-01 whilst at the same time keeping the price point with reason (relatively speaking of course.)
Tourbillon absence aside however the RM 35-01 still manages to fit plenty of innovative technology into a very small, very lightweight package. For a start the case is constructed using the exclusive NTPT® technology developed and first unveiled late last year.
According to Richard Mille, NTPT® carbon is composed of multiple layers of parallel filaments obtained by dividing carbon fibers. These layers with a maximum thickness of 30 microns are impregnated with resin and then woven on a special machine that modifies the direction of the weft by 45° between layers. Heated to 120° at a pressure of 6 bars, the NTPT® is then ready to be processed on a CNC machine.
This complex process results in a unique, super-strong carbon case that looks and feels great. In fact it’s almost freaky how light the watch feels on the wrist, and you quickly forget that you’re wearing anything at all.
It’s not just the case though that makes the RM 35-01 so light. Like the RM 27 series that came before it, the RM 35-01 is equipped with its own super lightweight movement. The skeletonized manual-wind RMUL3 Calibre weighs in at all of about 4 grams and is effectively suspended in the middle of the case, secured only by several key anchor points at each corner. It features a double-barrel system and offers approximately 55 hours of power in reserve when fully wound.
Don’t let the seemingly simplistic construction fool you though as the movement is still exceptionally strong and impact resistant, with the baseplate, bridges and balance cock all made from black PVD treated, Grade 5 titanium. The only downside is that the caseback is solid, which does increase the overall strength of the case but unfortunately does not allow for the uninterrupted views of the back of the suspended movement, which I imagine would’ve been pretty cool.
The sporty looking RM 35-01 will be offered on a rubber strap (to keep the weight down of course) and best of all will retail for a much more reasonable (again, relatively speaking) US$130,000. It should be available in stores in July 2014 but my sources tell me that unless you’ve already pre-ordered yours, you’re going to be in for a lengthy wait.