What makes a Richard Mille watch do. damn. expensive? Are they novelty items, easily dismissed as the purview of the (extremely) rich and famous — or are they worthy of the hype, true works of art that defy trend and imagination? The answer is probably: yes.
Take the new RM 27-04 Tourbillon Rafael Nadal, for example. A limited edition of 50 watches, it celebrates the 10-year partnership between the Spanish tennis champion and watchmaker Richard Mille. Colorful, funky-looking and futuristic, it's typical RM fare — but why the $1,000,050 price tag?
Tourbillon-equipped watches are already expensive objects, typically costing tens of thousands of dollars. (The tourbillon, which was developed by famed watchmaker Abraham Louis Breguet, is meant to counteract the effects of gravity on a watch's movement.) But this tourbillon — along with the rest of the watch's movement — is suspended within the watch case in a micro-blasted, stainless steel mesh composed of a single cable just .27mm in diameter and affixed to two PVD-treated, 5N gold tensioners.
Mimicking the design of a tennis rocket (one presumes the similarity is intentional), it makes for a watch that looks like something Spiderman would wear. The cable is anchored to one tensioner at 5 o'clock, criss-crossed around the dial space and through the Grade 5 titanium bezel, and then anchored to a second tensioner at 1o o'clock. If you paid attention to those two directional numbers, you'll realize this means that the movement is oriented diagonally, suspended within the mesh by five Grade 5 titanium hooks protruding from the base plate.
Why this unconventional design? Well, it turns out that such a design can withstand accelerations in excess of 12,000 Gs, which is a record for the brand and means that Nadal can swat away without breaking his tourbillon — surely a concern that was never on a tennis player's radar before Richard Mille came along, but a concern nonetheless. And the novelty doesn't end there: the RM 27-04 weighs just 30 grams including the strap, housed in a case made of an exclusive material called TitaCarb. One of the world's most resistant polymers, TitaCarb is a high-performance polyamide (a synthetic polymer) strengthened with carbon fiber content.
So, what's the final word — is the RM 27-04 Tourbillon Rafael Nadal haute horlogerie? Is it art? Is it pure novelty, given both its design (impressive, but entirely unnecessary) or its price (excessive, no doubt even considering the watch's R&D costs)? Probably all of the above. But ultimately, we're talking about a mechanical wristwatch — a technology surpassed in accuracy by a $1 battery and a $10 movement long before many Gear Patrol readers were born. Anything mechanical is long since suspect in its necessary-ness, so we may as well enjoy them for what they are: sources of wonder and fascination.