An athlete or politician spotted wearing a Richard Mille watch will often raise eyebrows and make headlines. Why? Not only because of the watches' brash and polarizing designs but also because they can cost over a million dollars.

For those unfamiliar with the world of ultra-high-end watches, it raises a number of questions: How can a watch cost so much? Who can actually afford such a thing, and how? One is kind of forced to ask: what's the deal with Richard Mille? Here's what you need to know about this famous brand and its bonkers watches.

What kind of watches does Richard Mille make?

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Richard Mille Commercial Director and the founder’s son, Alex Mille.
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"If I have to describe our watches," says Alex Mille, the brand's Commercial Director and the founder's son, "I would say that we stop at no limit. We just go to the end of our concept. There's no compromise."

Richard Mille spares no expense, effort or imagination in making some of the world's most impressive, complicated and wildly technical watches. And though it isn't alone in its price range or in its ultra-modern approach to watchmaking, it's come to represent ostentatious lifestyles of the superrich and famous more than almost any other watch company.

In terms of watchmaking, the brand falls within a realm typically known by a French term: haute horlogerie, or "high watchmaking." Avant-garde designs with skeletonized (or openworked) dials and movements are common at this level, and so is expert hand finishing down to the complicated clockwork's last tiny component — and this is exactly what you can expect from a Richard Mille watch.

All that combined with the brand's technical (often colorful and extremely lightweight) materials and over-the-top designs results in an unmistakable look: Richard Mille's core DNA including its signature tonneau case shape was firmly established with its debut model from 2001, the RM-001 Tourbillon. There's relatively traditional watchmaking at this level for the classical-at-heart, but much of Richard Mille's designs, engineering and clientele are, fittingly, connected to the world of supercars.

Why are Richard Mille Watches so expensive?

Luxury watch pricing is a complicated topic, but Alex Mille points to one primary factor (that entails other factors): "The reason has, for me, always been very easy to explain: it's time, the time that it takes to develop those pieces. We put absolutely no limits in the time that it will take to develop a watch, and when you are doing everything in Switzerland with Swiss people, each day has a cost."

What exactly does that mean? In a country with a high cost of living like Switzerland, where Richard Mille watches are made, highly trained and specialized technicians and craftspeople don't come cheap. Alex Mille explains that many elements are developed from the ground up for each reference rather than building on existing models, as would be expected from most manufacturers.

A watch will be prototyped a number of times; many components have a high rejection rate; a small change can mean another year before production; many models are in development for years. A tourbillon on any watch often means a six-figure price, and many Richard Mille watches feature them.

Then, there's the matter of actually producing, hand-finishing and assembling the hundreds of tiny components that comprise each watch. There are also other factors and expenses, of course, so you can see how it would all add up. But to these prices?

Richard Mille watch prices aren't merely the sum of its costs, as the company naturally has to make money, too. Any brand will set prices based on what the market will bear, and Richard Mille largely serves an I've-got-millions-to-burn-and-want-to-make-it-known demographic — the mere fact of the brand being synonymous with "expensive" is no doubt part of the attraction to many. The brand makes around 5,000 watches per year and estimates around 54,000 are in existence across 140 references as of 2022.

Alex Mille doesn't wear a Richard Mille watch himself, as they've got clients waiting to get their hands on them. "We have less than one watch per boutique in stock," he complains, "so that's an issue."

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Richard Mille RM 11-03 McLaren Prototype for Only Watch 2019 on the author’s wrist. Richard Mille watches offer shockingly good ergonomics despite often generous dimensions.
Zen Love

How much do Richard Mille watches cost?

So, how expensive are we talking? Richard Mille watches start with a few examples in upper five-figure territory but the majority cost somewhere within six figures — and there are other watchmakers operating in this range, from independent artisans to big, historic brands. The upper ranges of Richard Mille prices can be tougher to pin down. Many pieces are produced in very small production batches and are sold before they're even publicly available. But there are regularly watches with an official price over $1 million, and even those over $2.5 million.

Even within the realm of prestigious Swiss brands' most elevated and impressive watchmaking, Richard Mille's retail prices are at the high end. The world of vintage watches and auctions can get even crazier.

Who wears Richard Mille watches?

Us regular folks can sometimes forget how much money exists in the world, but according to Forbes, there were 2,668 billionaires in the world as of 2022. There are yet many more individuals who perhaps have "merely" hundreds of millions. For them, a $20k Rolex might not feel (or look) very special — they need something to save up for and splurge on and show off with, too, and Richard Mille is there for their retail therapy.

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A Richard Mille ambassador, tennis champion Rafael Nadal famously wears the brand’s watches while playing professional matches.
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Yes, some of those people are celebrities, and high-profile ambassadors from the likes of Rafael Nadal and Felipe Massa to Jackie Chan have played an important part in the brand's status and visibility.

Obviously, they are among the type of people who can afford to buy such watches. But the ones who choose to do so are cut from many cloths. Some are perhaps baller playboys that are in it for the bling factor, while others are private collectors drawn to the impressive watchmaking (and who perhaps also own a garage full of Lamborghinis) — and everything in between.

"They are all kinds of nationalities, and every client is very different from one another," Alex Mille says. "You have all types of people. You have the very discreet family man that just enjoys the mechanics and loves our no-compromise approach. You have the successful businessman that likes the very colorful pieces that we do. You have the huge watch collector that loves our most discrete pieces like the 67-01."

You can actually spot Richard Mille watches being worn out in the world sometimes, if you're in the right places — like Miami Beach. When you do, it's a good bet that person owns more expensive watches and perhaps even other Richard Milles. That's the kind of person who wears these watches.