High-end watchmaking has always gone hand-in-hand with long-standing heritage—but Richard Mille has managed to earn its place in the ranks of ultra-luxury brands, despite being a comparatively young contender. Although only founded in 1999, the French watchmaker has packed a lot into the last 17 years.
Entrepreneur Richard Mille had already cultivated a prolific career in watchmaking before he founded the brand that would come to bear his name. Having started out at the small French watchmaker Finhor in 1974, Mille ultimately became the manager of the watchmaking branch at Matra, the jeweller that bought out the smaller company in 1981. A few years later, he moved on to the chic jewellery brand Mauboussin to once again take charge of the watchmaking division—but Mille’s feet were still itching.
With this foundation in exquisitely designed jewellery and quality watchmaking, Richard Mille took a leap into the unknown and founded his own company in 1999—but it would take another two years before the debut of its first timepiece.
The RM001—created in collaboration with Renaud et Papi, Audemars Piguet’s development arm—was a groundbreaking watch, advertised as ‘a racing machine on the wrist’. A tourbillon, the movement was exposed for all to admire within an intriguingly curved tonneau-shaped case. It combined ergonomic, architectural design with new technical advancements, and it gave new meaning to the term ‘exclusive’.
The RM001 was the realisation of the Richard Mille mission to redefine tradition and create something new and revolutionary, while still being of exceptional quality. Over the next few years, more complications were added to the company’s repertoire with every subsequent model. The RM003 was not only a tourbillon watch, but also featured dual time zones—while the RM004 offered up a split-seconds chronograph.
This piece also began what would become a close association with the glittering world of A-listers, from sports personalities to Hollywood stars. It was named after the Brazilian F1 driver Felipe Massa, who would wear his namesake during races—and even during his dramatic crash at the 2004 Canadian Grand Prix. The watch emerged, like the driver, miraculously unharmed.
The RM007, released in 2005, was the brand’s first ladies’ watch—and the company would go on to create special pieces for actresses Natalie Portman and Michelle Yeoh. A partnership with luxury sailing yacht retailer Perini Navi spawned the nautical-themed RM014, and over the next few years, further collaborations with sportsmen and actors—tennis star Rafael Nadal and actor Jackie Chan, to name drop just a few—would follow.
But the brand wasn’t just impressing the celebrity crowd. It had proven its watchmaking clout, becoming a member of the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie in 2007, and winning the Golden Hand award that same year—the most prestigious prize at the Grand Prix de l’Haute Horlogerie.
As well as experimenting with case shapes and sizes, the brand has eagerly embraced cutting-edge materials used in sports and aerospace—as with the RM009, which featured a baseplate made from ALUSIC, an alloy used in satellites. The RM056, released in an incredibly limited number in 2012, came in an all-sapphire crystal case which, according to its creator, took an incredible 1,000 hours to produce.
The brand’s stratospheric rise doesn’t look to be stopping any time soon. Despite everything Richard Mille has accomplished since its inception, it’s a story is still very much in the first few opening chapters—only time will tell what's next.