Review: Richard Mille RM033
There’s no mistaking a Richard Mille. Big, brash and expensive—putting it mildly—to call a Richard Mille watch a statement piece is like saying Alpha Centauri is quite far away. This RM033 is an attempt to bring some normality to the format—but this thing is anything but normal. It’s also £65,000.
There aren’t many of us with the means to buy a £65,000 watch. Conversely, there are a surprising number of watches that cost that or more. The RM033 is one of them. It’s a time-only watch, a big one at that, spanning over 45mm across. For the price you could have two, yes two, Patek Philippe 5146R annual calendars, or if you saved a few quid more, an entire 5327R perpetual calendar.
And that’s compared to Patek Philippe, a brand which, let’s not forget, has one hundred and sixty years on Richard Mille and is perhaps the most well-respected and recognised high-end watchmaker in the world. It’s a brand that’s been a major contributor to the way watches exist today, establishing technical benchmarks that would not have come about without them. Richard Mille? Not so much.
If you were to spend your £65,000 elsewhere, say with Jaeger-LeCoultre, your budget would acquire you one of the most hallowed curiosities in watchmaking, the tourbillon. The RM033, by comparison, has two hands, hours and minutes. It doesn’t even have a date.
And although you could say, quite rightly, that there’s a tier above Jaeger-LeCoultre in terms of ultimate quality and finish in watchmaking, that £65,000 will still easily fetch you all the quality and finish you could ever want or need. The 1815 Chronograph from A. Lange & Söhne, one the most beautiful feats of watchmaking ever created, will actually leave you with enough change to get an Up/Down for the weekend as well. Find an extra £10,000—and really, if you’re spending this much you probably could—and you’ll land yourself the revered Datograph.
There’s not a single aspect of watchmaking that the Richard Mille RM033 wins out on. The calibre RMXP1 can’t compete with the best on finishing, complexity, spec, value—anything really. It’s not even a Richard Mille movement, it’s a Vaucher 5401—albeit modified beyond all recognition. Vaucher is owned and operated by the same company that manufactures Parmigiani, and produce some of the best examples of watchmaking in the world, but still—Patek Philippe makes Patek Philippes and no-one else. It’s quite the shortfall. If you think about it, there’s no logical reason to buy one whatsoever. But here’s the thing: people do, and do so repeatedly. Why?
When the first Richard Mille watch hit the scene in 2001, it was like nothing else. Although eponymous founder Richard Mille had nothing to do with the watch’s actual manufacture—he enlisted the help of renowned movement architects Renaud et Papi—the RM001, the first Richard Mille watch, blew people’s minds.
Don’t forget, this was a time when watches didn’t have sapphire case backs, when tourbillons—which had only recently been reintroduced to watchmaking—were kept hidden, delicate instruments that needed careful treatment; when the Patek Philippe Calatrava was tiny and the Aquanaut considered a monstrosity. So, imagine the reaction when the RM001, a front-loaded tourbillon that took more inspiration from industry than it did watchmaking, made its debut.
And the price! That was the biggest statement of all. This was before the crazy million-pound watches of today, and its plus-£100,000 price—double that of the next most expensive tourbillon—was like nothing ever seen before. This was the first watch from a complete unknown, there wasn’t a drop of gold in sight and yet the entry fee was beyond eye-watering. Was it a failure? Quite the opposite.
What the RM001 did was shake up an industry that had grown too comfortable with itself. It demonstrated that there could be more to watchmaking than just plain old timepieces with simple but well-executed finishing, and boy did it demonstrate it. It was such a gamechanger that if you want an RM001 now, you’re going to have to pay twice the original asking price for it.
Remind you of anything else? Twenty-nine years earlier, owner of RM001 collaborator Renaud et Papi released a watch that did something very similar. I’m talking about the Royal Oak, designed and priced with just one thing in mind: making a statement. No in-house movement, no precious metals, a kick in the pants for a stale industry—the parallels are as striking as the way the two watches look. In fact, it was the year after the launch of the RM001 that Audemars Piguet introduced its forward-thinking Royal Oak Offshore Concept.
And so here we are with the RM033. It may be a little more sedate and “normal”—if you can say such a thing about it—than the original RM001, but remember what I said at the beginning: there’s no mistaking a Richard Mille. If this is what you want, this distinctive and—let’s face it—iconic aesthetic that we now see copied by some of the most important watchmakers of all time, it has to come from its source—Richard Mille. You’ll pay for it—boy will you pay for it—but there’s just no other way.
That Richard Mille has made such an impact in such a short space of time is telling of its achievements. If the RM033 is a modern watch, the approach of Richard Mille is modern watchmaking; it’s never been about tradition and heritage and all the things that were strangling watchmaking in the ‘00s—it’s about what comes after all that. If you count the pounds, shillings and pence, the RM033 is never going to be worth the purchase, nowhere close—but if you value the excitement it brings back to watchmaking, it’s worth every single penny.
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