The Beckertime Rivalry Series: Patek Philippe Versus Richard Mille
Yes, I know! This week we’re comparing Richard Mille and Patek Philippe. What’s next? Trying to choose between a Rembrandt and a Banksy?
In Watch World™, no brand is more traditional than Patek or more hypermodern and disruptive than Mille. So why would we pick these two for a head-to-head?
Well, even though at first glance there wouldn’t seem to be too much to look at, there are actually plenty of similarities. Each one is at the pinnacle of acclaim in their own particular sphere of the industry, regardless of how far removed those spheres might be from one another. Both have caused seismic shifts in horology, completely altering the watchmaking landscape and contributing massively to where it is today. And just about every model either manufacture brings out can be described as a statement piece and, if we’re being crude about it, really really expensive!
The fact that their respective creations are miles apart in looks and function is, in some respects, neither here nor there. What we are dealing with are two of the most influential and downright remarkable players in the business, so let’s get into it in a bit more detail.
The Beckertime Rivalry Series: Patek Philippe Versus Richard Mille: Collections
As we’ve alluded to, the collections of watches offered by these two titans couldn’t really be any more dissimilar—visually at any rate.
The majority of Patek’s models are housed in the classic round case, albeit in various sizes and with a variety of lug styles. Obviously there are exceptions, most notably the Nautilus, contender for the title of most important sports watch ever made, and its follow-up, the Aquanaut. These are based around octagonal forms, but are still somewhat rounded in shape.
The bulk of the Mille portfolio, on the other hand, is styled around a unique and immensely convoluted, multipart tonneau case of their own design known as the Tripartite. Whereas other brands take their vision from watchmaking’s own rich heritage, Mille looked to the arenas of F1 racing and aviation for their inspiration. As such, it is far easier to identify a Richard Mille than a Patek Philippe from afar, because there is nothing else out there that even comes close to the aesthetic.
Unless you were intimately familiar with Patek’s catalog, many of their models could be mistaken as being from another high quality manufacture until you got up close.
The Beckertime Rivalry Series: Patek Philippe Versus Richard Mille: Movements
Another quality shared by both our brands is the emphasis placed on the internal movements. In many cases, the calibers become key design elements. It is a rare occurrence from either to release a watch without at least a display back to allow wearers to marvel over the incredible technological artistry within. Virtually all of Mille’s models feature a skeletonized dial as well for the same reason.
One major difference however is where those mechanisms come from. Patek proudly build all of their movements in-house, as you would expect from a manufacture which has been a byword for watchmaking virtuosity for 183-years now.
Mille, by comparison, was only established in 1999 and as such has been reliant on third party concerns for most of its life. However, not too much should be read into that. Said third party concerns supplying the brand are the likes of the legendary Audemars Piguet Renaud et Papi (APRP) who build Mille’s tourbillon movements, and Manufacture Vaucher Fleurier, the ultra high end caliber maker of Parmigiani Fleurier, who also equip Hermes, Corum, Baume & Mercier and Fabergé, who make Mille’s chronographs.
In addition, both parties have been responsible for some of the most forward thinking innovations in horology, just in different eras.
Patek brought us the first wristwatch, the perpetual calendar, the spilt second chronograph, the annual calendar and, more recently, have been pioneering the use of silicon in movement components. Mille have taken the avant-garde to new heights with revolutionary engineering such as replacing the traditional caliber baseplate and mounting parts on tubular rods, in the case of the RM012 Tourbillon.
But where the two do indeed come together is with a great respect for traditional Swiss watchmaking craftsmanship, with bridges, screws and tourbillon cages painstakingly hand finished over days or even weeks.
The Beckertime Rivalry Series: Patek Philippe Versus Richard Mille: Pricing
As with most luxury timepiece manufacturers, if there is a word other than watches that springs to mind when you hear the name Patek Philippe, it is ‘expensive’.
The starting price for one of their creations is about $21,000. That will (technically) buy you a ref. 5167A Aquanaut. The going rate for the brand’s models then continue north until they top out at around $1.2m, for which sum you will be able to take delivery of the extraordinary ref. 6301P, known as the Grand Sonnerie. A masterpiece in platinum, its 44.8mm case houses a hatful of functions, including both grande and petite sonnerie as well as a minute repeater and jumping small seconds.
Yet, as serious as those dollar figures are to the average consumer, they pale in comparison to those commanded by Mille.
Here, the starting price leaps to $60,000 for the RM016, an extra flat, time-and-date piece with automatic movement—something of a rarity in the portfolio. At the other end, the RM62-01 Tourbillon Vibrating Alarm ACJ (standing for Airbus Corporate Jets, with whom Mille designed the watch) will set you back $1.3m. However, in-between, the average cost of one of the brand’s models is about $200,000, whereas a Patek is less than half that.
So how can either brand charge so much? Well, there are a number of factors which contribute to these remarkable price tags. Firstly, a trait both manufactures share is a total commitment to only the finest craftsmanship, coupled with designs of often staggering complexity. We also have to factor in the very limited production runs, especially with Mille. Almost every one of their watches is a special edition, usually fewer than 100 in number. Then of course is the sheer difficulty in actually obtaining one of these watches. You have to be someone very special indeed to walk into a Patek AD and walk out with one of their best sellers. The most popular Nautilus models reportedly have waiting lists of up to 10-years, and the Aquanaut isn’t far behind. While much of that is down to the relatively tiny quantities in which they are made (Patek has famously made fewer than a million watches throughout their entire history), some of it is also because they recognize exclusivity as the ultimate luxury statement and they want their customers to feel special, as if they are wearing something others can’t get their hands on.
Same with Mille, except they take it to another level again. In the entire United States, the brand has a total of seven authorized dealers. There are only six in the whole of Europe, whereas Patek’s U.S. network currently comprises some 59 locations and there are a further 38 in the U.K. alone.
Obviously, with even the extremely wealthy unable to get their hands on the most desirable watches on the planet even if they are prepared to hand over a blank check, it makes the yearning for them even stronger. And that explains the state of the preowned market.
Universally, any watch from either of these two sells for more than its official price as a secondary purchase. That’s bad news for those not able to secure a retail sale (so, just about everyone). However, if by some fluke one did happen to drop into your lap from an AD, you would have in your possession a model from pretty much the only two watchmakers—along with most Rolexes—which Forbes considers able to not just hold its value but steadily increase over time.
Patek Philippe and Richard Mille might seem to be linked in only the most tenuous of ways, but they do have a number of things in common. And one more aspect we haven’t talked about is the amount of respect the fans of one generally have for the other.
If you have a passion for watches, and admirers of either of our subjects usually do by default, there is no getting away from the fact that both of these brands do incredible work; one steeped in tradition, one out beyond the cutting edge.
But game recognizes game and when all is said and done, just because your tastes might favor the ultra modern, you can still appreciate the Old Masters.
— Featured Photo: BeckerTime’s Archive.