The Richard Mille RM056
It could be argued that any watch from that great industry shaker-upper, Richard Mille, is more about the spectacle than anything else, but the RM056 manages to take even their eccentricities to all-new heights.
Originally released in 2012, and limited to just 5 pieces (the reasons for which will be made clear (ha!) as we go along) it received two further updated versions in 2013 and 2014; again, highly exclusive models restricted to just another 5 and 10 units respectively.
So, what exactly is the Richard Mille RM056, how does it stand out even amongst the brand’s other oddities and what does it do to justify its incredible price tag?
The Richard Mille RM056
The basic details of the RM056 are spelled out for you in its full name. The ‘RM056 Felipe Massa Sapphire Tourbillon Split Seconds Competition Chronograph’ does exactly what it says in the title, and many of its features can be found on the other watches Richard Mille created in conjunction with their first ever brand ambassador, Brazilian F1 driver Massa.
The RM006 and RM009 were the earliest pieces, both skeletonized, manually-winding tourbillons, one in titanium, the other in ALUSIC (a silicon-aluminum alloy) with a movement crafted from aluminum-lithium—both composites world firsts in watchmaking.
After that came the RM011, which added a chronograph function and could be had in a variety of state-of-the-art finishes; ceramic, carbon TPT, silicon nitride and Red Quartz TPT.
Then, again in 2012, the RM050 was unveiled as one of five different watches released to celebrate the 50thcareer anniversary of Jean Todt, President of the FIA (Federation Internationale de l’Automobile). This combined the tourbillon with a split-seconds chronograph, wrapped up in a beautiful milky blue Quartz TPT case.
All these models shared a similar and quintessentially Mille tonneau-shaped housing and highly open worked dial. But the RM056 went further in allowing wearers to see through their work.
The Sapphire Tripartite Case
The idea for a completely sapphire crystal watch had been doing the rounds for a few years by the time Mille got hold of it. In fact, the very first had come along in 1980 with the Golden Bridge, designed by Vincent Calabrese for Corum.
But the RM056 was an altogether different breed.
The two main objections to using sapphire extensively in watchmaking, and the reasons so few exist, are the cost of the material itself and the extreme difficulty of working with it.
For a start, it is an incredibly hard substance. Lab grown synthetic sapphire ranks as a 9 on the Mohs hardness scale, second only to diamonds. That means, once it is processed and cut into the desired shape, it is extremely robust and scratch resistant. Up until that point, however, it is brittle and easy to crack, particularly if screw holes are drilled into it. And the three-part Mille Tripartite case has plenty of those.
Milling the case out of a solid block of sapphire reportedly took around 960 hours of constant machining—that’s 40-days of round-the-clock work. An additional 400-hours was then needed for the sapphire bridges, making a total of 1,500-hours for one watch! It is reportedly one of the most complicated to make in the entire industry, completed by the world leaders in the material, Stettler in Lyss, Switzerland.
The result is a highly distinctive, completely transparent timepiece, where you can see absolutely everything going on. But also one which could potentially shatter if dropped; which is a shame, because at time of launch, they cost $1,650,000 each.
A case that impressive needs a movement which also captures the imagination, and the RMCC1 caliber does just that.
The lightest split-second chronograph tourbillon movement in the world, the Grade 5 titanium mechanism is comprised of more than 500 parts and drives the hours, minutes, seconds, the flyback chrono with 30-minute totalizer, as well as a power and torque gauge and a function indicator.
Manually-winding with a 70-hour reserve, the RMCC1 has been optimized by Mille to reduce the friction on the chronograph and fine-tune the timekeeping accuracy, and benefits from a variable inertia balance wheel and fast rotating barrel.
As you would expect, the finishing is also first rate, with hand polished beveling and locking sections, microblasted milled sections and burnished pivots.
And, of course, owners get the privilege of seeing it all playing out before their very eyes, through the 50mm x 42.7mm bodywork.
As mentioned, the RM 056 cost a substantial amount of anyone’s money on its release. That being said, all five of the pieces produced were sold out within 24-hours of the watch going on display at SIHH 2012.
But what if you wanted to get your hands on one today? Well, the first problem would be finding one. With only a literal handful in existence, the chances of them coming up for auction are few and far between.
And obviously, the second challenge would be the price. In 2017, one of the prototypes (the second one, actually) went for $1,207,500 through Christie’s, with no one really sure just how many prototypes there are in circulation.
I’ve since found two examples of the ‘production’ models for sale, at $1.4m and $1.8m respectively, so their value seems to be holding steady. Good news if you fancy picking one up as an investment!
In the two years following the release of the RM 056, Mille launched a pair of further alternatives, the RM 056-01 and RM 056-02.
The 01 took the see-through stakes higher still by crafting the movement’s baseplate, bridges and third wheel from sapphire, as well as the case. And the 02 elevated things yet again by introducing the cable and pulley system we first saw on the RM 27-01 Nadal.
Reverting back to a titanium baseplate, the RM 056-02 suspends the component on specially developed single braided cables measuring just 0.35mm thick, wound round four pulleys on posts at the corners of the movement, and a further six pulleys around the perimeter. The cable tension can be manually controlled by a mini ratchet at the 9 o’clock and it even has its own indicator, located at the 12 o’clock. The system allows the watch to soak up some extreme stresses and vibrations, with the one on the RM 27-01 able to withstand forces of up to 5,000g.
The Richard Mille RM 056 is an exercise in excess. Everything about it is designed for the Wow! factor, and yet there is no denying that it is simultaneously one of the most impressive achievements in horology over the last few years.
From its groundbreaking case, to its top-of-the-line movement, and its fantastic price tag, it is a watch to get you noticed. The sort of creation of which only Richard Mille is capable, it stands alone at the top of the tree.
— Featured Photo: BeckerTime’s Archive.