Born out of his personal friendship with Rafa Nadal, the RM027 series is Richard Mille’s longest running watch series from their two decades of existence and has resulted in some of horology’s most daring and innovative watches to be seen.  While Richard’s initial inspiration might have been in the design and material world of Formula 1 racecars, it is with the high-tech world of the modern tennis court that his watches have found their most expressive form.  The latest iteration, the just released RM027-04 is arguably the most brilliant yet in terms of what the watch is and what it draws from the sport.  I had the chance to chat with Richard about his friendship with Rafa and the remarkable series of watches that have resulted from it.

    Modern tennis racquets are every part the technological piece of sport equipment.  What was once layered wood and cat gut (apparently) for the lawn tennis player has become a carbon fibre wand with military grade nylon interwoven at such high tensile strength that, in the hands of a player like Nadal, can propel a ball at close to 140 mph.  Technology both requires more of the player and pushes him to achieve greater performance.  

    The RM027-04 is a welcome return to form for Richard Mille and the RM series that features a time-only tourbillon movement allied to, and encased in, esoteric technology-based materials.  It is the cutting-edge “sweet spot” that Richard occupies better than anyone else. That nexus of high-tech and watchmaking is where Richard rules supreme; and arguably with the RM027 series, seen its greatest expression in terms of horology.  The RM027 series has been daring in both design (including colour) and the search for innovative and unique ways to support a watch movement within its case.  

    As Richard explained: “With every iteration of the RM027 series we have always looked at ways of adapting the latest lightweight materials from carbon through quartz variations and now to TitaCarb in the RM027-04. I love the technical feel of this latest material which is very Richard Mille in all its properties and execution.”

    It started back in 2010 with the launch of the first RM027: an all-black carbon composite case and a movement made from titanium and LITAL alloy.  Because of its low density, this material is commonly used in the aerospace industry along with F1 racecars.  The RM027-01, the lightest of the series at a tad over 18 grams, saw the first time use of a suspension cable to secure a movement in the case.  New materials were used for the baseplate and case in the RM027-02 and RM027-03.  North Thin Ply Technology (NTPT) use of carbon layers, interleaved with quartz filaments, produced Quartz TPT, an ultra-light structurally rigid material that gave a visually stunning aesthetic – especially with the latter watch that was rendered in the Spanish national colours.  

    It is also worth noting that the release of each of the RM027 series nearly always predates a return to form for the “King of Clay”.  In 2010, the year the RM027 was launched, he won the French and US Open and Wimbledon; in 2013, with the release of the RM 027-01 he won the French and US Open; the odd one out was 2015, the year of the RM027-02; but in 2017, with the release of the vibrant RM027-03, Nadal was back winning both tournaments; and last Sunday, we saw him winning his 13th Roland Garros title (and 20th Grand Slam victory) 15 years after his first outing, making the Spaniard the first man in history to win six grand slam titles over the age of 30.

    Richard was never interested in brand ambassadors as someone who would appear in photos wearing a watch, then discard it the moment the camera was no longer there.  A Richard Mille partner is something different.  The partner is required to wear the watch in the arena when playing or driving.  When the original RM027 was released, Richard was asked why a tennis player would want a watch.  Nadal had a good reason: the time of day.  Rafa watches the light in terms of mentally planning whether the match might require a stop for the following day.  For the watch to be worn in play (on his wrist), it had to be light, shock resistant (he is one of the heaviest hitters in the game) and comfortable.

    Rafa has won his 13th title at the French Open. Photo by Renaud Corlouer.

    None of these requirements have been lost with the release of the RM027-04, weighing a feather light 30 grams including the strap. The obvious focal point of this watch is no doubt the “cable baseplate” that resembles the stringing of a tennis racquet.  Richard has turned the tensile strength of the modern tennis racquet into the platform to hold the movement in the case.  

    He explained, “The new base plate in the RM027-04 is a break from what we had previously developed. It replicates the strings from a tennis racket with only one cable and maintained by just two tensioners with the whole movement capable of withstanding 12,000G!” 

    The diameter of the cable used for the mesh is a mind-boggling 0.27mm (providing a total surface area of 855 square millimetres). The wire is first anchored using a gold turnbuckle at five o’clock, then “woven” back and forth, in and out of the bezel 38 times, and secured with another turnbuckle located at 10 o’clock – all done by a watchmaker.  Delicate as this may look, the lattice work (as with a modern tennis racquet) can resist a large degree of force.

    The movement is secured to the wire mesh with five titanium hooks which are screwed to the underside of the lattice work base plate and two red coloured nylon turnbuckles.  In keeping with all the RM027 series, the case is a composite where carbon fibres are suspended in a polymer. The new composite is called “TitaCarb” and is usually used in such mundane arenas as race exhausts for motorbikes.  A relatively high carbon fibre content, at 38.5% of its volume, makes the material particularly adept at absorbing heat.  Unusually for Richard Mille, the case is a single machined piece, with both crystals attaching directly to the case after the movement has been installed.

    The new base plate in the RM027-04 is a break from what we had previously developed

    – Richard Mille

    As with other RM027 watches in the series, this iteration is limited to 50 pieces.  Levity in your Richard Mille watch is inversely proportional to price, which for this one is around $1million.  

    The RM027-04 has been released to celebrate a decade of friendship and creative collaboration between Rafael Nadal and Richard Mille.  Richard summed up what the cooperation has meant for the brand, “The RM027-04 is the fifth iteration of the series of tourbillons developed with our dear friend Rafa.  Since the first RM027 he has enormously contributed to the brand in pushing the limits in developing resilient watches constructed in some of the lightest materials possible.”  In all senses, the latest RM027 is a welcome return to form.

    Words: Dr Andrew Hildreth

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