It’s no secret that Mr. Richard Mille is a bit of a speed junkie. He loves to go fast and he loves his watches to go even faster – literally! That’s why you will find them strapped to the wrists of some of the fastest athletes in the world, including Formula One race car driver Felipe Massa, 9-time WRC world champion Sebastien Loeb and of course the world’s second fastest man, Yohan Blake, aka the Beast.
The fact that Mille is able to construct watches that can operate accurately and consistently within these sort of extreme conditions is arguably one of the brand’s most widely publicised achievements. After all, millions of eyes are watching every time superstars like Rafael Nadal step on the court and get ready to go to work with a Richard Mille timepiece strapped to their wrists.
None of these success stories however have perhaps been as controversial as that of the debut of Yohan Blake’s new watch at the 2012 Olympics held in Great Britain. If you can cast your mind back a few years you may recall that Blake’s choice of wrist-wear for the men’s 100m final – a very colourful Richard Mille Tourbillon prototype – landed him in some serious hot water with the IOC, with talks of a rather large fine possibly being levied, etc. (which I am sure Richard Mille would have gladly paid given the incredible media coverage the stunt generated). The problem at the time of course was that bold act was a direct contravention of the IOC’s regulations about what athletes are allowed to wear while competing at the Games. According to strict sponsorship regulations, Olympic athletes are only allowed to wear gear that is part of their country’s sponsored apparel.
Quite obviously Richard Mille was not a sponsor of the Jamaican athletics team, and worse still he was definitely not an official sponsor of the Olympics. Nevertheless the bold stunt had the intended effect. By the next day everyone was talking about the eye-catching watch supposedly worth US$500k that the Beast was wearing for his historic run against fellow compatriot and incumbent world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt, who coincidentally is also sponsored by a watchmaker known for its guerrilla marketing tactics (Hublot).
The fact that Blake was unable to best his running mate and friend in the final made no difference, the spell had been cast and just about every man with a spare half-a-million dollars wanted that watch. Being a prototype however that was simply not possible, and so impatient clients were forced to do what they invariably always have to do with Richard Mille; join a waiting list in the hope that the final edition wouldn’t be too limited. Fortunately they didn’t have to wait too long to see what they’d signed up for, with Richard Mille officially unveiling the RM 59-01 Yohan ‘The Beast’ Blake Tourbillon at the SIHH in 2013. As expected however production was limited to just 50 pieces, with each watch coming with a sticker price of US$620,000 attached. Not surprisingly there were quite a number of disappointed people who missed out due to the limited availability or the fact that the watches were simply too expensive. All that changed however with the announcement of the RM 61-01, also known as the ‘Baby Blake’.
The Richard Mille RM 61-01 ‘Baby Blake’
Much like the Richard Mille RM 35-01 Rafael Nadal, the RM 61-01 Yohan Blake is a greatly simplified version of the original, hence the ‘baby’ reference. And by simplified, I mean that although they bear a passing resemblance to their elder siblings, they don’t boast anywhere near the same complexity. Arguably this is somewhat disappointing from watch-making point of view, however it is great news in terms of making the price point more attainable (relatively speaking of course, it is still a six figure watch after all!)
It’s not all bad news though, in fact there is quite a lot to like about the new RM 61-01, starting with the case. In the original, the 50.24mm x 42.7mm case was made of a translucent composite that was injected with carbon nanotubes, giving it a distinctive yellow ‘fleck, which I must say I found rather unattractive. For the new model, the case dimensions remain unchanged however it is now made from TZP black ceramic, a low-density material constituted of 95% yttrium-stabilised zirconium which is highly scratch resistant. The caseband meanwhile is constructed from NTPT carbon, a material composed of multiple layers of parallel filaments obtained by dividing by dividing carbon fibers. The end result is a hard-wearing, extremely light watch with a dark case that beautifully contrasts with the bright yellow and green of the dial and strap.
Speaking of the dial, you will notice it has also been toned down somewhat. The four high-tech bridges that streaked across the dial of the original RM 59-01, which some likened to the claw marks of a beast, have now been reduced down to just two, giving the watch a far less dramatic look. This also means that far more of the movement – the RMUL2 – is visible, which is a good thing because its suspended, skeletonized construction is really quite fascinating to observe in detail. In fact it is possible to hold the watch up to light and see clean through to the other side – very cool!
Not surprisingly the lightweight construction of the RM 61-01 means that it wears extremely comfortably on the wrist. In fact it is so light that you will likely even forget you’re wearing a watch, which is almost disconcerting for something that costs as much as a top-of-the-range luxury sedan. That being said, one glance at that complex dial and you’ll be reminded instantly just how much technology has been packed into the tiny little package on your wrist.
The Richard Mille RM 61-01 Yohan Blake retails for US$120,000 and from what I hear demand is already outstripping supply. Better get your name on that waiting list!