The collaboration between ultra-premium Swiss watch brand Richard Mille and British performance car manufacturer McLaren might have begun in 2016, but for eponymous brand founder Richard Mille, memories of the car marque go back much further. In 1966, when he was just 15, his father took him to the Monaco Grand Prix, where Mille saw Bruce McLaren driving McLaren’s first Formula One car, the M2B. While 2021 marks just five years of their partnership, Richard Mille (the brand) maintains that it is a long-term one.
Over the past five years, this collaboration has given rise to two prior timepieces: The RM 50-03 Tourbillon Split-Seconds Chronograph (a 75-piece limited edition) and the RM 11-03 Automatic Flyback Chronograph (a 500-piece limited edition launched at the same time as the McLaren Senna).
The latest timepiece to emerge from this tie-up is the RM 40-01 Automatic Tourbillon McLaren Speedtail, which pays tribute to the McLaren Speedtail. With a top speed of 402kph, the all-carbon car, which has a dynamic silhouette inspired by a teardrop, is the fastest McLaren to date.
The RM 40-01 takes its cues from this slick machine, in terms of its form, materials and its philosophy. The starting point was the case, which echoes the car’s teardrop silhouette with a curved structure that is broader at 12 o’clock and tapers gradually towards 6 o’clock. There is also further tapering between the bezel and caseback, which are made from grade 5 titanium (the caseband is made from Carbon TPT).
In the press notes, Richard Mille technical director Julien Boillat elaborates on why developing the case took 2,800 hours, or nearly 18 months, of work. The watch abounds with details developed from scratch: Just the case itself comprises 69 components, and its fine details include cut-outs at 2, 4, 8 and 10 o’clock that echo the notches in the car’s bonnet; a barrel setting that recalls the car’s roof line and a platinum/red gold rotor inspired by the car’s bonnet.
Explaining how the RM 40-01 was the first project to involve every member of Richard Mille’s exteriors technical department, Boillat says, “The watch entails one of the highest levels of finishing ever executed at Richard Mille. There was also a lot of joint development with our anglers and polishers. The attention to detail is extreme, with mirror-polished, polished, plain and satin effects in different areas, and the combined use of titanium and Carbon TPT.”
Another feature that took extra effort was the sapphire glass. As it is, the sapphire glass used by the brand is already more complicated to make than those used in standard watches because of the curved shape of Richard Mille timepieces. Because of the unusual, irregular shape of the RM 40-01’s case, its upper sapphire crystal, says Boillat, “is highly complex and costs 15 to 20 times as much” as the typical sapphire glass used by the brand.
Under the hood, the new CRMT4 automatic-tourbillon movement was designed and built from the ground up for the RM 40-01. While the case took 2,800 hours to develop, the 603-part movement required a total development time of 8,600 hours — 6,000 hours of construction and 2,600 hours of prototyping.
Featuring the extensive use of grade 5 titanium, the movement was made to perfectly fit the case, and also reflect the Speedtail’s DNA. Salvador Arbona, the technical director for movements at Richard Mille, shares, “Our two previous McLaren watches were chronographs because they were designed to complement the Formula One race cars and the track-oriented McLaren Senna. The Speedtail is not a race car or a track car, but the ultimate grand tourer, which is why we decided to make the RM 40-01 an automatic tourbillon with an oversize date, a power-reserve indicator and a function selector.”
Reflecting the detail that went into this timepiece, the new power-reserve display was developed in-house and was arrived at after the development of three prior power-reserve systems. The movement is also extensively finished, with finishing executed on parts both visible and hidden; a few wheels are engraved with the McLaren logo. Components such as the tourbillon bridge also feature new profiles that more closely represent the lines of the car.
And because a partnership goes both ways, it is interesting to know that the inspiration flowed in two directions. Apparently, McLaren design director Rob Melville decided to integrate the brushed metal divider between the car’s cockpit and its teardrop-shaped bodywork after seeing the different finishes and flange designs of Richard Mille watches. This is a relationship that looks set to go the distance.
To match the McLaren Speedtail’s production run of 106, the Richard Mille Automatic Tourbillon McLaren Speedtail will be a 106-piece limited edition. It retails for 900,000 Swiss francs (S$1.3 million) before taxes.