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Why Richard Mille wants Rafael Nadal to break their high-end watches

How the watchmaker has convinced sports superstars to wear its timepieces to the games.

Rafael Nadal has broken several Richard Mille watches – and that’s exactly what the high-end brand’s founder wanted.

When the tennis star began collaborating with the brand nine years ago, he was asked to wear prototypes of the RM 27 tourbillon watch while training. Several watches were damaged in the process – unsurprising to those familiar with Nadal’s quick and aggressive style.

But for Mille, such extreme real-life testing offers the perfect opportunity to strengthen the brand’s high-performance watches and make them uniquely suited to various sports.

Wearing the RM 67-02, South African sprinter Wayde Van Niekerk celebrates winning the 400m sprint at the IAAF championships in August.


This is no common occurrence. Whether it’s the added weight of a timepiece on the wrist, or the fact that luxury watches are usually worn with care rather than bashed around in a sporting arena, many athletes with watch sponsors strap on their timepieces only after the hard work is done.

Which is why Richard Mille’s sports partnerships tend to get plenty of ink: Whether they are tennis pros or track-and-field stars, the brand’s ambassadors must wear their watches while engaged in their sport of choice.

And we must say, seeing Nadal execute powerful strokes or taking spills on the court while sporting a wristwatch with a six-digit price tag and equipped with a tourbillon – a typically fragile high-horology mechanism – is a pretty powerful marketing exercise.

Here, we delve into some of Richard Mille’s most notable high-performance timepieces, and how they have been built to stand up to the stresses of specific sports.

Swipe or click left/right to browse through the sports stars.

  • IN TENNIS: Rafael Nadal, Alexander Zverev

    With serves that can exceed 200kmh, Spanish tennis ace Rafael Nadal (pictured) – who most recently bagged his 16th Grand Slam at the 2017 US Open – is one hard-hitting player. Whether he’s on top or nursing an injury, he has always made headlines for his game, but, since 2010, plenty of incredulous ink has also been devoted to the fact that he wears tourbillon watches with six-digit price tags while playing.

    This year, Richard Mille introduced the 7th timepiece specially designed in collaboration with Nadal, the RM 27-03. Among its chief distinctive qualities: its lightness, with a weight of 34g. That’s about seven pieces of paper. The bright red-and-yellow case of this watch (a nod to Spain’s national colours) is made from Quartz TPT – an ultra-light and tough material comprising tinted resin, and ultra-thin layers of silica fi laments angled at 45 degrees to each other. This incredible lightness, which characterises all the watches bearing Nadal’s name, is what convinced the tennis pro to agree, all those years ago, to wear Mille’s watches on the court.

    Despite its weight (or lack thereof ), the RM 27-03 has record-breaking impact resistance. It can survive forces of up to 10,000g’s – a quality that keeps its tourbillon movement safe when Nadal executes one of his powerful double-handed backhand returns. This is partly made possible by the watch’s “unibody” construction that sees the baseplate double as a caseband, with the bezel and caseback directly mounted on the baseplate. According to Richard Mille, such shock-resistant features were made possible by “countless hours of testing, particularly ‘pendulum impact testing’, which simulates the linear acceleration that occurs due to sudden movements or shock to the wearer”. But we’d say the best tester is Nadal himself, who has apparently broken several costly prototypes while training. It’s just part of the brand’s ongoing quest to make ever lighter and stronger timepieces that can perform at the same high level as their namesake.