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Richard Mille - Frieze Masters

Richard Mille Frieze Masters

A new partner of the art fair, Richard Mille displayed its unique aesthetic and mechanical watchmaking savoir-faire.

One of the biggest names trending at the moment is Richard Mille, what with the announcement that 2019 would be its last SIHH fair. Since then, it’s been a guessing game as for what Richard Mille will do next, and punters may want to look to last week, at London’s Frieze art fair, where Richard Mille emerged as a new partner of the modern and contemporary art fair.

The house showed six historic, limited edition watches that date from the past decade, and which notably, save for one, are now in the hands of private collectors and no longer available. “They sold out very quickly and basically disappeared. The clients didn’t want us playing, touching or photographing their watches,” said company spokesperson Theodore Diehl. “Some of us at Richard Mille have never even seen some of these pieces.” 

Richard Mille showed at Frieze Masters – the sister fair that features art from antiquity to 2000, and in all collecting genres – with some designs, like the vibrant RM 68-01 Tourbillon an obvious, literal choice. The watch was made in tandem with the French graffiti artist Cyril Phan, street name Kongo, who lent his hand-painted, kaleidoscopic brush strokes, usually reserved for large buildings, to each watch’s baseplate, movement bridge and wheel. Limited to 30 pieces, each is a unique piece of art.

Frieze Masters

RM 68-01 © Richard MiIlle

Richard Mille in essence was displaying horological art in the form of its unique watchmaking savoir-faire, both aesthetically and mechanically. Take the 3D-style RM 19-02 Tourbillon Fleur, for example, which features a slowly blooming mimosa that’s engraved entirely in gold and crafted in grand feu enamelling. The sculptural flower opens to reveal a flying tourbillon, which is powered by an automaton mechanism featuring free sprung balance with variable inertia, which offers ultra shock resistance and precison, and a functionality that was a “real tour de force for the watchmakers”, said Diehl.

Frieze Masters

RM 19-02 Tourbillon Fleur © Richard MiIlle

The watch was inspired by 18th century automata, as was the fittingly-named RM 69 Tourbillon Erotic. Created as a 21st century interpretation of ancient erotic watches, the RM 69 features an oracle complication where three panels of text rotate to create a total of 218 different erotic sentences (all of which were written by Richard Mille, apparently). This roller system, however, is not the watch’s most complicated feature; that goes to a pusher activated minute hand – which as it rotates can block the text – that can jump to the 3 o’clock position, disengaging from the movement yet all the while keeping the time. 

Frieze Masters

RM 69 Tourbillon Erotic © Richard MiIlle

Only one watch, RM 07-02 Pink Lady Sapphire, is still available to buy (from £952,000), its presence at the fair highlighting once more Richard Mille’s pioneering way with materials. Not only was the sapphire specially produced – with tiny bits of colour added to the growing crystal to create a bespoke, transparent shade of pink – but drilling the sapphire itself was another feat. As the second hardest material after diamond, the sapphire had to first be cut down roughly to shape before it was grinded to perfection for some 40 days and nights. Several drilling tools were supposedly destroyed in the process.

Frieze Masters

RM 07-02 Pink Lady Sapphire © Richard MiIlle

With some 450 visitors to the stand on Frieze’s opening day, Richard Mille may be onto something here. Indeed art collectors don’t seem to shy away from the house’s often-complex philosophy – at least not the serious ones. “We’re talking about very high end collectors, not only with the pockets to deal with it, but the intellect to deal with it,” says Diehl. “They may not be watchmakers or even watch collectors, but they immediately grasp what’s going on. They can see the details - the complicated concepts being worked out, the combination of mechanical, sculptural and 3-dimensionality, the traditions of timekeeping.... It’s all woven into a complicated ball and they like that.”

The brand

Richard Mille did not simply try to find his place in the watchmaking world – he carved one out for himself, constantly striving not to take anything for granted, and to make innovation and extreme technical prowess his driving forces.

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