Richard Mille Interview with Richard Mille
Brice Lechevalier met with Richard Mille, CEO of the eponymous brand.
Aston Martin, Chantilly Arts & Elégance, Felipe Massa, Haas F1, Mc Laren Honda F1, Renaut E-Dams, Romain Grosjean, Sébastien Loeb and Sébastien Ogier: half your partnerships relate to the automobile world: is this choice dictated by the heart or by reason ?
Definitely both ! Admittedly, I’ve always dreamed about cars from a very early age and things have simply taken shape. Richard Mille is a brand strongly inspired by technology in general, and cars in particular, the domain with which it has the closest affinities. Right from the start, we had set ourselves performance-driven objectives and worked on the areas that were especially important to me such as the rigidity of the baseplates and resistance to extreme shocks. Everybody knows for example that Formula 1 motor-racing has devastating effects on mechanical watches, due to the vibrations, the G shocks, the hard knocks sustained by the cockpit. It is this precisely this field of experimentation that interests me, rather than the issue of these particular drivers actually checking the time during races. I have to do so myself when taking part in historical rallies because we have to stop the vehicles every 25 minutes, but such is not the case for these athletes, whom we ask to test the watches in real-life conditions. Hence the slogan “a racing machine on the wrist”.
Do you own more collector’s watches or collector’s cars ?
Love doesn’t keep count, but in fact I probably have more cars…
Which RM best represents the symbiosis between these two worlds ?
The RM 36-01 with its G-force sensor.
Why inflict such torture on your watches ?
Because when launching the brand, I felt it was important to show that Fine Watchmaking could break free of its somewhat off-putting appearance and its rather pompous, pseudo-esoteric narrative. Brands focusing solely on their legitimacy inherited from previous centuries can end up getting lazy and sleeping on their laurels. I have always thought that Haute Horlogerie should open up to the fields of sport, art, women’s tastes and lifestyle. I believe our credibility must be earned on the battle field: no matter how complex our watches, they must survive on the wrists of racing driver Sébastien Ogier, as well as those of the golfer Buba Watson and tennis player Rafael Nadal. I want these individuals to put them through every imaginable situation. I love this combination of extreme complexity together with a resolutely lifestyle product : these are not watches you keep in a safe, they are made to be warn in any and every circumstance. Not only because they are very technical, but also because they are pleasant everyday companions : they are light, they fit smoothly on the wrist, and they also provide useful information, and that’s what I love about them.
So are these marketing or R&D budgets ?
There are necessarily a number of connections between them. When we began working with Nadal, we agreed that he would systematically train with his watch for nine months, during which he broke everything : the glasses, crowns and hands fell off, the tourbillon carriage was dislodged, etc. That was exactly what I expected of him! That forced us to work hard, to push our development, to make the model more reliable, and by the time he began actually playing with it, the watch was perfect. The same went for Massa and Grosjean : in each instance, we raise the level of reliability to as to adapt to all these parameters. And imagine Pablo Mac Donough, one of the world’s best polo players, having a polo mallet strike his wrist ! To begin with, the case held up, because it had been specifically designed with that in mind, but the watch movement stopped due to the force of the impact. That no longer happens. We thereby successively raise the bar in terms of both demands and reliability. Of course I love working with all these extraordinary people who are wonderful individuals, but their profiles also represent authentic diversification for the brand. Nothing is done by halves: if we enter the golfing world, we do so with a full set of technical specifications. There is a real technical approach to each discipline, according to a specific strategy. This has enabled us to acquire a fantastic technical dimension. We are a youthful brand, but I know of no other that has built up such a wealth of experience as we have in sports disciplines that have led to measurable product improvements.
Richard Mille is one of the rare brands that is doing really well at the moment...
This result is due to several parameters. The first is that I have systematically refrained risks on markets. For example, when everyone told me to go all out in Russia and then China, I always said that I would “take it easy” and refused to rack up more than 5% of sales there. The balance in the geographical spread of sales into more or less three areas accounting for around one-third each, remains the guiding principle. In parallel, I have striven to invest a great deal in communication in each part of the world, even on American and European markets where media exposure is very expensive. This was more complicated than rushing onto easy markets with no thought for the future. I am delighted with the outcome today, as all our boutiques are enjoying brisk sales. I am also opted for controlled growth : with the success achieved, we could easily have brought out a commercially-oriented caliber so as to sell several tens of thousands of watches, but I have always renounced such an attitude in order to focus on my standout models. In addition, we have also meticulously structured the collections, with sports, lifestyle and women’s products. Richard Mille is not a niche brand, but one that spans a number of niches. We aim to perform as well as possible in every niche. When it came to women’s watches, the early days were tough and we had to make substantial investments, but they now already account for 20% of our sales and are expected to reach between 30 and 35%. This diversification is very important to me, since it was vital for ensuring the brand’s security. Its current flourishing state has been confirmed by another favorable sign : an increasing number of younger customers. According to a recent study conducted by the FHH, Richard Mille is the watch brand that clients in the 18-30 age bracket most dream of owning. Having successfully taking up the challenge of appealing across several generations is an enormous source of satisfaction, because when I started the brand, our watches were purchased exclusively by clients aged 50 and more, whereas now a number of young people are buying them.
Richard Mille n’est plus une marque de niche, mais une marque qui couvre des niches.
What are your limits?
We are limited by our production capacity ; all my distributors regularly call me and ask me to deliver more watches! Our order levels are far higher than our production capacity, even though we have increased the latter : 3,264 watches in 2014, probably around 4,000 this year, and that’s still not enough. But I remain cautious, given that I have no real idea of the limits of the segment in which we operate. We are definitely the only brand to achieve this kind of sales volumes for models with an average retail price of CHF 180,000. And I am also prepared to decrease production if I deem it necessary.
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.Find out more >
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