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Richard Mille - Interview with Tim Malachard

Richard Mille Interview with Tim Malachard

Richard Mille’s marketing director Timothée Malachard tells us about partnerships and extreme exclusivity, with the disarming frankness of a watchmaker of modest ambition.

You’ve announced a partnership with the equestrian world.
Yes, with Jessica von Bredow, the German dressage champion. We signed with her after getting to know her at the Olympic Games. She’s amazing, absolutely dedicated to what she does. She does everything herself, including driving the truck in which she transports her horses. She’s a lovely person. She met Mr Mille, and the partnership happened from there. A lot of what we do is about personal affinity. Many times, it’s about meeting a particular man or woman. When you realise that they have the right kind of attitude, things happen quite naturally. That’s one of the primary conditions, whether it’s tennis, golf, or whatever. She says she hasn’t taken the watch off, her RM 07 in titanium, for four months! In a month’s time she’ll get a new version, the RM 07-01 in carbon.

And you’ve also signed a partnership with McLaren.
Yes, that’s our new partner – the whole group, including Formula One and the drivers. This year it’s Fernando Alonso, two-time world champion, and Stoffel Vandoorne, a 24-year-old Belgian. The meeting took place in 2015, and one of the things we really like about McLaren is that it is heavily involved in F1, and they make engines. That opened the door to McLaren F1 and McLaren Composites. Our engineers met up with theirs. We also met researchers from the University of Manchester, who won the Nobel prize for discovering the properties of graphene. We use it to strengthen our NTPT carbon and make it lighter. Which is exactly what we wanted to do. The automobile industry and watchmaking have a lot in common, and graphene isn’t just a marketing gimmick. Some Chinese companies use it in tyres, and we also use it for good reason. So the partnership makes sense. We’ve committed to ten years.

You’ve announced you’ll be making 75 of the RM 50-03 McLaren, which costs over a million euros. That’s quite a lot.
The name has such an incredible history! When Mr Mille met them, he said, “If you’d told me that one day I’d be signing with these guys, I’d never have believed you.” In a way, working with them is the ultimate accolade, and we take it very seriously. There have always been relationships between watch brands and Formula One stables. But the way we work, our engineers work with theirs. They learn from each other. When you see the pieces they machine, to make three chassis per year, it’s incredible. They have 600 people working on them.

But 75 is still a lot of watches. The RM 50-02 ACJ from last year was produced in a run of 30, and also cost over a million euros. You’re more than doubling the quantity.
Look at it this way: McLaren made 375 of their P1 [McLaren’s most high-performance sports car], and they were unable to keep up with demand. And that cost one and a half million. 90% of our clients are car enthusiasts. For fifteen years, our brand has been closely associated with the motor racing world, through Mr Mille’s passion and through our products.

«C'est une forme de consécration de travailler avec McLaren»

You mentioned the P1. Does this mean that your partnership will apply to the entire range, including the 12C and the 650?
These production cars could lead to watches. But it’s early days. We’re starting with a Tourbillon model inspired by the F1 engineers who opened their doors to us. But yes, the partnership encompasses the whole of McLaren, which employs 3000 people, in the automotive sector, medical, composites, biometry and various other engineering fields. There’s a whole host of possibilities.

In the current downturn in high-end watchmaking, you seem to be an exception: you’re doing very well.
15% per year, and in 2016 we posted revenues of 225 million francs. We produced 3550 watches, compared with 3200 in 2015. We’re aiming for 4000 in 2017. It’s also linked to the development of our network of boutiques. We currently have 35, and hope to make it 40 this year, including a number of franchises. We’re planning to open boutiques in New York and Taipei; we’ve already opened in Jedda and St Barts, and we’re looking at Moscow. Our growth is due to the fact that we have to stock our shops, and they need to have the complete collection, including our women’s collection, which now represents 25% of sales. That goes up to 40% of sales in Asia and the Middle East. Turnover is quick, and we keep very little stock.

Are you protected by the fact that you operate at the very top of the high-end sector?
Yes, our average price is 150,000 francs. We’re completely alone in this segment, at this price level. In terms of tourbillons, we make around 200 pieces, and they sell for around 500,000 francs. With our sapphire-cased pieces, we’re looking at around 2 million dollars. But we don’t make many of them, because they’re so complex! For all the products we make, between our engineers and the way Mr Mille works, his incredible determination, price is the last thing we look at. There are some watches that we develop over the course of a year, but others might take four years. Take the RM 69 [a tourbillon with an erotic message]: that took us three years to develop with Renaud & Papi [the movement maker responsible for developing and executing all RM’s grand complications]. We are under great pressure to continue innovating, to make things that excite people, and our clients love that.

Do you think you’ll succeed in selling complications to women because of the complication, rather than just because of the price or the design?
It’s funny, we’ve noticed that our clientele is becoming increasingly sophisticated. They know us increasingly well. They read a lot about our brand on the internet, from our magazine, which we have been publishing for 18 months now. They want an inside view of the brand, and our women clients are familiar with what we do. We even have some female clients who only buy tourbillons. The advantage is that we don’t want to be a fashionable brand, we have no interest in bling. We want our clients to buy with their hearts. We appeal to people who have nothing to prove, women who own their own businesses, who have created startups and who are treating themselves, who buy a watch to wear. These clients are our best ambassadors.

You said you have no interest in being bling, but is it really you who decides? We recently saw Maître Gims [a French rapper] wearing an RM 11. Is this detrimental to your image?
We can’t stop people from buying our watches, whether they’re footballers, rappers, whatever. Not a day goes by without someone phoning up to suggest a partnership. But there are some things we don’t do. In the art world we remain close to Pharrell Williams and Benjamin Millepied, who was director of dance at the Paris Opera Ballet. These kinds of things are far more in keeping with our ethos.

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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