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Editorial - Forgotten Masterpieces

Editorial Forgotten Masterpieces

When did we stop talking about one of the most incredible pieces of watchmaking ever made?

There are some watches that define modern horology. Watches that sit at the pinnacle of mechanical craft, innovation and creativity — watches that remind me why I love my job. Being a watch journalist, I’m surrounded every day by new watches and new launches, each of them exciting in their own way. But there is one watch that remains untouchable in its sheer mechanical audacity and micro-engineering brilliance. It was produced 16 years ago and no other watch has come close to it since, yet no one really talks about it anymore. I’m referring, of course, to the Richard Mille RM 012 Tourbillon.

Forgotten Masterpieces

RM 012 Tourbillon © Richard Mille

Amongst experts, industry veterans and some of the more knowledgeable collectors, the RM 012 is unanimously regarded as one of the finest examples of modern watchmaking. Personally, I’d go a step further — on my list of the best watches made this century, the RM 012 is in the top three. (I’ll tell you the other two another time.)

So what is it about the RM 012 that makes it so special in my book? It’s a tourbillon, sure, but there are plenty of tourbillons out there, right? It’s not an ultra-complicated watch; in fact it’s not a complicated watch at all (a tourbillon is not a complication). The fact is, the RM 012 has a unique architecture. It lacks a baseplate and bridges. Imagine a movement and remove all the plates and bridges, keeping all the moving parts suspended in 3D space. Now, using extremely narrow but strong metal tubes, create an irregular and angular grid to keep the wheels and all other moving parts in their fixed locations. That’s exactly what the Audemars Piguet (Renaud et Papi) team did for the RM 012 Tourbillon.

Forgotten Masterpieces

RM 012 Tourbillon © Richard Mille

Try and imagine the complexity and difficulty of producing a watch like this. It had never been done before 2006, and it’s never been done since, precisely because of how incredibly challenging it is.

Richard Mille himself tells the story of how he received photos of the first completed RM 012 when he was on a business trip in Singapore. The APRP team emailed him the photos and waited by the phone with champagne so they could celebrate when he gave his approval. When he called, however, it was to tell them to put away the champagne and rework the finishing, because it wasn’t up to the standard he wanted. If you know APRP at all, you’ll know it’s pretty much a hub of geniuses over there, and it takes something really insanely difficult to challenge them this way.

According to another great anecdote told by Richard Mille, when the watch was launched, François-Paul Journe came up to him to personally congratulate him, telling him that only a watchmaker would be able to fully appreciate and comprehend how difficult the watch was to make. Felix Baumgartner from URWERK, one of the cornerstone brands of modern independent watchmaking, expressed his desire to buy an RM 012.

Forgotten Masterpieces

RM 012 Tourbillon © Richard Mille

Only 30 of these watches were made, and its rarity is completely understandable. In 2006, the independent watchmaking scene wasn’t as developed and established as it is today — the RM 012 obviously made a huge sensation at the time, winning the Aiguille d’Or at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève that year. That said, even if the RM 012 was launched today, it would still dominate the realm of watchmaking, that’s how impressive the watch is in terms of mechanical accomplishment.

Of course, it’s always fun to talk about new watches. That’s what we do at WorldTempus every day. But we should remember the masterpieces of yesterday too, especially when they’re as extraordinary as the 2006 Richard Mille RM 012 Tourbillon.



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