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The Millennium Watch Book
Richard Mille - RM 27-01 Tourbillon Rafael Nadal

Richard Mille RM 27-01 Tourbillon Rafael Nadal

O Time, suspends your Flight

When people refer to a ‘suspended tourbillon’, what usually springs to mind is an escapement without any upper bridge. Not so for Richard Mille: here, the entire tourbillon calibre really is suspended inside its case. This exceptional timepiece was made for an equally exceptional champion, Rafael Nadal.

It all began in 2010. Richard Mille (the man) came to have a chat with Rafael Nadal about Richard Mille (the brand). It proved hard to persuade the tennis star to become a partner; Rafael Nadal prefers not to wear any accessories at all when he’s on court, be they bracelets, chains, or rings. He’s a perfectionist who gives his absolute all when he plays, following a ritual which he masters from start to finish. Richard Mille, however, was not to be put off, and promised him a watch that he wouldn’t even feel. The rest, as they say, is history.

RM 27-01 Tourbillon Rafael Nadal

RM 27-01 Tourbillon Rafael Nadal © Richard Mille

19 Grammes including the Strap

The many RMs that followed all featured this ultra-lightness, a feat in which the watchmaker was to become a past master. The RM 27-01 was no exception. In 2013 this specimen, capable of withstanding acceleration of up to 5,000g, was powered by a titanium and aluminium-lithium movement whose total weight was a mere 3.5 grammes. The timepiece as a whole, including the strap, weighs less than 19 grammes. This twofold achievement in terms of weight and strength would be more than enough in and of itself to make the RM 27-01 a legendary timepiece. But it’s also well worth understanding the way it’s put together, in order to grasp how its tourbillon calibre, positioned at 6 o’clock, can achieve such records. The fact is that for once, the secret of this RM lies not only in the way the movement is built, but also in the way in which it’s fixed to the case: it actually isn’t, at least not directly so.

Stopping the vibration wave

The initial observation is self-evident: vibration waves propagate outwards. For Rafael Nadal, waves emanate from his racquet strings and travel towards his wrist, which then passes them on to the watch. Intuitively, it’s also clear that the tighter the watch is on the wrist, the larger the contact surface between the two, and the more wave propagation there will be. Like all sportsmen, ‘Rafa’ likes a watch to fit his wrist perfectly, without any unwanted movement that might be detrimental to his strokes. In other words, each time Nadal hits a ball, virtually all the vibrational energy from the racquet is passed on to his watch. Since Nadal would have no truck with the idea of there being any gap between his watch and his wrist, Richard Mille had a wild idea: instead, he would create a gap between the case of the RM 27-01 and the movement it housed, so that the case would be virtually separate from the movement inside.

RM 27-01 Tourbillon Rafael Nadal

RM 27-01 Tourbillon Rafael Nadal © Richard Mille

A Suspended Movement 

The idea was implemented by suspending the movement on cables. The RM 27-01 Rafael Nadal has a plate connected to the case by means of four braided steel cables with tiny 0.35mm overall diameter. This rigid yet flexible structure protects the movement from impacts of all kinds. The cables are kept taut using a system of tensioners (located at 3 and 9 o’clock) and pulleys (acting as pylons) positioned at the four corners of the movement. Secured to the tensioner, each cable runs through the upper pulley, through the movement and back to the lower pulley, ending up in the inner flange. Once the cables are threaded, the watchmaker tensions them by rotating the central tensioner ring using a special tool. Cable installation and tensioning are extremely delicate operations. Too much tension could cause the cables and connections to break, damaging the movement. On the other hand, insufficient tension could cause the movement to start resonating and thus disrupt its timekeeping. However, when properly adjusted, this exceptional calibre, suspended in its case, is able to withstand accelerations of over 5000g. With a launch price of over €600,000, the RM 27-01 tourbillon and its suspended movement has had few successors. Only Richard Mille himself was to use the principle again, in his RM 53-01 Tourbillon Pablo Mac Donough released in 2018 and costing over one million euros.

*This year GMT Magazine and WorldTempus have embarked on the ambitious project of summarising the last 20 years of the Tourbillon in  The Millennium Watch Book - Tourbillons, a big, beautifully laid out coffee table book. This article is an extract. The Millennium Watch Book - Tourbillons is available on www.the-watch-book.com, in French and English.

 

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