Richard Mille

Precision, Winter 2022

It’s a fact that a Richard Mille wristwatch has become a calling card of the rich person’s club: the ‘entry level’ model, the RM016 Extra Flat, will set you back around £50,000 while the recently launched RM UP-01 made in collaboration with Ferrari is closer to £1.5m.

When Mille (the man) set out to launch his eponymous brand back in 1999, he did so on a no-compromise basis in terms of technicality and materials – and since nothing would ever be made down to a price, the cost to the end consumer would be necessarily astronomical.

It was an odd business plan, but it worked – not least because it’s not unusual for ultra-wealthy types to want to show off just how loaded they really are.

In fact, the Richard Mille ethos has worked so well that the entire allocation of watches is sold out for the next 12 months. So if you imagine you can walk into your local RM boutique (there are 41 around the world, controlled by just four distributors) and walk out with a new watch, think again.

Exterior of Richard Mille ninety store

Above and top. If you want a new Richard Mille timepiece join the year-long queue – or buy pre-owned from Ninety

Right now, the only way to a quick Richard Mille fix is to buy pre-owned, but the supply and demand equation means ‘used’ watches generally cost more than new ones.

As few people feel comfortable about buying a watch with a six- or seven-figure value from someone they may never have met, the brand has now established its own pre-owned boutique in which everything is certified, properly serviced, guaranteed – and often less expensive than you can find elsewhere.

The store is discreetly named Ninety and can be found at 90 Mount Street in London’s Mayfair, where manager Tilly Harrison instils potential owners with the confidence that they are buying the genuine article, that it is a legitimate piece – and, importantly, that it hasn’t been butchered by a well-meaning repairer lacking the specialist knowledge that the watches demand.

Richard Mille watchmaker at work

Tom Mason

Nothing leaves Ninety without being given a careful once-over by the boutique’s in-house watchmaker Tom Mason (right) who, outside of the Richard Mille factory, is one of a tiny number of people in the world to have both access to the specialist tools required to service and repair the highly technical pieces and the knowledge of how to use them.

“I was taken on as a very junior watchmaker, but was immediately sent to the Richard Mille manufacture in Switzerland for three and a half months of specialist training,” says Mason. “The job comes with huge responsibility and, to be frank, I was absolutely terrified at first. Even when I started 12 years ago, the values of the various models were already incredibly high. The construction of a Richard Mille watch and the materials used in it are unlike any other, which means that third-party intervention by inexperienced watchmakers can be disastrous.”

Mason says the cost of a service and case refurbishment of a Richard Mille model such as an RM-011 chronograph comes in at around £4000, a sum that owners of inexpensive quartz watches who balk at spending £5 on a new battery might find difficult to comprehend. But that can be just the start of things.

“I think the biggest job I’ve had to deal with was putting right the damage from an Instagram photo session that went wrong. The owner had placed their red-gold RM-011 on a balcony in order to capture the scenic backdrop and it fell off crashing to the road several stories below.

“They got it back looking as good as new – but the repair bill was around £35,000.”